Parks Division & Recreation Programs Track Volunteers | Track It Forward

Parks Division & Recreation Programs Track Volunteers

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How The City of Chico, Parks Division Tracks Volunteer Hours

The City of Chico, Parks Division is in the maintenance service of all things parks and greenways in the City of Chico. Their largest park, Bidwell Park is 3,670 acres. This division manages the maintenance of all the parks, donations, park reservations, park rangers, events, special use permits, and trees and plant administration. For over 22 years, the Parks Division has had formal volunteer programs in place to help maintain the parks and keep them safe. With Bidwell Park being one of the largest municipal park in the United States, this is no small task! 


A volunteer in this program is someone who commits at least 4 hours a month contributing time to trail and park maintenance through adopt-a-spot, litter control, trail maintenance, and habitat repair. In this crazy pandemic, many people are walking around the park, taking photos, reporting issues, and helping with trail maintenance. This can all be considered volunteering with the Chico Parks Division! But how do you track all the volunteers and all the issues that need to be addressed? 


Park Services Coordinator Shane Romain is managing the PALS Volunteer Program for Chico Parks Division. In this program, people can volunteer in many different ways. A challenging part about maintaining the dynamic volunteer program is ensuring that their hours are tracked and that their finds are making a difference. There are 136 volunteers tracking their hours and special events bring in hundreds of one-time volunteers whose contributions are also logged.


See how volunteer programs work for this specific Parks Division, issues with their previous volunteer tracking and documenting program and how they were solved - saving Volunteer Coordinators up to 30% of time in the following article! 

What is PALS?

City of Chico PALS volunteer logo

 

The PALS volunteer program works with different types of volunteers - Partners, Ambassadors, Leaders, and Stewards. 


  • Partners are volunteers from nonprofits or communities like universities who help with larger events by supplying people to help run the events. 

  • Ambassadors are volunteers who help report any issues with the park and also communicate important news or updates to the public about Bidwell Park or other greenways. 

  • Leaders are specially trained volunteers who lead groups through the park or who help lead events that take place in the park.  

  • Stewards are volunteers who like to be out in the park often and help the upkeep of the parks, greenways, and trails. They help report illegal encampment, vegetation growth, plants and flower maintenance, or any issues they may come across while using the parks and greenways on their own time. 


“It’s a robust volunteer program,” Romain says, “It was pretty fragmented, so I wanted to bring it all together. “

 

Problems With Fragmented Volunteer Program 

Prior to the reformatting of the volunteer program and the use of Track It Forward, Romain and other volunteer leaders were using spreadsheets to track hours of all volunteers. When it was time to file a report, they each had to manually submit their team’s hour statistics. Romain researched and tried various software for tracking. He found that the programs were time-consuming and difficult to use. 


Romain says that many volunteers enjoy reporting and helping the park stay clean and maintained. One of the best ways for volunteers to complete hours and help trail maintenance is to use a mobile application that can help them send photos, coordinates, and a description of the issues they found. This was originally through the other software. But, Romain quickly found the software to be frustrating for his volunteers. 


Volunteers would stop using other electronic tracking applications because they were so frustrated with issues they were having operating the app, taking photos, and sending the exact coordinates of the issue, meaning they would have less to report to Shane. 


“When I started looking at Track It Forward, it was really attractive. I saw how you can do photos and you can do hours. It’s really a one-stop-shop.” 

Volunteer Tracking and Photo Sharing all in One Place 

When it comes to tracking volunteer hours, Track It Forward has many options for volunteer programs. Here’s how the Chico Parks Division has used Track it Forward features to track their volunteers and help create a user-friendly alternative for submitting photos and maintenance issues in the parks and greenways: 


  • Hour Logging. Volunteers track their hours by simply submitting and logging with their personal account. If they are an event volunteer this can easily be done from their mobile device or on a computer. 

  • The GPS Field. On the mobile app, volunteers who report issues with the park, when they log their hours, they can attach their GPS location. This is a feature installed by the coordinator that can be done when logging hours.

    • This was ordinarily created to show proof of being at a location for volunteers who need to have their hours verified. 

    • For Chico Parks Division, they use it as a communication tool. When Romain approves these hours, he sends them a message to let them know he is addressing the problem they sent in. 

  • The Photo Field. They also have installed an additional file upload to each volunteer log so people can send in photos they have found, beyond issues. Romain says some people just use it to show a pretty unique flower that is growing or something special with the community of volunteers. 

  • The Reports. Volunteer Coordinators can pull reports of all volunteers, just some, or volunteers from a certain event. Track It Forward creates different reports based on the information you want to include and creates an excel sheet for the coordinator to download. 

  • The Milestones. This allows coordinators and volunteers to see how much of their goal they have attended to. Coordinators can see who may need a bit of encouragement when doing more hours and who is doing an extreme amount that should be commendable. It also is a great motivator for volunteers to do more hours and reach their milestones. This feature is automatically installed in the dashboard.

  • The Event Calendar. Track It Forward can embed widgets into an organization’s website, and use a calendar in the mobile web to help track events and track volunteer hours through the calendar. 

  • The Email. Track It Forward allows organizers to group volunteers based on specific measurements and send out emails to them in bulk. So, if volunteers are specifically stewards, Romain can select the steward’s category and from the Track It Forward Dashboard, send out emails to all of them. 


Romain says Track It Forward has been “super easy, it flows like a google calendar or something that people are already using.” And his volunteers think so too! Even the ones that were reluctant to try a new app due to their difficulties previously have found it easier to use and have been using it more. He gets more pictures than before and more reports due to the ease of submitting photos through the app.

 

Due to volunteers tracking their own hours and Track It Forward running the reports for him, Romain says 20-30% of his time has been saved. Giving more time for him to work efficiently in resolving issues within the parks, trails, and greenways. 


Romain has also felt he can be more personalized and in touch with his volunteers through using Track It Forward. Specifically with the milestone feature. He has been able to see that within a month of using Track It Forward, 25% of his volunteers reached their quarterly milestone goal. He can easily reach out to volunteers, check in on them, and ask what can be done to help them contribute more to the volunteer initiatives. In addition, with this feature, organizers can share milestone results with volunteers to encourage friendly competition. 


Romain says he is happy about switching to Track It Forward, he calls it awesome! While Chico Parks Department is still in the process of switching all of their volunteers to the program, he is eager to use more of Track It Forward’s features in the future. 

 

“The further I delve into the program, the more I see more features that are going to be useful,” Romain says. 


Track It Forward has many features to help Parks & Recreation services with their volunteers. 

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