Best Practices for Field Days E-Tips for Environmental Educators
Welcome to this edition of the EE E-Tip for Field Days - the quarterly source for practical tips to raise the impact of field day programs. We want to hear your suggestions for improving this resource. Send your ideas to Nate Meyer.
EE E-TIP: Use the ISOTURE model to engage adult volunteers at your field days.
Volunteers and field days go hand in hand! It is natural to solicit adult volunteers to help things run smoothly at your field day. But recruiting volunteers for these events is more than a casual proposition. It requires thought as the organizer of the event to choose the right people for the jobs you have, and provide a good volunteer experience. Volunteering should be fun, fulfilling, useful, and educational for the adults at your field day as well as helpful to you and the students attending your events.
Try to follow ISOTURE the next time you begin recruiting and engaging volunteers in your field days. The ISOTURE Model of Volunteer Administration and Development, first created by Dr. Robert Nolan, Professor of Adult Education at North Carolina State University in 1969, is widely used by the 4-H program. The model outlines seven essential steps for working with volunteers. Each step is important though not necessarily chronological.
Adapted from this model, the following are steps to take when preparing your events:
Identify your program needs, and volunteer roles that can match those needs. Be sure you have well defined roles and job descriptions for each volunteer position. When looking for local volunteers for your field days, check with local service groups, or organizations that have a similar mission to the theme of your event. You may consider such organizations as the Isaak Walton League, Pheasants Forever, Minnesota Master Naturalist, or the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Follow your sponsoring organizations' policies for selecting volunteers. This may include a volunteer application form, a letter of interest or commitment to the event, and/or a background check if the volunteer is working directly with youth.
Once the volunteers have been selected, you will need to familiarize them with the overall event, the site, safety protocols, and the specific duties of their position. For example, a field day organizer might ask volunteers to arrive 60 minutes prior to the event to orient them to the site, schedule, presenters, and describe the specific tasks for which they have been recruited.
Plan practical ways to train your volunteers for their specific duties at your field day. For example, if they are to guide groups to sessions, have them practice by leading a group of volunteers to the locations. Remember to incorporate a variety of teaching methods into your training to appeal to the volunteers. Model the behaviors that you wish to have incorporated into your event. You might find it easier in the short run to give verbal instructions only, but try to add to your training some action or discussion among participants so their instructions will be clear and memorable.
Put the training into action! Provide the volunteers with the support necessary to be successful. Make sure that all the pieces are in place for your volunteers to complete their jobs. On the day of the event, be prepared for the volunteers by having packets ready for them to pick up at the registration table. Include their schedule, lunch ticket, name tag, and any other important information needed for the day. Be available to handle questions or problems that arise.
Plan to recognize volunteers' hard work at your events. Some volunteers are intrinsically motivated and some are extrinsically motivated. This means that some are totally fueled by the smiles and thanks that the participants offer, and some volunteers like public thanks such as a pin or t-shirt. A personal thank you note after the event might be most meaningful. Make sure to thank all volunteers in an appropriate manner.
Evaluate your success in engaging volunteers, and ask them for suggestions about ways you can improve your recruitment, training, and utilization processes. Ask volunteers about their programmatic suggestions, and motivations for volunteering. Consider having a customized evaluation for volunteers.
Volunteers can add another exciting layer to your field day by bringing unique life experiences and talents. Following the ISOTURE model for your volunteer recruitment, training and involvement can help you create a fun, fulfilling, useful and educational experience for the people who work at your field days.
Best Practices for Field Days is a University of Minnesota Extension program. The information given in this publication is for educational purposes only. Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the University of Minnesota Extension is implied.
For more information on using volunteers effectively, review the Best Practices for Field Days: A Program Planning Guidebook for Organizers, Presenters, Teachers and Volunteers. Pay special attention to the Implications for Players sections. More information on adult volunteers, curriculum copies, workshop and other information are available online.
Use the Best Practices for Field Days Events Calendar to promote your field days and festivals, connect with presenters and volunteers. Learn more about the calendar and get started here.
Learn more about evaluating field days and water festivals with the Best Practices for Field Days Observation Assessment Tool online.
To learn more about the Best Practices for Field Days, read our short article in the online Journal of Extension.
Boyce, M.V. (1971). A Systematic Approach to Leadership Development. Washington D.C.; USDA, Extension Service. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 065 763)
Dolan, R.J. (1969). The Leadership Development Process in Complex Organizations. Raleigh: North Carolina State University..
Pleskac, S. (n.d.). ISOTURE Model of Volunteer Administration and Development. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Extension. Download.