Most CSAs in New York City rely on their members to manage the administration of the CSA; this frees up the farmers to focus on growing and delivering the vegetables, and strengthens the community within a CSA. Though a core group of members take on much of the administrative management of the CSAs, such as signing up new members and planning community-building events, all members are asked to contribute a small amount of time to help the CSA run smoothly. Below are suggestions to help manage volunteers.
Time Commitment – CSAs generally ask members to commit to two work shifts throughout the season, each shift being two hours long; however, this may vary depending on the number of members a CSA has and the time frame for your distribution. Smaller CSAs may need members to work more shifts to keep the CSA running, as opposed to larger CSAs who may have more members than there are available work shifts. Be aware of how many volunteers you have and how busy they are at distribution – you don’t want to over schedule the number of volunteers so that they have nothing to do, but you also don’t want to have too few volunteers to ensure a smooth running distribution.
Scheduling – CSAs use a variety of systems to schedule members’ work shifts. Make sure members not only include which day they can work, but also what other skills they can contribute to the CSA (not all work shifts must be fulfilled during distribution – see below for more info). A few of them are as follows:
A. At Registration – When members fill out their membership form before the season starts, have them sign up for their work shifts.
B. Pen and Paper – Have members sign up for their work shift at the first few distributions.
Some CSA Groups have used a variety of online resources to help maintain proper record keeping of volunteers.
C. Google Doc – You can either make a sign up sheet on Google Docs, or make create a spreadsheet on Excel and transfer it to a Google Doc.
D. Online Volunteer Management Resources – Some websites have been created with the main intention of organizing volunteers. CSA members can sign up for their work-shift on the website, and organizers can send them reminders.
Ex) Volunteerspot.com, LocalFork.com
Fulfilling Work Shifts – If a member fails to complete a work shift without reason, the core group should remind him/her that CSA is member run. Using the terminology “work shift” instead of “volunteer shift” may help members understand that it is obligatory. Another way for members to feel more enthusiastic about volunteering is to have community building events, such as a pot luck or cook off. The more members feel a part of the CSA, the more they will want to be involved and help out.
Before the season begins, the core group should decide how they will manage CSA members who fail to fulfill work shifts. Some CSAs are more strict with members than others. The following are different ways CSAs have handled volunteer management.
A. Membership for the following season may be forfeited if the member continues to miss their work shifts.
B. Members are not given priority for membership sign up for next season. This is affective if your CSA is sold out every year.
C. Members who miss a work shift pay a penalty charge to the CSA and when/if they fulfill the work shift, their money is given back
D. Members can buy out of their volunteer time and this money is given to the CSA.
Handling Cancellations – Make it the members’ responsibility to find a replacement through a Google group, etc. If the member can not find their own replacement, the Volunteer Coordinator should help find a replacement.
Having a Back Up Plan – If a member does not show up, it is a good idea to have a few members as back up to fulfill volunteer duties. Some members who live near the distribution site and who have flexible schedules can sign up as a “back up volunteer” instead of signing up for a specific date to volunteer. In the case that a member does not show up for their work shift, the “back up volunteer” can be called.
Responsibilities – Some members will have difficulty rearranging their schedules to enable them to do a work shift at distribution. Work shifts can be fulfilled at distribution or beyond distribution; however, make sure you have all distribution work shifts filled before opening up other kinds of work shifts to your members.
A. Distribution – Finding a balance between number of volunteers at distribution and having enough tasks for the volunteers to do is important. Volunteers are imperative in having a successful distribution, but not having anything to do at distribution can be frustrating for volunteers. After the first few distributions, try to gage if you have the right number of volunteers. See the Logistics of Distribution tip sheet for a list of possible volunteer responsibilities at distribution.
B. Beyond Distribution – volunteer responsibilities are not confined just to the logistics of distribution. Other ideas for volunteers are:
1. Taking pictures of the share each week
2. Helping to plan community building events
3. Managing Yahoo/Google groups
4. Maintaining CSA blog/website
5. Contribute to the newsletter
6. Outreach during the off season
7. Work on a CSA compost project
8. Volunteering at your CSA’s donation drop off site or other neighborhood organizations
C. Young Volunteers – CSA is a great tool to educate children and youth about agriculture and nutrition. These young CSA members can have a great time helping out at distribution by explaining to members what each produce is and its nutritional values. Not only does this engage members more with the CSA and their food, it is fun and educational.
Volunteer Motivation: Though volunteering is required in a CSA, there are ways to make this experience fun and engaging.
A. Be sure to provide clear instructions and assign job tasks for each volunteer
B. Match new members with older members
C. Educate volunteers on the vegetables for that week so they can be more helpful with members and to stir conversation
D. Have the Volunteer Coordinator or Distribution Coordinator step in to make big decisions or handle problems
E. Some CSAs give a portion of their leftovers to volunteers