Chapter 15--Working With Funders and Volunteers
Sometimes, projects can be planned and constructed more quickly with outside help, such as volunteer assistance, funding, and partnership agreements. Researching such opportunities increases the likelihood of success and often builds support for the project. Chapter 16--Learning From Others includes several case studies that illustrate successful projects involving interagency cooperation, volunteer labor or materials, and grants.
Funds for trails, recreation sites, and bridges are available from government agencies and the private sector. Developers, associations, foundations, corporations, organizations, private companies, and individuals often fund trail systems or segments.
Sometimes, land developers build and dedicate recreation amenities--such as trail segments--on their developed lands. To do so, the developer or owner submits detailed improvement plans for approval to a land management agency, such as a municipality or county planning department. After completion, some developers dedicate trails and other improvements to the managing agency. These types of projects generally require a legally binding agreement that secures the easement of the trail route, access, and connections with other facilities.
Securing funds for well-planned projects or programs requires some form of proposal, application, or written request. Successful funding applications clearly state program goals, effectively substantiate need, and include reasonable budgets.
Identify potential funding sources for all or parts of the project. A coalition of partners can diversify and disperse funding responsibilities. Many private grants come from individuals as direct gifts or bequests. Many large corporations also have grant or assistance programs for projects that relate to their interests or geographic areas. In addition, government funding is often available from Federal, State, or local agencies.
Search the Internet, public libraries, and grant libraries for funding opportunities and possible partnerships. Focus the search to match resource eligibility requirements with project qualifications and needs. Prioritize funding sources by degree of match and the chance of success.
Each funding source has its own grant application process with a set of instructions and accountability requirements. Federal and State funds usually require a matching revenue source and have strict guidelines. Many grant applications require detailed supporting documents--budgets, timelines, monitoring plans, project justification reports, and anticipated outcome statements. Many funding agencies or organizations require a specific document format, completion of standardized forms, or a prescribed set of materials. Many funders provide guidelines and directions to help applicants complete the paperwork.
Before beginning a grant request, verify that the grantor is still interested in funding trail or recreation site projects. Determine the current fiscal cycles and required submittal dates and get the latest application requirements. Grant and funding information changes constantly--contact the agency or visit the Web site for the most current information.
When matching funds are required, organizations may have to supply 50 percent or more of the project's total cost. Read the funding source's definition of allowable matching funds carefully. Sometimes contributed labor and materials count as matching funds at specified rates. Many private groups hold fundraising events to augment financial resources and to build project support and awareness. In many cases, sponsorships offset fundraising expenses or underwrite specific portions of projects. Only imagination limits the possible fundraising activities. Choose a variety of events that will energize the entire community to support the project.
Many equestrian clubs arrange special events that foster partnerships with agencies, landowners, developers, and others that can help create trails, trailheads, and campgrounds.
Volunteer equestrians generally have a great sense of stewardship and respect for the natural environment--a reflection of their desire to preserve riding habitats for themselves and future generations. Riders and their stock are particularly well suited to help on trail and recreation site projects, in part because the stock can haul heavy items (figure 15-2). Volunteers also assist with funding, construction, cleanup, and similar efforts. Such contributions supplement the resources of land management agencies and increase public awareness of volunteer stewardship projects.
One approach to an equestrian volunteer program includes a three-part, continuous cycle of activity--recruiting, retaining, and rewarding volunteerism. Each of these activities enhances the ongoing availability of well-informed, trained volunteers and stewards.
The first phase of any volunteer program is to recruit groups or individuals who are willing to work. A volunteer recruitment campaign might:
- Distribute fliers, posters, and announcements to public land management offices, equestrian businesses and facilities, outdoor retailers, and equestrian publications.
- Announce volunteer opportunities through Web sites and e-mail notices.
- Post volunteer signup forms at equestrian events and distribute the forms to community organizations.
- Distribute videos to public schools, libraries, and community organizations.
- Distribute announcements to youth groups--4-H clubs, Scout programs, pony clubs, youth corps, junior equestrian organizations, and so forth.
Successful volunteer programs provide activities that keep volunteers interested and increase their skills and knowledge. They might:
- Provide information about available levels of volunteer activities.
- Provide a stewardship orientation program for new volunteers.
- Ask volunteers to sign a stewardship agreement formalizing their commitment.
- Establish a mentoring program that encourages an experienced volunteer to work with a new volunteer.
- Conduct construction, maintenance, and safety workshops to educate volunteers about proper techniques.
- Establish a program to train trainers and reach more volunteers.
- Provide fun rides and events to sustain volunteer interest.
- Record volunteer hours accurately and offer incentive rewards or acknowledgement.
- Inform volunteers about changes that affect communication.
Volunteers enjoy recognition for their efforts--particularly by their peers or the media. There are many ways to recognize a volunteer's contribution:
- Provide a signature item that designates a level of accomplishment, such as a special pin, badge, bandanna, hat, saddle pad, saddlebag, bridle ornament, or jacket.
- Provide written recognition using newsletter articles, media releases, Web site articles, and magazine interviews.
- Provide certificates of appreciation or recognize a volunteer at regular community or organizational meeting.
- Arrange an interview between a local radio personality and the volunteer to promote an event or to recognize a successful volunteer effort.
- Post volunteers' hours in newsletters, at meetings, and at other locations that provide opportunity for recognition.
- Establish award levels, such as the Most Outstanding Volunteer Work Event or Volunteer of the Year.
- Install a recognition plaque along the trail or in the recreation site.