Tecumseh Land Trust Volunteer Richard Zopf

Richard’s interview write out
10/17/13
Katie Campbell
When Richard Zopf decided to attend the annual meeting of the Tecumseh Land Trust twelve years ago he couldn’t have known that it would lead to more than a decades commitment to the organization. He went to the meeting simply out of curiosity, he already had land secured in an easement through the Yellow Springs Jacoby Road green belt fund and was interested to see what else was going on in local land conservation. He went to the meeting in general because he spends a good deal of his time volunteering in many capacities at a variety of organizations and was looking into what the land trust was doing. While at the meeting it was discussed that they were in need of a new treasurer. Richard had the skills and time so offered up that he could volunteer for the position.
I have known Richard for all of my life, he is highly energetic and giving of his time, a jack of all trades, master of none. He is the first person to ask when you are in need of anything, a consummate collector, he probably has what you need, either skill sharing or materials and tools, he is a great person to have on your team. He has little money to give but gives of his time more than anyone I know.
His job as treasurer lasted for three years when he was asked to join the board. He is a surveyor and has served on a number of local government committees often related to zoning. RIchard has now served on the board for nearly 9 years, that is three terms. The land trust limits their board members to three terms of three years each but there are a number of “lifers” who sit out a year then come back to the board for another set of terms.
With Richard’s previous experience on other boards and committees he said that there were not really any surprises about volunteering at the land trust . Nothing earth shattering, just that the larger the organization the more complexities there are, the larger the board the more personalities.
As a board member Richard attends all board meetings, scheduled once a month. He is also a member of both the finance and land preservation committees, both meeting about once a month or when needed. He is the payroll manager and also serving as the only volunteer easement monitor on a handful of easements that the trust holds. Easement monitors make an annual walk of the the property that is held in the trust, photographing it and documenting any changes, this is done by law to any land held in a conservation trust in order to keep track of how it is evolving and its overall health in relation to its value and possible needs for changes or maintinence.
Richard didn’t really actively seek out the land trust to volunteer there so with no expectations he didn’t have any preconceived ideas about what it might or might not entail. He also pointed out that with different levels of experience in volunteering, people have a very wide variation in understanding what is involved. He imagines that he probably does fairly typical things involved with being on a board as people might guess.
The most pleasure in volunteering at the trust comes from the joys of meeting with interesting people. Including other board members, farmers, community members and land trust members. Building relationships and connections through his work there has been rewarding all around in addition to learning some more details about the easement process. What he really loves most though is walking the land, and getting outside in all weather. The Ohio country side is a beautiful place. Getting to go out and walk a piece of land that is in the process of being preserved is a great pleasure, all land is walked by committee members as a required part of the land evaluation process before it can be fully processed for an easement. Another outdoor volunteer position he enjoys is a service that is auctioned off at the land trust’s annual auction. They auction the land trusts services in an invasive species removal project on the land of the highest bidder, again, another chance to outside and explore new land.
When considering a volunteer position {anywhere} Richard’s greatest advice is to think long and honestly about how much time you want to put in versus how much you can and how much is needed in the position that you are volunteering for. Ask questions about what general expectations are that fall into the roll you are considering. Not everything may be obvious until you ask. Really dig for the best picture of commitment beyond just time spent. At the land trust some advice would be to talk with the employees about what your interests and talents are and try to find a niche where you can be of the most use and gain the most pleasure your self.
Richard’s quick and obvious answer to the question of whether or not he would recommend volunteering at the trust, he says of course, he would recommend it to some people and not others for obvious personality/interests reasons. One tricky thing to navigate in many nonprofits in his experience is to strike a balance between younger paid employees and older volunteers. Organizations may do all they can to milk talents and work from volunteers {who are generally older} and at the same time having paid employees do the same task. This can be a hard balance for some volunteers, especially when you are trying to diversify the age group of your volunteers, which is a challenge to many to fit into their schedules when they are younger.
While talking about the different skills that would be helpful to the different roles of volunteers, Richard really stressed that people need to learn how to work as a group. More specifically to function on a board and to work with a wide rage of people, though they may have a similar interest in the mission of the organization but it doesn’t mean that they will work well together so they must really learn how to be a good board member in order to be an asset to the whole group. It is not automatic that people will get it right, with a variety of agendas amongst the board staff the group has to keep monitoring itself to stay on the task at hand. With that, the most useful skill may be having already served on a fluid and well run board, utilizing past experiences to apply to the land trust board. Finally, having a deep commitment to the mission and being open minded about different styles goes a long way in making you an effective volunteer in any capacity.
Having spent much of his life volunteering in many capacities, being outdoors, working as a surveyor and on a number of other boards, Richard said that many of the skills that he has brought to the land trust were already developed elsewhere. He had a good bit of general land trust knowledge through research with the Land Trust Alliance, serving on the Community Service board, Yellow Springs Planning Commission and a caving research organization. All of this in conjunction with his passion for land conservation and his living and working in Yellow Springs where we have a long history of land trust use and exploring intentional communities.
Richard joined the Tecumseh Land Trust almost by accident. He has much passion for the cause, already having his own land in a trust with a village run easement protecting a green belt around the village. The land trust was one local nonprofit where he had not already volunteered. He has served on many local boards and spends a good deal of his time volunteering in other capacities. Work at Planned Parenthood of Ohio, Friends Care Center, long time tutor and lay reader in the Yellow Springs schools, Odd Fellows, and a variety of other village committees. (Yellow Springs loves to form committees, for better or worse there are lots of opportunities to serve on a variety of committees.)
A huge satisfaction comes from skill sharing and giving of your time, this is Richard’s big drive behind volunteering and finding new ways to learn and then pass on what he has learned.

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