Text by Femke Lootens, Green Office Coordinator for the Netherlands
Many Green Offices and other non-profit organizations are struggling to attract volunteers and keep them involved. But, there are some good examples as well. Learn from the masters: best practices from Green Office VU and Green Office Utrecht.
From awareness to empowerment
“People are no vessels that can be filled with ideas” (Robert Brulle)
In order to achieve the large scale social, political and economic changes we need to address the environmental challenges of today, me need to mobilize everyone. One way communication/raising awareness will not suffice in the transition towards a more sustainable world. We need to go beyond awareness raising towards true engagement (Brulle 2010).
More and more environmental projects are now going taking this approach of empowering people. For example, the Green Office of Utrecht centered their whole existence around engaging the university community by informing, involving, and empowering them:
Think about what you want your university community be informed about: global sustainability challenges? Sustainability in the university? The impact of your lifestyle? Or the links between them?
Now this is where you go beyond awareness raising. You don’t only want people to know about sustainability, you also want them to act accordingly. Make clear as a GO that people can contribute to your activities, be part of a project team or come up with a new idea. Show it on your website, make clear people can pass by at the GO, …
Empowerment is about having the ability and capacity to make the change you want to see. When a student (group) comes to the GOUU with an idea, they have several means on helping them to execute it: funding, knowledge on how the university works and who to approach, space, promotion, … Their website states clearly how to contact them when you have an idea.
Bye Bye Volunteer, Hello Member
The GO VU started with a revolutionary new approach of managing their volunteers. They renamed them to members, made project teams with one chair(wo)man per team who coordinates and leads the team. Now they have a big and constant member pool. After the European GO summit, GO Utrecht restructured their volunteer project in a similar way. They have now four project teams that function pretty autonomous and two committees that help the activity and promotion coordinator of the GO.
Four elements of great volunteer engagement
So, what makes this approach so successful? It is based on the following approach: investigate what the needs of your members are, adapt your structure according to their needs.
Volunteer appreciation days with fun activities (GOVU), networking drinks, …
Say thank you! An example are the Green Drinks with an award for best GO member and a public thank you for everyone (GOUU)
 Career /network
There are the physical rewards: endorsement letters on LinkedIn, certificates, presents. Next to the members also build their network in the sustainability world and learn new competences.
 Confidence building/learning
Providing a safe space to learn, fail and develop your skills, giving workshops and crash courses on time management, project management, sustainability,…
Last point: make clear what your relationship is about and what’s in it for them. In the GO VU, there is an intake interview for each member and a member contract which states what you can expect from the GO and what they expect from you.
Josep from GOU “Our volunteers can bring their own ideas and make decisions. They receive something in return for their efforts. We don’t give them money, but they are paid with other things.”
Want to know more?
Brulle, Robert J. 2010. “From Environmental Campaigns to Advancing the Public Dialog: Environmental Communication for Civic Engagement.” Environmental Communication: A Journal of Nature and Culture 4 (1): 82–98. doi:10.1080/17524030903522397.