The Karma Initiative

Encouraging support through incentives

In most volunteer organizations, a small group of individuals contribute most of the effort, relative to the number of people who benefit. The Rachel Carson Trails Conservancy is no exception, and over the years we've pondered ways of encouraging more folks to get involved. We've made pleas on the web site, on ChallengeTalk, and at our annual meetings, but received little response.

In 2009 we tried an incentive approach, the Volunteers Start First program. We'd been getting requests, mainly from runners, to be able to start the Rachel Carson Trail Challenge ahead of the hikers. But the Challenge has no single start time, so this meant letting anyone who declared themselves to be a runner to cut in front of the starting queue. This didn't seem fair, and Volunteers Start First was a way to incent anyone, including fast hikers, to earn the right to start first by volunteering at least four hours. The program has been fairly successful, resulting in several dozen volunteers showing up for trail work projects since its inception.

Clearly, incentives work. But the primary constraint we faced when considering other incentive programs was managing the recordkeeping required to fairly and accurately track the activity. The VSF program was small enough it could be managed by hand with existing resources. Anything more popular, however, would need more.

We've needed a new system for registering for the Challenge in order to more equitably allocate the limited spots available. No matter what we considered, technology would need to be applied for it to be manageable. A straightforward lottery system would be the simplest, but a strictly random selection process could exclude people who've contributed significantly to the organization. Could we do better?

Introducing Karma

The term karma means action or deed, the cumulative effect of which determines your destiny. On March 1, we'll open a new web site which allows you to view and manage your contribution to the Conservancy in four distinct areas: volunteer hours, event participation, donations, and membership. You earn karma in each area, the sum total of which influences your position when allocating spots for events like the Challenge. Here's how karma is earned:

Volunteer Hours Beginning in 2012, every hour you volunteer at a Conservancy event earns you 150 karma. If you volunteer for six hours on a trail work project this spring, you'll earn 900 karma.

Event Participation For every paid Conservancy event you've participated in (including the Challenge back to the beginning), you earn 250 karma. If you participated in the Homestead Challenge twice and the UltraChallenge Relay once, you'll have 750 karma.

Donations Every dollar donated to the Conservancy since January 1, 2012 earns you 10 karma. Donate $20, earn 200 karma.

Membership Every Conservancy membership-dollar earns you 10 karma. Join or renew at the $50 level and you'll earn 500 karma.

We've done our best to clean up our data so we can accurately identify your participation in past events and current membership level. Data for past volunteer activity and donations were not available, which is why those areas begin this year.

Event participation, donations, and membership are automatically tracked and recorded by the system or a Conservancy volunteer. Volunteer hour reporting, however, is up to you. After you've volunteered at an event or project, you'll need to log on to the web site and submit your hours. Once the event supervisor or project leader approves it, you'll earn karma.

Karma has two characteristics to keep in mind. First, karma never expires. Once earned, it's yours. Second, karma can be gifted. If you've earned lots of karma and want to give it to a friend to help them get a spot in the Challenge, you can do that on the web site. Once you gift karma, it cannot be revoked. The only way to retrieve it is to have the recipient gift it back to you.

We believe the Karma Initiative is an objective way of determining the contribution an individual has made toward achieving the goals of the Conservancy. That's important because it's an essential element of the new Challenge registration system. Read about it here.