Above From left, Florence Smith, Billy Knight, and Audrey Smith in the Sedgwick Forest for a Love Your Land event.
Volunteer numbers are declining – this is the early finding of an analysis conducted by Volunteering Australia and the Australian National University in May 2022.
The findings confirm what many Landcare groups are experiencing – that volunteers have become even harder to engage since COVID-19.
Despite this, Axe Creek Landcare Group is having its busiest time in years. The group has engaged with 200 new people so far in 2022. The new volunteers are younger and from more diverse backgrounds.
People’s motivations for engaging with the Axe Creek Landcare Group varied, but the one thing they all expressed was their love for nature.
Most of the audience growth came through a series of events under the title of Love Your Land. Our aim was to connect non-traditional Landcarers with the Bendigo forests through events that create a buzz in the community that leads to awareness. The events were especially targeted at women from 28 to 50 living around Bendigo and interested in hobby farming, art, nature, or health and wellbeing. We recognised that these women are often busy and would not always be able to attend regular events.
Volunteering Australia’s national volunteering research provided some useful insights. We learnt that volunteers are attracted to flexible, event-based and short-term opportunities, that virtual volunteering has potential and that environmental volunteers are often motivated to contribute when they have a personal connection to the environment.
We also conducted our own community surveys. Each time a new membership form is received we respond with a quick survey, and at the start of each event we circulated a two minute survey asking what sorts of topics participants were interested in and how they see the role of our Landcare group in their community.
Responses indicated that tree planting was popular, but education rated as being equally important. Our event program included online sessions on Indigenous cooking and conversation and building a native bee hotel; and in-person events on nature journaling, environmental photography, fungi foray, nature photography, birdwatching, watercolours in the forest, and leaf litter art.
For the online sessions we hand-delivered pre-cut bee hotel kits and mailed out cooking ingredients. All of the events were free, had minimal preparation, were on the weekend and easy to participate in.
Our target audience was most accessible through Facebook so we put effort into social media sharing and online advertising. This is cheap and allowed us to easily link-in with advertising partners.
The Indigenous cooking demonstration, native bee hotel and environmental photography events were picked-up online by the National Sustainable Living Festival. Attendees registered from across the country and even from overseas.
The events were booked out almost immediately, causing greater demand than supply. By the end of the program the event releases were being watched online by hundreds of younger people and there was pressure to pre-release tickets to members only.
A future of engaged, knowledgeable and passionate volunteers is exactly what we want to create.
Kristie Smith is the Eastern Bendigo Landcare Facilitator. Her position is funded through the Victorian Landcare Facilitator Program. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org