Six years ago this month, I was awakened in the middle of a rainy night by my husband’s phone exploding with texts. He volunteers with a local search and rescue team and was being called out to help with flash flooding and a mudslide in a town outside Boulder, CO, about 30 miles from our Denver home. He left immediately and volunteered for the day before his professional role as a responder with a national animal welfare organization kicked in and, over the next week, he shifted from volunteer to volunteer manager/first responder, searching flooded homes for animals and livestock and setting up shelters for animals of families displaced by the rising waters. By the end of that week, Boulder and the surrounding areas saw devastating losses: 1,500 homes were destroyed, 17,000 damaged (not to mention the businesses, schools, and houses of worship), miles of roadways and acres of agricultural land were damaged, eight people were killed, and thousands of others were evacuated or stranded.
Throughout, residents and people from thousands of miles away showed up to serve. Amidst the rains and subsequent flooding, the city had emergency management protocols in place to manage and deploy first responders and to coordinate with disaster relief organizations, but no system existed to coordinate these armies of well-intentioned volunteers who showed up to serve. In its efforts to rebuild in subsequent years, City leaders prioritized developing a coordinated engagement strategy as part of its resilience work.
While the rainfall and floods in September of 2013 was unprecedented for Boulder, the integral link between volunteer engagement and resilience is not unique at all. In fact, just this week, Cities of Service shared a blog about the links between effective engagement and resilience as seen through the Resilience AmeriCorps (and you can check out the participating cities and some of the impressive results of the work here – including additional work in Boulder, CO).
Research shows consistently that engaging residents as volunteers builds resilience. Resilience is defined as:
The capacity within a city to survive, adapt, and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.
As the 2018 State of the World’s Volunteerism report states, “Effective collaboration with volunteers can transform volunteering from a coping mechanism to a strategic resource for community resilience.”
The City Resilience Index, developed by Arup with support from the Rockefeller Foundation (and based on extensive research with cities), articulates four drivers that contribute to resilience. Volunteerism can play a vital role in each of these four drivers:
- Leadership and Strategy: Engaging residents empowers them to build the future of the city.
- Health and Wellbeing: Volunteering enhances health and economic stability.
- Economy and Society: Volunteerism is a proven path to employment and service can unify communities and strengthen neighborhoods.
- Infrastructure and Ecosystems: Volunteerism extends the capacity of city agencies to provide services.
Engaging residents can also help cities achieve diversity and inclusion objectives, which correlates with higher performance.
This and additional research along with case studies from five cities across the US are detailed in a free and downloadable Citywide Volunteer Engagement Guide that VQ Volunteer Strategies developed in partnership with Offero.
To learn more, download the guide and sign up for our upcoming webinar to hear more of the research and follow the journey of one city, Fort Collins, CO, in its effort to embrace a holistic engagement strategy. Leave with a tool to plan your city’s engagement efforts and resources to build the case for support to embrace a citywide engagement strategy.
Upcoming Webinar—Learn More!
Citywide Volunteer Engagement: Path to Stronger Communities
September 24, 2019 2pm ET/11am PT
Register Today – Free (recordings available on demand following the webinar)