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Fall 2023 Project Spotlight: Friends of the LA River (FoLAR)

Learn about how our consultants enabled FoLAR to continue to grow and enhance their initiatives.

Problem Statement

What outreach strategies are feasible to implement and will aid FoLAR retain more volunteers? What are possible expansion opportunities and what are the logistics needed to undergo a seamless transition?

About FoLAR

Friends of the LA River (FoLAR) builds capacity for communities, students, and future leaders to advocate for nature, climate, and equity on the Los Angeles River. FoLAR is dedicated to bringing the People to the River and the River to the People year-round. They provide a variety of ways in which Angelenos can connect to their River, from nature walks, writing workshops, and yoga sessions, to becoming a community scientist and detecting bats or conducting bird surveys along the River. They also host monthly habitat restoration days at one of their sites, as well as offer educational programs for students including a free Source to Sea curriculum, scholarships, and Day of Discovery field trips.

Problem Description

One of the key components to FoLAR’s mission is the sites where they host events. Currently they have one site along the LA river. FoLAR is seeking to further expand to more sites along the LA river so they can continue to educate more angelenos on the local environment and issues that it currently faces. To start they have asked us to look at their site along the Sepulveda basin and see if there are any improvements that could be made. From there, when looking at possible sites of expansion they have asked us to keep the following factors in mind: look for dirt bottomed sections, neighboring parks, and if there are people that could partner with FoLAR who are already educated on the surrounding area.

Another initiative they’ve asked us to look at is researching community outreach programs. In particular, they want to know what other similar sized environmental non profits have been doing to increase community engagement and better spread their message. Currently, FoLAR has a good variety of community outreach programs, but is interested in seeing if there are other avenues they could explore that could boost volunteer retention, while ensuring that that positive and inclusive environment that they’ve worked on fostering continues.

Project Agenda & Objectives


Expansion Program: Identify possible sites of expansion and organizations that would be interested in partnering with FoLAR

  • Research: Learn more about the surrounding geography of the LA river, as well as other environmental organizations, taking notes of possible points of interest (think parks, river basins, etc.)

  • Outreach: Develop a list of potential site expansion partners that could potentially work with FoLAR in the future to further educational and advocacy efforts

  • Adapt: Propose a clear set of communicative guidelines FoLAR can employ to best officiate discussions around expansion with possible partners

  • Develop: Create a list of both digital and physical partnerships strategies feasible for FoLAR to implement to ensure successful collaboration to further environmental initiatives

Outreach Program: Develop a list of potential outreach programs that are feasible for FoLAR to implement within their current toolkit. Create guidelines for measuring success of outreach initiatives

  • Research: Analyze the effectiveness of FoLAR’s current outreach efforts and conduct a competitive analysis of similar-sized environmental organizations to gauge what competitors are doing differently.

  • Interview: Reach out to similar organizations and discuss their current outreach efforts, making note of how they have measured success of said programs

  • Adapt: Identify which strategies would be most effective to boost FoLAR’s current outreach efforts and boost overall volunteers and volunteer retention

  • Develop: Create an outreach strategy that focuses on bettering current outreach, taking into account possible areas of improvement particularly amongst volunteer progression, communication, and identifying metrics of success

1) Expansion Program, In More Depth

After surveying FoLAR’s site, we decided to focus our efforts on initiating contact with organizations within the LA metropolitan area. From there, we decided on 5 potential non-profit partners, as well as the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), who all have a bigger presence and could aid FoLAR in their mission to educate Angelenos about the LA River. At this point, we created a list of points of contact, proposed a set of communicative guidelines, and developed a partnership strategy that would incorporate both physical and digital initiatives.

2) Outreach Program, In More Depth

We began by conducting research on FoLAR’s current outreach strategy. On our client site-visit we interviewed both employees and volunteers to get a better understanding of what needed to be done to improve turnout and retention. From there, we interviewed similar competitor organizations on their efforts, making note of what they’ve been doing differently, as well as how they have measured success of their programs. After conducting a bit of secondary research looking at studies on volunteer retention, we decided to revise FoLAR’s current strategy by focusing on a volunteer progression system and improving communication about events with would-be volunteers.

The Impact of 180DC's Work

Overall, the work of both workstreams will enable FoLAR to continue to grow and enhance their initiatives. By expanding into the LA metropolitan area, and working with organizations that already have a presence, FoLAR stands to reach a much broader audience and bring more awareness to local environmental issues. Furthermore, incorporating a volunteer progression system and being more proactive in communicating events to local environmental groups and networks, would foster a growing community of active and reoccuring volunteers at their events.

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