Finding enough people to give up their time to help can be challenging and time consuming for over-stretched event organisers. That is not to say that these people don’t exist though.
Volunteers can make or break your event, especially in the sports sector. We rely on the good natured and kind-hearted individuals, athletes and fitness fanatics prepared to take time out of their weekends to fill important roles and help organisers ensure events are safe.
Finding enough people to give up their time to help can be challenging and time consuming for over-stretched event organisers. That is not to say that these people don’t exist though. It is how you find them and encourage them to contribute to your race day that can be tricky. Simply asking people to help isn’t always enough to build the workforce that you need. In order to achieve a level of commitment and the work ethic that you require you may need to understand a volunteers motivation and then offer something back.
Get it right and, by being smart and intuitive in the way you recruit your volunteers, you will build a loyal team and may never need to pay for a marshal team again!
Before you start asking for volunteers to help at your event you need to know the positions you wish to fill. Have a plan. Are you just after marshals or are there more senior or responsible roles that need filling? In addition to this, decide how many spaces need filling and how much time and resourcing will you need to dedicate to briefing them in advance of, and on, the race day. To help you do this, you draw up a work flow showing all your staff/volunteering roles from top to bottom, so you can fill these in, as and when you recruit. If you are looking for route marshals then get a large print out of your route map and highlight where you need a marshal placed and allocate the role to a specific volunteer, perhaps someone who lives nearby or can easily get to that point. Remember as part of your marshal documentation you will need their contact details including mobile number and call sign for contacting them throughout the event and you will need to brief them thoroughly on what to do, particularly in an emergency.
There is nothing worse than a last-minute panic, especially when it comes to your ‘on the day’ staff. Don’t leave it until a week before to start asking around to find volunteers. A lot of people plan their weekends in advanced and it can come across as “you’re an afterthought” which can devalue the opportunity for the volunteer. It makes perfect sense to build the team in the months well ahead of your race day. This will alleviate some of the last minute pressure. The earlier you start the bigger the team may become and, if some do have to drop out on the day which is always a possibility, then you can make sure you have enough contingency cover to replace these roles.
The UK has an amazing amount of good will. According to the *NCVO website there are over 11m people who formally volunteer regularly at least once per month. Of course that’s not all in sport but statistics like that do demonstrate that there are people out there who genuinely want to help. Sometimes its just the case that they need to be guided towards an opportunity and, more importantly, be asked. There has to be a reason to do it however and that could be a passion in the sport, a keen interest or hobby around sport, or even a personal link with an entrant. Here are some suggestions on places to go to find your volunteers:
- Running/Sports clubs, this is a great place to start, a lot of the local sports clubs should have already heard about your event and if members (or their family and friends) aren’t taking part then they will be keen to help out to be closer to see a participant taking part. You can also be assured that they are highly likely to deliver for you as they will see the event from an entrant’s perspective.
- parkrun, be polite and careful when approaching local parkruns as they get asked all the time for volunteers and don’t forget they are also an event that is built off of the good will of others! It is worth finding out who your local parkrun Race Directors are and building good relationships with them and they can ask their runners if anyone would be keen to help at your event – just don’t be too pushy!
- Gyms, approach these the same way as above. Running clubs and gyms will have fitness driven members of staff that will be familiar with working with the type of people who will be entering your race. A lot of them will be looking to expand their PT clients so a chance to be involved in a local sporting event is a good opportunity for them to reach out to potential new clients through your event. Make sure that you run this past any gym sponsors or partners you already have in case they want exclusivity. Remember gym staff may wear their companies branding which might be a direct competitor of a partner.
- Previous entrants, you will have accumulated a database of entrants since you event launched and not all of them will be taking part every year. For those that are not entering this time, (and provided you have GDPR compliant marketing permissions to contact them), you can reach out to them to ask if they would be interested in helping at your event. There is a good chance they will know other entrants, so this is a good chance for them to support from the side-lines whilst fulfilling a job for you.
- Local businesses, if your event is taking place in the town you will want as many local business owners on side as possible. Sometimes the best way to stop them being negatively effected (ie that road closures, high street traffic) is to get them involved from the outset. Let them know what is going on in advance so that they can make the most of the mass of people you are bringing to one place. If their business is on a racing route for example why not get them to marshal a point near their business showing how their business is supporting a local community event? This may be an opportunity for them to raise their profile too.
- Volunteer websites, there are volunteer websites (Just do a quick search…) where you can post free adverts to recruit volunteers for those seeking these roles as work experience. The quality of candidate is unpredictable however but there is no harm in getting these ads set up well in advance to gauge the level of interest. It’s important to make sure your ad copy is interesting and you detail what is required and the date and time element involved as accurately as possible so there are no mis-understandings or assumptions made.
- Charities, if you haven’t got a partner charity then you can still go to other local charities and ask for help. Charities may be on the look-out for opportunities for local fundraising groups to maintain a presence at local events. They might want to collect donations** and show the cause they support to a large volume of people so offering table space may encourage a charity group to manage/co-share a help desk or put up banners/help at a water stop. This may also help you to build a relationship with that charity which, in the future, may bring in more runners who are supporters of that cause.
- Schools/Colleges/Scout/Cadet groups, These sources may have young people willing to offer their time in exchange for some much-valued work and life experience. Cadet groups are especially useful as they usually have very organised cadet leaders that can manage them as part of a team. Make sure that what you offer is relevant ie sometimes they may be effective in roles such as managing a kit tent and organising car parks/crowd control.
- Other Event Organisers, Other organisers in your area will have pools of volunteers that they rely on and some of these volunteers may well be up for helping at other local events. You can also guarantee they’re well experienced and know what is expected of them, so you can trust them to use their initiative on race day. Contact local event organisers and build good relationships and encourage cross working so that you can help them as much as they help you.
It’s about win-win. Sometimes to get enough volunteers you need to provide a reason for them to help you. In addition to it being ‘a nice thing to do’ which, as an event organiser you should more than appreciate, you need to have the mindset that the more recognition and reward you can give to your volunteers, the stronger the relationship will become. Here are a few ways you can incentivise to help convert your hard efforts into volunteer signups:
As you start to recruit, and you get volunteers signing up it is important to record how many you have, who they are and their preferred contact details. Now you can start filling the roles with the people you think are best suited based on their experience. Why not give them all a call and introduce yourself and your event? If volunteers are happy for you to share their details with other volunteers then start to introduce them to each other. This is particularly important if the volunteer won’t know anyone and they won’t then feel so isolated. They may be volunteering for social reasons and to make new friends. Maintaining a dialogue is a great way to express your gratitude whilst also finding out more about them and the value they can provide to your race. If you are working with an event management or health and safety team they will also want details of the roles you have filled in case they need to contact any of these people throughout the day so make sure you keep accurate documentation baring any changes right up until your event.
You have a duty of care to make sure your volunteers are safe and looked after which may mean offering them safety advice and sustenance to keep them alert and hydrated. They are giving up their day so the least you can do is provide free or discounted refreshments. Contact your food & drink stalls or local café and offer to provide discount vouchers in return for sending them business or pay for this up front and allow your team to go there to collect free snacks. If you have ordered plenty of water for your event, then sparing a few bottles for your team to collect on the morning is a cost-effective way to keep them happy. Some events have had to be cancelled due to safety concerns of the volunteers so don’t forget you are also responsible for their wellbeing as well as your participants.
Your volunteers will be your eyes and ears on the day. They will be your ambassadors on the day. They will be well placed to offer up outcomes, challenges and successes. As well as offering their perspective and feedback for future years they will feel valued and respected that you have asked for their advice and critique. (Especially useful if they spot something on the course that you didn’t think of!). So… bite the bullet and don’t be afraid to ask - take all the constructive criticism on board and more importantly, make sure you act on it where it will make improvements next time.
Finally, always remember to show your gratitude, smile, say thank to each of the volunteers – this should be on the day or if you miss them, the day after with a follow up email, note or thank you card. They may be part of a team but it’s important to make it feel personal and friendly – they gave up their time for YOU. If they have had a positive experience then they highly likely to help again in the future which will only serve to add to your event’s ongoing success.
We’re here to help
If you have any questions or would like some help and advice around recruiting volunteers for your events, you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org
**(note: licenses may be required for street collections and you should check with the charity that they are aware of/will manage this https://www.institute-of-fundraising.org.uk/guidance/fundraising-disciplines/community-and-volunteer-fundraising/charitable-collections/)
The team at eventrac are on hand to assist with all components of your event. From advice on promoting your event through low cost channels such as social media, to a guided tutorial on a specific feature of eventrac. We are here to help.