Local chapters are uniquely positioned to understand the needs and goals of the sites they support. Volunteers and active chapter members understand the needs of the site and the importance of enhancing the site’s offerings. Understanding the basics of working with site staff can help core chapter members and leaders accomplish shared goals more efficiently.
Ultimately, the site manager has the final authority over activities that take place at the site. It is the site manager’s responsibility to ensure the site is operated safely and in accordance with guidelines from the DNR and PRHSD and he or she will work through the appropriate Division leadership as needed. A site manager has responsibilities beyond just providing memorable experiences to park guests. Conservation and protection of the natural, cultural and historical resources may take priority in some cases over the guest experience or the chapter’s desires. Understanding these priorities can help a chapter work well with the site manager and keep things operating smoothly.
Division management, through the Site Manager has the ultimate and final authority over activities that take place on site. His or her approval must be obtained for chapter activities taking place on site.
The site manager should be an integral part of a Friends chapter. The manager’s goals and approvals are critical to helping the chapter succeed in its efforts to support the site. The site manager has a unique view of the site from the broad perspective encompassing all of the site’s needs and resources. The site manager or designee should be invited to chapter meetings to help guide the chapter toward effective support of the site.
The interpretive staff at a site is made up of the person or people responsible for helping the public get the most out of the resources. At a historic site, the interpretive staff is familiar with the site’s history and its significance to Georgians. At state parks, the interpretive staff often has responsibility for educating the public about the resource itself and other concepts around general conservation and the natural sciences. Since the interpretive staff is typically responsible for interacting with the public, they are often the key liaison to the Friends chapter. The interpretive staff also frequently coordinates the volunteers on the site and may be the designated Volunteer Coordinator.
Coordinating volunteers for and with the site staff can be a critical role for the chapter. Chapters frequently help conduct special events requiring volunteer help beyond the core group of chapter leaders and active members. It is critical that the responsibility for coordinating volunteers for each event be clearly defined well in advance of the event itself. Events and projects that hinge on volunteer efforts can fail due to simple misunderstandings about who was coordinating with volunteers. For larger, more active chapters, it may be wise to designate one person within the chapter to serve as a Volunteer Coordinator. Anyone can serve in this role. The Volunteer Coordinator should coordinate with the site regarding the number of volunteers required for events and projects and clarify responsibilities for contacting and coordinating the volunteers.
When things go wrong
Any group of passionate people gathered together will sometimes reach points of conflict in objectives, directions and decisions. For the most part, conflicts are typically resolved easily and swiftly through normal communication and discussions. However, there are occasions when issues may arise that are not easily resolvable.
In all cases, the first and most important step in resolving conflicts should be communication. Some may have a tendency to hide concerns or not share ideas they perceive as negative. In almost all cases, increased communication will set the chapter and staff back on the road to cooperation.
When a chapter gets off track
Occasionally, as with any community group, a chapter will go through periods of inactivity. Some chapters may lose members or experience a leadership change that drastically reduces the overall effectiveness of the chapter as a whole. Sometimes, personality conflicts may arise that make working with the chapter leadership difficult and, thus, make accomplishing goals very challenging.
In these cases, it is in the best interest of the overall chapter health to step back from the current situation and regroup. Sometimes priorities may have changed or been miscommunicated and the act of backing up can help reset priorities.
Site Manager difficulties
In some cases, a chapter may see a problem with the site manager or site staff. Again, personality conflicts may be at the root but, more often than not, simple communication is the problem. When a chapter has problems with a site manager, often the resolution hinges on clearly understanding the manager’s goals and resetting expectations to help meet those goals.
It is recommended that chapters and site managers follow these few simple steps to help get back on the path to a productive partnership:
- Communicate - Clear, open and honest communications are the first start toward resolving conflicts. Even long term frustrations can often be resolved by discussing the problems openly and honestly.
- Re-prioritize - Often problems arise because chapter priorities and site manager priorities become out of sync. Hold a special chapter meeting with the core leadership team and the site manager (and any appropriate staff) to help reset and re-sync priorities.
- Ask Questions - Problems often arise from simple misunderstandings about reasons, priorities and goals. By asking open ended questions like “Why do you want to do that?” “What are you trying to accomplish?” and “How do you see that benefitting the site?” each side can better understand the other.
- Find areas of agreement - Often, disagreements may result from a chapter not being given permission to do something that is important to them or from a site manager requesting a chapter to do something they are unwilling or unable to do. Rather than focusing on what is not working, both should try to find areas of agreement based on the shared priorities rather than sticking to a specific, contentious issue. For example, a chapter may want to add something to an existing program that the site manager feels is inappropriate for the site. The chapter may ask the site manager what can be done instead. Or the site manager may ask the chapter, “What else could we do that would accomplish the same goal?”
When all else fails
Sometimes these simple problem resolution steps are not enough to resolve larger, deeper conflicts. There is no single correct solution for all cases. However, Statewide Friends is available to help mediate and resolve issues. Statewide Friends will serve to help both the site manager and the chapter come to mutual agreements involving the region manager or division leadership as necessary. The goal, of course, is to get the chapter and site manager back into an effective partnership.