Minnesota Cities Magazine

Two-Way Street: How Does Your City Engage Volunteers?

Jon Radermacher is city manager of Madison, MN.JON RADERMACHER
City Manager
City of Madison
In the City of Madison (population 1,551), the use of volunteers is widespread. For city projects alone, volunteers do everything from tree planting, to recreational field maintenance and recreational structure improvements. Given limited human and financial resources, the city recognizes the need for volunteers to maintain and improve our community assets. In many cases, volunteers even take charge of such projects.

Boy Scout volunteers
One recent partnership we had was with the Boy Scouts. The local troop had four boys who needed to do projects to earn Eagle Scout status. All four chose to make improvements to our parks and recreation facilities. The city paid for the materials, and the Scouts did all the work.

Prior to their Eagle Scout projects, these boys learned about their local government to earn their Citizenship and Community merit badges. I happened to serve as their merit badge counselor, so it may be more than mere coincidence that they all chose Eagle Scout projects focused on city improvements.

It can be very beneficial for city officials and staff to be involved in community service organizations. This can result in relationships that help foster interest in and sup- port of city needs.

Media angle
Another important factor in engaging volunteers is the relationship with the local media, which include the local newspaper and radio station. This relationship with the media helps the city acknowledge these volunteer projects and share our appreciation for these efforts, especially when they are also recognized at our City Council meetings.

No fear
In closing, I have three recommendations for other cities wanting to engage volunteers. Don’t be afraid:

  • To ask for help. Ask groups and organizations what they are interested in, and be open to projects that benefit both the community and the group’s mission.
  • Of the cost or scope of the project. However, do think about the long-term maintenance and operation expenses.
  • To participate. Offer to share any equipment, resources, or expertise that the city has at its disposal.

Julie Lammers is the city clerk-treasurer of Vargas, MNJULIE LAMMERS
City Clerk-Treasurer
City of Vergas

The City of Vergas has a population of 332 in the winter and 2,332 in the summer. We thrive on tourism and welcome our summer residents. I began working for the city in May 2011, and on my first day, someone asked if they could help with the flower pots in the park. I knew I had taken the right job. Our residents love to get involved and help in any way they can!

Informal program
Our volunteer program is fairly informal, but quite effective. It really took off when I was looking for volunteers for our annual Hazardous Waste Collection Day. Our mayor approached a group of women he sees regularly when he gets his morning coffee. These women go to Zumba classes twice a week and then stop at the Loon’s Nest restaurant afterwards. After the mayor asked for their help, they came to City Hall to tell me to let them know whenever the city needed volunteers.

They have been helping ever since. All I have to do is send an email, and then they recruit volunteers at their Zumba class. For example, we received a donation of 350 chairs for our Event Center, and each chair was wrapped in plastic. I sent an email on Tuesday asking for help taking the plastic off. By Friday, the chairs were ready for use.

Vergas also has a great Community Club that organizes Looney Daze (our city celebration) as well as other annual events. These events are all run by volunteers, and we are grateful that our summer residents love to get involved as well.

Keeping them happy
The volunteers do make a few special requests that I make sure to take note of. For one, some of them are older and can work only a little while at one time. So, I keep their shifts to no more than two hours. They also appreciate having snacks while working, so I usually provide rolls and bottled water.

Cost savings
It is through our volunteers that we have kept our Parks Department down to only one year-round employee and one summer employee. Without the help of volunteers caring for flowers and keeping our community clean, we would need to hire another employee.

We greatly appreciate how our volunteers take their positions seriously and work hard to help better our community.

Read the September-October 2013 issue of Minnesota Cities magazine

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