Volunteers talk, we listen.
As we prepare for our 31st season of planting trees + growing community we’re taking time to reflect on the feedback of the folks who make this all possible: our incredible and unparalleled volunteers.
We know there’s a lot to love about volunteering with Friends of Trees, and we also know we’re not perfect. To find out what works and what doesn’t, last season we surveyed more than 500 volunteers after events; here’s a sampling of what we learned and how we’re incorporating the feedback to make our programs stronger.
Would you recommend volunteering with Friends of Trees? Yes, absolutely!
96% of survey respondents would recommend volunteering with Friends of Trees.
“It was nice to do something for the community with good people.”
We also learned that the majority of volunteers came out because they wanted to do something good.
More good news:
The average “grade” for the Friends of Trees volunteer experience was a B+ (89); more volunteers than not felt more connected to their community after volunteering; and the vast majority learned something new about trees or the environment and felt prepared for their volunteer experience.
“Really nice people. I have volunteered 7 or 8 times and loved every time.”
“Those running the program were great, the people I met were great. This was a good feeling, getting out and helping like-minded individuals accomplish something for the greater good. Thanks for that!”
“Planting a tree in my yard with my neighbors was a great experience and memory that I will cherish.”
“It is wonderful to see so much community spirit. I loved seeing the bicycle delivery team!”
Folks had questions or need more information about:
What to expect at a Friends of Trees volunteer event.
“Even a rainy day failed to dampen my enthusiasm.”
We get it, not everyone loves to be outside early on a Saturday morning in the cold rain planting trees in the mud. Of course, it’s not always like that, but tree planting season is October – April because cool, wet conditions are best for the trees, giving the young trees we’re planting the absolute best chance of survival.
We plant trees. Lots of trees. Thousands of trees. And we do this in all weather – warm and sunny, cold and rainy. It gets muddy. It’s physical. This is how we make a difference – and, together, we make a big one: 50,000+ trees and native shrubs planted every a year, with more than 800,000 trees and shrubs planted since 1989.
Cold rain not for you? No problem, there are other ways you can help make a difference, through helping secure food for events, making phone calls, driving a truck … learn more about other volunteer roles here.
We learned that not everyone loves a bucket brigade. We do our best to let folks know what they’re in for, be it a tree planting event or a tree care event, and we’ll do more to let folks know the difference between volunteering for a tree planting event and a tree care event—because, yes, we want the trees we plant to survive and thrive so we do tree care, too!
The use of pronouns during introductions.
Friends of Trees will always strive to be a welcoming and safe place for everyone, regardless of age, ability, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, political views, economic status or anything else that makes you special. Without our volunteers, we are nothing. But together we do amazing things.
There were quite a few comments about our use of pronouns during introductions (for example, “My name is Jenny, I use she/her pronouns.” Or, he/him, they/them, etc.). Most were very positive but some people didn’t understand why we do this.
We understand that getting used to anything new can cause some people to feel a little uncomfortable or can simply just generate questions; we believe it’s well worth it so that others feel seen and welcome.
This response sums it up perfectly:
“As a trans person I really appreciated the affirmation of gender pronouns! It was much nicer that everyone shared at the start than having to correct people later :)”
As a community driven organization Friends of Trees fosters an atmosphere of inclusion and support. We continually work to improve and enhance these efforts and we are so grateful that our community of volunteers supports this:
“I will cherish the fact that in a group of volunteers ranging in age from 10- 65, people were using their pronouns as they introduce themselves. I think it was a learning experience for everyone.”
“I appreciate that you’re trying to reach out for a more diverse population of volunteers.”
“Everyone was so welcoming and kind.”
“There didn’t seem to be enough trees for our group.” “There were so many trees to plant!”
At most of our 100+ events we get the ratio of volunteers:trees planted right. We also acknowledge there is a fine line between too many volunteers and not enough volunteers, and walking this line is both an art and a science.
We assess the planting location, the number of trees to be planted, types and sizes of trees and shrubs, the size of the planting site, how many volunteers attended last year … all of this factors into how many volunteers are ideal for each location and we create a goal for each event. Sometimes more folks show up than registered; other times, people don’t show up. We’re humans, this happens. We do our best to account for this and create the best volunteer experience possible.
We sincerely value the time and effort of our volunteers and regularly work on how best to ensure each event has the ideal number of volunteers to trees. Last season we began asking all volunteers, not just groups, to pre-register for events and that’s made a big difference. And guess what? Registration for the 2019-2020 Friends of Trees season is now open! Check out our event calendar and registration information and join us for another season of planting trees + growing community.
We’ll leave you with one final quote:
“These times in our world are troubled and the news is often grim; each time I volunteer for a Friends of Trees planting I receive a huge dose of hopefulness. The sheer numbers of volunteers with all their varying stories coming together to volunteer when it is cold, wet, muddy is a great dose of joy. Plus, I have been to places previously unknown to me. Abundant riches are added to my life each time.”
Congratulations, you helped plant 50,000 trees and native shrubs last season! Now what? Good thing Friends of Trees isn’t just a tree planting organization–tree care is also on the list because we want the trees we plant to survive and grow and thrive.
It works.The survival rate for urban trees planted the Friends of Trees way, together, with guided post-planting care from our Tree Team, is 97% (based on Portland street trees planted last season). For the subset of trees we’ve been monitoring for nine years since planting it’s an 88% survival rate.
Our trees planted in natural areas also have strong survival rates, especially given some very challenging conditions; for example, some planting sites are not accessible for watering; some plants get eaten by wildlife; humans sometimes trample or vandalize; etc. Some studies indicate that an acceptable minimum survival rate for riparian area restoration plantings is 50%, so our survival rates of 81% in year one and 70% after three years are particularly impressive.
How do we help trees thrive?
We water. We prune. We mulch. We visit and assess. We do this for the street and yard trees planted through our Neighborhood Trees program as well as for the native trees and shrubs planted in our Green Space program.
As part of our Neighborhood Trees post-planting care, we:
- continually share information with tree-recipients about how much water, mulch and pruning trees need;
- deliver and apply free mulch soon after trees are planted;
- offer a summer watering service for a reasonable fee;
- have a Summer Inspector program where trained volunteers visit all newly planted trees twice in the first summer after planting to inspect for tree health, leaving tree care info for the tree recipient.
- have a longer term monitoring program where we visit subsets of trees planted anywhere from two to 10 years ago, to track health and growth;
- prune trees throughout the year (except for a few weeks in the spring and fall when trees are budding or dropping leaves). We rotate neighborhoods each year and focus most of our work on low income, low canopy and/or historically under-served communities.
Did we mention we prune? Last season we pruned more than 1,600 street trees, which is vital toward proper growth and really helps them survive wind, snow, and ice storms.
Our Green Space program also cares for the new trees and shrubs planted in natural areas, and we do this for up to 10 years after planting. The team is often joined by employee volunteer groups who help with summer maintenance tasks such as watering, mulching, and weeding (also called “day-lighting” since we’re clearing space around new plantings to provide for more light and air, and to reduce competition with weeds). We also assess for survival and replant when necessary.
Volunteers help with this! We train volunteers to inspect and prune trees, and volunteers are crucial to effectively mulching thousands of new trees at tree care events.
All told, we care for and monitor more than 54,000 trees a year!
We’re spreading the good word about trees.
We spend much of the summer spreading the word. Our Volunteer & Outreach Team, aided by dedicated Tree Team Ambassadors, attend events, festivals and fairs; plus, we have a crew of Canvassers who go door to door in priority neighborhoods. We strive to reach historically under-served, low-canopy neighborhoods with information about how to volunteer with us and how to get a tree from us. Interested in being a part of this? We’d love for you to join us.
Well it is sunny for once in Oregon and I’m glad it’s not too hot since I know the trees aren’t huge fans of 90 degree heat for multiple days. Although, that’s not the case for humans but you can’t have it all. Enough of the weather, I want to talk to you all about an exciting volunteer role that we are recruiting for here at Friends of Trees. We are looking for folks to jump into the role of Neighborhood Coordinator! But what does a Neighborhood Coordinator entail? Great question!
Here is a brief explanation of what the volunteer role might look for you: Together, NCs and Friends of Trees staff guide neighborhood plantings from beginning to end. No need to be an expert! Interested volunteers will be trained and supported throughout the planting that you will be coordinating. Together with staff, you will:
- Help coordinate one neighborhood planting per year (November-April);
- Respond to homeowner inquiries by email & phone;
- Make phone calls to homeowners that have not ordered their tree(s) to help them make their decision;
- Solicit pick-up trucks or open trailer pullers from neighbors;
- Recruit additional volunteers (Takes quite a few volunteers for one planting);
- Solicit food/monetary donations from the community for breakfast/lunch;
- Set up/coordinate breakfast & lunch for the volunteers on planting day
This is just a brief snapshot of what the volunteer role could be for you! We need NCs in these neighborhoods below:
Here are a few pictures that illustrate the results of what NCs accomplish:
If you know of anyone interested in the role (or yourself) and happen to be in a neighborhood listed in the table above please send them our way, share this blog with them, and cross your fingers that they sign up for the role with our handy registration form. REMEMBER, the best way to share volunteer opportunities is still through word of mouth (or text since that’s how folks seem to communicate nowadays).
Hope you continue to have a great Summer and kudos to you for making it through this detailed blog post!!
Pablo Brito is the Volunteer & Outreach Specialist for Friends of Trees
We love our volunteers, for so many reasons. Of course, reason #1 is that volunteers are key to getting 50,000+ trees and native shrubs in the ground every season. Another reason? Fun Bingo responses! At our recent volunteer appreciation party Friends of Trees Bingo featured factoids about FOT, trees and volunteering–and some of those answers were pretty fun. Check it out (“real” answers provided, too):
What is a tree’s favorite beer?
Lager | Root Beer | Rain-here/Rain-eer/Rainier
Is there a correct answer? This is actually a great opportunity to share important information about the water needs of newly planted trees: 15 gallons a week during the dry summer months for the first few years a tree is in the ground. This requirement has changed as our climate has warmed up, so be sure to water those thirsty trees! Find more tree care tidbits here.
Find someone who first started volunteering this season
Me! | Barry | Carmen
We LOVE that you, Barry, Carmen and so many other community members came out and volunteered with us this season! We hear all the time that a Friends of Trees planting event is the first time someone volunteered for anything; we also hear that one of our events is often the first time someone planted anything. What’s even better: So many first-time volunteers and first-time planters come back again and again for more. This is so special, and just what our community needs. Haven’t yet volunteered with Friends of Trees? Explore how.
What’s a tip for working with kids on a tree planing crew?
Plant the kid in the first hole | Have them look for worms | Snacks | Worms | Snacks
Friends of Trees engages more than 2,000 young people every season, through planting events and school-based partnerships. Our education programming for youth from elementary to high school combines classroom curriculum with field work, helping to grow the next Tree Team generation. Learn more about young people getting their hands dirty through planting trees.
What is the most common genus of tree planted in most major cities, including Portland?
OK, so pretty much everyone had the correct answer without even a pun. But this is a great way to remind folks about the importance of planting a diverse variety of trees: Tree diversity helps protect against species-specific pests and diseases, which in turn helps ensure a healthy canopy. Tree diversity also supports a wide range of pollinators and other beneficial insects, and so much more, which is why Friends of Trees strives to provide a diverse tree selection list everywhere we plant. Interested in getting a tree from Friends of Trees? Here’s the first step.
Name two FOT planting partners
City of Tualatin | Verde | POIC | PGE | City of Portland | Portland Trail Blazers
We received lots of correct answers and maybe this wasn’t the most humorous category. But we want to use this apparently easy Bingo answer to share that partnerships are just as necessary to our mission as volunteers, and we have so many partnerships. The photo above represents a few:
- The planting is in Portland’s Cully neighborhood, where our planting partner Verde is based.
- All Neighborhood Trees planting events in Portland neighborhoods are in partnership with the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services.
- Pictured in the photo are planters representing a couple of partners: Deward (2nd from left) is a POIC student and FOT Crew Leader, and Julieta (far right) is from David Douglas High School. Our POIC partnership involves student development, education and job training through students training and serving as FOT Crew Leaders; and, for more than six years DDHS students have volunteered at our outer-southeast Portland tree-planting events. (also pictured: Crew Leader Carmen, 1st on the left, and FOT staffers Manuel and Pablo, 3rd and 4th from left)
Further, sponsors such as the Portland Trail Blazers are also crucial to the success of our program, since their support is key to bridging funding gaps. In fact, Trail Blazers was the most common response to this question — #ripcity! (read about our 3s For Trees partnership below). We’d love for your business to join us as a sponsor!
There is so much more to know about trees and Friends of Trees, hone up here!
“Friends of Trees does more than simply plant a tree at a Vancouver resident’s house. They plant the right tree, the right way, in the right location.” -Charles Ray, City of Vancouver Urban Forester
For 16 years Friends of Trees has been planting the right trees, the right way, for Vancouver residents in partnership with the City of Vancouver. Currently more than 500 trees are planted every year here, thanks to the help of hundreds of community volunteers.
Vancouver’s Urban Forester, Charles Ray, reflects on this long-lasting, impactful partnership, and the important role trees play in the community,
“Vancouver has a long history with trees and considers trees community assets that provide multiple benefits, including clean water. The simple truth is trees in the community have practical, quantifiable values and are not merely decorations. They provide essential benefits that we cannot live without.
“We are fortunate to have an organization like Friends of Trees that shares the same mission and helps us accomplish more. Most municipal programs across the country dream of having an opportunity such as this. Friends of Trees does more than simply plant a tree at a Vancouver resident’s house. They plant the right tree, the right way, in the right location.
“Friends of Trees engages that person several times through the process, enabling staff and volunteers to share the benefits of trees and educate them about the City’s processes and requirements around trees. It also offers them an opportunity to engage hands-on with the community asset, the tree that will be planted in front of their house. This often leads to stronger community connections and civic involvement, and knowledge of the benefits, how to care for and needs of the urban forest.
“Planting the right tree in the right place and giving it the right care and pruning make all the difference to ensuring a healthy urban forest today and for generations to come. It only takes a minute to improperly prune or remove a tree but a lifetime to grow one.
“We cannot do it alone. I am excited by Friends of Trees’ commitment to Vancouver and the community’s efforts to meet this need. If I could ask for one thing it would be participation from the business community to sponsor plantings so that we can increase our annual planting goals with Friends of Trees.”
Charles, we couldn’t say it better ourselves; Vancouver businesses, join us!
Pictured above: Far left, Jessica George, City of Vancouver; standing, third from left, UF Program intern Bruce
This is from the April 2019 edition of our e-news, Treemail; check out that issue of Treemail, and others, here.