Working with Volunteers

(Atlanta, GA)- Over the last decade, Trees Atlanta developed a thriving volunteer network that plants trees every Saturday, rain or shine, from October through March.

Category: Volunteers
From April though September, volunteers provide follow-up care for trees planted in previous years. Approximately 1,500 volunteers plant and maintain 1,500 trees annually.
Trees Atlanta was established in 1985 by Central Atlanta Progress (the downtown business leaders’ association), the Atlanta Commissioner of Parks and the Junior League to improve the green space in downtown Atlanta. Its original focus was on planting large street trees in the downtown area. Trees Atlanta raised money for both the trees and for contractors to do the planting.
About 10 years ago, Trees Atlanta decided to broaden its scope beyond the downtown area and begin planting in the surrounding neighborhoods. This change required Trees Atlanta to develop a network of volunteers to assist with the planting and maintenance of the trees. Neighborhood trees were smaller than those planted in the downtown area and could be managed by volunteers. In addition, there was not enough money to pay landscapers for the new target areas.
Over the last decade, this volunteer planting effort has developed into an extensive program involving 1,500 volunteers and resulting in the planting and maintenance of 1,500 trees annually. These volunteers donate about 2,500 hours each year.
From October through March, Trees Atlanta sponsors two planting projects every Saturday from 9 am to noon. Each planting project involves approximately 30 to 100 trees and requires about half as many volunteers. Trees Atlanta has two full-time staff members who oversee these plantings.
Site Selection
Target areas for the plantings are selected in two ways: (1) Trees Atlanta applies for grants to sponsor planting in certain areas, and (2) individuals and neighborhood groups request planting projects. Trees Atlanta uses the following criteria to evaluate requests from individuals and groups:
* type of trees requested (native shade trees are given preference)
* amount of existing tree canopy in the neighborhood
* support from neighborhood for the project and
* feasibility of success based on environmental factors and on commitment of neighbors to provide ongoing care.
Recruitment of Volunteers
Once a target area is chosen, Trees Atlanta contacts the neighborhood association to encourage neighborhood buy-in and to attract volunteers. In each neighborhood, a volunteer is selected as the neighborhood coordinator to head-up the project. Neighborhood coordinators are responsible for recruiting additional volunteers from the target area for the planting.
In addition, neighborhood coordinators contact residents on whose property trees will be planted to get their “blessing” and support. Although most tree plantings are on public property and do not require residents’ permission, Trees Atlanta solicits buy-in from residents so that the trees will receive appropriate care over the long term.
Trees Atlanta staff members meet informally with neighborhood coordinators and explain the process and expectations. There is no formal training.
In addition, Trees Atlanta has a database of approximately 1,500 volunteers who receive weekly emails outlining the current planting projects for the week. E-mail recipients are strongly encouraged to respond if they will be participating in that week’s projects so that staff can best plan the event.
The goal each week is to have at least half of the volunteers from the selected neighborhoods and the remaining volunteers from the regular volunteer list.
Summer projects
After the planting season, from April through September, Trees Atlanta organizes a volunteer maintenance project every Saturday morning in an area where it has previously planted trees. Volunteers mulch, prune, stake and water trees. Areas are selected based on need. Since Trees Atlanta has planted over 20,000 trees, there are many areas needing follow-up care.
Not only do the summer projects provide maintenance for the trees, they also offer a consistent opportunity for volunteers to offer their services.
Since its inception Trees Atlanta’s achievements include:
* Over 20,000 large shade trees planted in downtown and midtown Atlanta
* Over 50,000 young shade tees planted and distributed by volunteers in metro-Atlanta (This includes seedlings distributed at annual festivals as well as the volunteer efforts described above.)
* Hundreds of trees saved through partnerships with community groups and stronger tree protection laws
* Over 7,500 volunteers have given time and money to the organization
1. If you are operating a weekly planting program, find one nursery to work with consistently. Working with multiple nurseries can lead to confusion.
2. Make the event enjoyable. Provide coffee and donuts and a time to socialize. Get to know people and help newcomers feel included. After plantings, Tree Atlanta volunteers and staff go out for pizza.
3. Offer a consistent program that is easy to understand and sign up for. Trees Atlanta operates a volunteer program every Saturday, rain or shine, so volunteers know that there is a regular opportunity to participate. The web-site ( has a volunteer sign-up form as well as a calendar of events. Once volunteers have completed the form, they receive weekly e-mails detailing that week’s volunteer opportunities.
4. Keep volunteers busy and make them feel useful. Nothing is worse than feeling as if your efforts were not needed. Make sure there is enough work for everyone.
5. Keep in touch with volunteers. If you are operating a frequent planting program, you need people who volunteer on a regular basis. Since you do not want to start each week with all new volunteers, it is important to keep the regulars coming back. Trees Atlanta keeps in touch with its volunteers by regular e-mails.
6. Show your appreciation. Trees Atlanta hosts volunteer appreciation parties twice a year-once at the beginning of the planting season and once at the end. Volunteers who have participated in six or more plantings are invited to these potluck suppers where they receive gifts based on years of participation.
7. Trees Atlanta has discovered that most people volunteer for one of the following reasons: environmental concerns, desire to beautify the neighborhood, social reasons, or desire to get a good work-out. Keep these reasons in mind when recruiting volunteers and when planning your events. Many Trees Atlanta volunteers have become close social friends and use an e-mail list operated by Trees Atlanta to exchange information on social activities and opportunities.
Contact Information:
Susan Pierce, NeighborWoods Coordinator
Trees Atlanta
225 Chester Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30316
Phone: (404) 522-4097
Fax: (404) 522-6855
(c) 2005 Alliance for Community Trees