Your local bird club needs you!

The saying goes that when you really need people, a few seem to turn up. If you have much experience with community groups, you’ll know that it’s the same few people that always turn up… the same few dedicated faces at every board meeting, every event, chairing the empty committee spots, volunteering for yet another project.

My local Audubon chapter has been struggling for volunteers for as long as I can remember. I think someone assigned me a job at the very first program I attended, but I was eager to get involved and to learn about local conservation issues and participate. That doesn’t seem to be the case with a lot of birders. Our chapter has a healthy enough membership, but getting those people who come to the programs and field trips to step up and get involved is just impossible.

A fair number of our membership are excellent and active birders, but their interest ends in the field, it seems. The rest of our membership are people I would never recognize with a pair of binoculars around their necks; in fact I think they come to our monthly programs just for the free snacks afterwards!

I wonder where the young people are, the beginning birders, the people with fresh ideas and energy. Our club needs them. Our volunteers are a dedicated group, with diverse skills and interests, and many have held the same committee chair position for years on end, or served as president multiple times. What happens, though, is that we get tired and frustrated with the lack of support from our membership and then we end up losing those volunteers who care the most about the organization and who do the most work to support it, simply because they’ve burned out.

It happened to me almost; after volunteering to be hospitality chair (to rescue another woman who had been stuck with the job for years) – I found myself doing it and became annoyed after a couple years at being the first to arrive and the last to leave the meetings, cleaning up alone, listening to members complain about the way I made the coffee, etc – pfft! Come early and fix the coffee yourself if you don’t like it! Donate a box of cookies for once! I quit volunteering and became another of those anonymous faces in the crowd at the monthly meetings for a few years. Then my guilt got the better of me and this year I’m the chair for two committees.

Again I’m taking over for two dedicated people who simply got tired of the lack of cooperation from the membership. Funny is that one of my jobs is planning and scheduling the club’s field trips for the year… anyone that knows me at all knows what a poor planner I am. So far, the rest of the board has taken my *fly by the seat of my pants* approach with a good bit of humor; we’ll see how long that will last. My point is that I’m clearly not the best person for the job, but I’m the one willing to do it and if it weren’t me, it would be one of the other people who’s already wearing three different hats, you know?

So… if there’s a local bird or nature club that you care about, please find a way to become involved. Introduce yourself to one of those familiar faces you see at every meeting; maybe the geeky guy who always sets up the slide projector and makes sure the microphone is working, or the lawyer-type lady who brings neat things for the raffle each month, or even the blessed soul who toils away in the kitchen to get the coffee just right for you. Offer to help, maybe. Just once, even. Ask what you can do. We need you.

9 thoughts on “Your local bird club needs you!”

  1. I agree with you regarding volunteer groups. I think the problem is most people want to take advantage of things but don’t want to put forth any effort because they are so self absorbed in their own little worlds. I’ve found the same thin in cub scouting. I was a den leader last year and no one wanted to help out. Not with crafts, planning, or even helping their kids do crafts during our den meetings. They were to busy gossiping with the other parents.

  2. I had the opposite thing happen to me with my local Audubon chapter. Several years ago, they offered a bird ID course that ran on 3 consecutive Sundays. I signed up for the class (which was great.) With the registration fee came a one year membership. In the following years, I renewed my membership to give some financial support to the group. (Not to National – I have “issues” with them.) I told the membership person that I wouldn’t be able to attend meetings, since the location was 1.5 hours away from me, but that I wanted to help. I would try to make a field trip now and then, when they were on my side of town.

    All was well and good until membership put a nasty note in the newsletter about “people who are dues paying members who never show up to functions” and what slackers we were. I called her and explained again how time and distance constraints made it impossible for me to contribute physically, and she said, “Oh, well, I didn’t mean you.”

    Still, it was enough to sour me on the group. Now, not only do they not have my presence, they don’t have my $25 per year.

    Sometimes, people do the best they can.


  3. Laura–well spoken (or written). While I do not count myself among the dedicated birders, I do volunteer for local activities. In fact, upon my “retirement” (from a full time job), I responded positively bit by bit to things I was asked to do.
    Unlike your self-description, I am an excellent organizer, so I do tend to get those types of assignments.
    Are there younger birders out there? I really applaud Mon@rch’s effort with Young Naturalist–we need more people encouraging younger people to volunteer for the things that matter in life.

  4. Nice post and it surely rings true.

    One thing totally blew my mind. The part about setting up the SLIDE PROJECTOR. I had no idea anyone still used slide projectors except for home viewing of old 35mm slides.

  5. I guess many of us share your experience – I do! However …. in our town there is a horrible flood from time to time .. maybe every 3 years. Then the whole town shows up for hours to sand bag! Amazing!

    I have come to believe that clubs and organizations that aren’t dealing with real big, urgent problems often don’t get much attention …. which is not all bad. The bird world by you must be in pretty good shape!

  6. You just never know how these things will go. A couple of years ago, I decided I should volunteer at our local Audubon sanctuary that I visit so often – to try and give a little back. They seemed excited to meet me and had me spend nearly an hour filling out forms about my interests and skills, and for all kinds of background checks. I never heard from them again. Now, I’m not unfamiliar with rejection, but this was just about the last straw!

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