It takes a small village to operate an equine-assisted activities and therapies facility. From providing basic care for the horses to helping with scheduled therapy sessions or completing special projects (putting up hay, fixing fences, building stalls), volunteers are central to a center’s success.
PATH Intl. centers and instructors couldn’t serve their clients without volunteers. “There are more than 55,000 volunteers serving at PATH Intl. Member Centers. Our Centers couldn’t do what they do without them,” explained Cher Smith, communications coordinator/webmaster for PATH Intl.
“Reliable volunteers are truly an extension of a staff limited by resources of time and/or money. The 'it' factor for a reliable volunteer is commitment,” said Heidi Longton, CMP, CMM, a 20-year veteran of association management with a specialty in convention and meetings. She currently serves as president of Meetings Professional International, Northeastern New York Chapter.
Often, the biggest challenge is identifying reliable volunteers. “Committed volunteers don't show up late, cancel at the last minute or produce limited results,” she added.
Longton recommended three steps for identifying dependable volunteers.
- Practice transparency. Clearly disclose the time commitment. Provide a three or four point job description.
- Screen candidates. Ask the question, "Why do you want to volunteer?" Individuals only interested in adding to their resume should be avoided. Those passionate about the cause will be your best choices.
- Provide orientation and recognition. Give your volunteers an idea of what part of their assignments must be done a certain way. Recognize those who contribute to your success. A simple token will do and goes a long way.
For many centers' participants, a volunteer is an added level of stability. “When they (clients) see the same volunteer every lesson, it helps create another level of relationship, a bond that is formed between these two people,” Smith concluded.