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Volunteers - How Do We Get Them?

From EAA Volunteer Newsletter, November Issue

By Ginny Largent, EAA 575325, Volunteer Advisory Committee

  • Chapter 939 volunteer Don Wilson during the Chapter’s recent B-17 tour stop

My husband Rich and I belong to two EAA chapters, one in Virginia (VA) and one in North Carolina (NC). We were each a past president of the VA chapter and we held various other offices and roles. We are both currently officers for the NC chapter and I am also the Young Eagles Coordinator. The VA chapter in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, has approximately 250 members and our NC chapter in a small town has 32 members. The average age in the VA chapter is 50+ year olds, while the NC chapter’s is 60+ year olds. Quite a difference, but both chapters face the challenge of getting volunteers for activities from fund raising breakfasts to Young Eagles rallies. 

You would think that getting volunteers from the VA chapter is easy because of the large pool of members. However, we have found that we have more success from our much smaller NC chapter. Why? Well, our DC chapter has a lot of builders and they are busy building their aircraft. The metro area traffic makes it difficult, if not impossible, to get around. People are working and have many other opportunities and obligations pulling them every which way. In NC, most of the folks are retired and looking for things to do. Some of them are involved in many volunteer activities, but they seem to find their way to chapter events even if they don’t always make the meetings.

A dilemma is how we convince people, and not necessarily just chapter members, to volunteer.  For many, they were brought up with a notion that you give back to your community. For others, you have to find that interest that will make them come out and give their time. How do you do this? Start with the common denominator that all chapter members are interested in aviation. What about aviation draws them to EAA and a chapter? Are they there to fulfill a personal desire to learn and/or keep their passion for aviation going forward to the next generation? 

At AirVenture this year, I had the pleasure to interview a number of long-time volunteers and learned of their passion for volunteering and for EAA. They get it. They were not all pilots, but they know that aviation is a growth environment. They want to encourage the next generation to fly and/or let them know that there are many other aspects of aviation besides being a pilot to explore and even take as a career. 

I am very involved with the Young Eagles program, which is what initially made me join EAA and a chapter. I have watched first-hand the wonder and enjoyment of flying on those young faces when they returned from a flight. In many cases, they were challenged to take the controls and steer the aircraft. They saw their world from a different perspective. Some did something their parents had not done. We piqued their interest and some returned to the rallies for a flight and/or to volunteer. They often bring a relative or a friend.  Volunteers!

Not all chapter members are interested in flying Young Eagles, which is my passion. Find a way to be diverse. Remember, because you think it is a great idea, not all embrace it. They want to do other things. Learn about their wants and what EAA programs are available. 

My husband and I are always asking our chapter members, what do you want to do? What will bring you out to the airport? What would be fun for members? We are about flying, so let’s get out and fly! These don’t have to be chapter outings, but let the members, as well as the community, know of flying opportunities. This may bring pilots and non-pilots together. Fill the empty seats when going someplace to spark the non-pilot’s interest in aviation and bring in a potential new pilot and a new member.  

We do struggle at times with getting our builders more involved. Some chapters have projects, but this is difficult for many chapters. However, you can have workshops where builders demonstrate a specific skill.  Many want to share their knowledge, so periodically have seminars geared to building. Let the builders know you are interested in their projects by going out to see them and provide encouragement. By showing an interest in them, they usually want to reciprocate.  Volunteers!

My husband and I have learned over the years is: if you cook, they will come and eat. I enjoy cooking and have been told I do a passable job of it. Both of our chapters enjoy sharing meals. I make sure at every chapter event, including the meetings, that there is food available. This may be a way to get them out for an event, but I have found that once there, they generally enjoy the activity and want to pitch in. Most say, “Let me know when you are doing this again and I will come out to help.” Another volunteer!

Fund raising is a necessity for most chapters to support activities, buy tools, send a youngster to the Air Academy, etc. This is a challenge for chapters as it is a lot of work that may have nothing to do with aviation. Pancake breakfasts are always a favorite. You need six to 10 volunteers, in most instances, to make this happen.  Our chapter members like talking with the public about aviation and having their family, friends and neighbors come to the airport to learn about something that the members enjoy. In both of our chapters, builders built our griddles made the events easier to handle. The builders demonstrated their knowledge of designing and building. They then wanted to see their design in action and, as with most builders, are constantly tweaking and improving it. More volunteers!

Finally, be sure to praise and thank your volunteers. I always send an email to the volunteers saying thank you the day of or at least the day after the event.  I also let them know how the chapter fared (funds raised, Young Eagles flown, etc.) as a result of their hard work. For the more time consuming and labor intensive activities, I send a handwritten note. Old school, I know, but I know how much I appreciate a note of thanks from someone; I think others do as well. Take a few minutes to write an article for your chapter newsletter about the event, listing the volunteers who helped to make it a success. If you have the luxury of a small town paper, write a letter of appreciation in the paper thanking sponsors, the community and your volunteers. 

The key is to find those things that interest the people around you. Observe these folks and open up your mind and their worlds to new things. Help to make them see why you love aviation and want to share this love with others. Once there, you will make new friends and bring in volunteers for something you, and now they, are passionate about. Our motto is: Volunteers have the most fun!

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