An Opinion Written By Jim Folger, NTMN Class of 2007
February 21, 2021
During these pandemic times it has been more difficult for chapter members to log volunteer hours.
Our board petitioned the state Texas Master Naturalist (TMN) leadership for a reduction in the hours requirement, but was denied. Our partner organization Master Gardeners appealed to AgriLife for a reduction, and received approval to reduce the certification requirement from 30 to 12 hours in 2020.
Since the founding of TMN 21 years ago, the emphasis has always been on logging hours of volunteer time, with little or no attention given to the “quality” of those hours. This is understandable, since the hours recorded are the singular statistic of importance to proving master naturalists make a difference, and replace the need for paid employees. In the 2020 True Facts Report from TMN 6.2 million hours was heralded along with $100 million in value for those hours since inception.
The point of certification is to have a benchmark requirement for volunteer hours to log by members of the chapter. If you record the 40 VH/year + 8 AT, you receive a small pin in recognition of that effort. As a member since 2007, I have dutifully recorded and certified for 14 years, and have 14 pins tucked away in a drawer.
While certifying has always been a good goal each year, recently I have asked myself why does it really matter? For me, it is more important to enjoy working with fellow members and contributing to activities that have engaged my interest and commitment.
Most of our members are not aware that in the past, we have basically turned over our membership every four years. One can expect that out of their new class, within three years 50% of the class will have dropped their membership. In earlier years of the chapter we were concerned about the turnover in membership. As hard as we tried, we were not very successful in lessening the turnover despite the addition of better communications and Big Chapter Projects. Based on past member research surveys, those who drop out or fail to certify simply do not have the time, are involved as much as they want to be, live in places where appealing volunteer opportunities do not exist, or are geographically too far away.
As I reflect on all of this, it occurs to me that in order to retain more of our membership we should regularly remind them that they can continue to remain a member if they just pay their dues. Certification is not required, nor is attendance at general meetings – it just doesn’t matter. That is, when the time is right, and members find opportunities that they would like to work on, then they can log more hours. But, it doesn’t matter, you can stay a member if you pay your dues.
I am also thinking that as a chapter we could provide special pins that recognize five years of membership. We don’t need TMN official pins, this would just be a way for our chapter to thank people for staying with us and contributing what they can.
Contact Jim with your thoughts on this subject here.