October 29, 2009
How to Volunteer for a Conservation Organization
MISSOULA, Mont.—Whether they work individually or as part of a group, volunteers are essential to conservation today—even more so tomorrow.
That’s the consensus of conservation professionals who predict that fish, wildlife and habitat, as well as the future of America’s sporting traditions, will depend more and more on devoted souls whose only paycheck is the personal reward of preserving traditional values and passing on a cherished way of life.
Volunteerism spans from teaching a neighbor kid to cast at a nearby pond to serving on a board that directs policy for international wildlife habitat initiatives.
A conservation organization can be an effective channel for many volunteer passions.
Here’s how to get involved:
1. Consider why you’re interested in volunteering. Do you want to make a difference in the world, or in your own corner of the outdoors? Is it about building your own skills and social network? Or are you simply inspired to give something back to a special place, species or heritage? These questions can help you choose the right organization.
2. Select an outfit that represents something special to you. If your pulse quickens at the thought of mallards over decoys, an elk bugling from a golden stand of aspens, a bass exploding on a topwater lure, there’s a group for you. Ditto if you’re concerned about Second Amendment issues. Maybe you believe that youths in your community should know more about handling firearms safely, or how hunting and angling pay for conservation. Or perhaps you’re just worried about the kudzu infestation in the back pasture of your hunting club. Whatever your interest, there’s probably a good fit for you somewhere out there. If not, start something new.
3. Speak with staff or volunteers from the organization and ask what opportunities exist for newcomers as well as experienced volunteers. Attend a meeting to see how the group interacts. At its best, volunteering is a selfless act for a greater good, but everyone wants to feel appropriately appreciated—find out how the outfit says thank you.
4. Seek out volunteer tasks that suit you. Conservation always needs money but if soliciting donations isn’t your cup of tea, consider helping setup for a fundraising event or even a back-office gig stuffing envelopes. Maybe you’d rather install aquatic habitat or remove decrepit fencing from a big-game migration corridor. Of course, it’s fun to learn new things and there’s real satisfaction in completing less pleasant tasks, but it pays to ensure your core duties will be compatible with your time and talent.
5. Start small. If you already have a busy schedule, commitments at home or unpredictable work hours, you can still get involved. In fact, most organizations want volunteers who are busy people because busy people know how to get things done. See about working for only an hour or two per week or perhaps one day per month. Later, if you find you enjoy the work and have more time to pursue it, gradually take on more.
6. Ask, don’t demand. People in charge of organizing volunteers are often volunteers themselves, but, invariably, they’re working to meet certain goals with a bigger mission in mind. Especially if you’re just starting out, the best bet is simply assimilating into their system. Later on, if you see that it could work better, make suggestions on how to fix it.
7. Ask questions and do research, but until you get your feet wet, you won’t know if volunteering for a particular organization is really right for you.
Volunteering allows a person to make a lasting mark on conservation, leave America’s outdoors as—or better than—they found it, and hand down a meaningful personal legacy to their children and grandchildren.
It matters not whether you get involved individually or as part of a group. The important thing is just getting started.
Sooner the better.