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 volunteer's 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!
Identify your Needs
Before you start asking for volunteers to help at your event you need to know the positions you wish to fill. Here are some pointers to help you pin down your requirements:
- Type of role. Are you just after marshals or are you looking for team leader roles too? Create a plan to show the positions which need filling. This will help you determine how much time and resourcing will you need to dedicate to briefing them in advance of, and on, race day.
- Create a workflow/chart to 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. This will help you later down the line with transport logistics too.
- Use your Risk Assesment to determine how many marshalls and staff you need in different locations and for what purpose. Emergency planning is a key part of your race plan, where your chart can provide both you and everyone in your team clarity on who’s accountable for what and who reports to whom.
- Add 10-20% to your staff numbers for safety measures. Allocate jobs that need the most training in advance to your most reliable volunteers, then invite volunteers over and above the numbers you think you’ll need to join on race day and allocate roles on the fly, as needs arise!
Getting Volunteers on your Eventrac Platform
The admin involved in keeping track of all the volunteers, along with the several tiers of their contact details, can be overwhelming. As the complexity of your volunteer planning increases, managing the process through spreadsheets can quickly become a nightmare and expose you to errors. But by using your Eventrac platform, this can be made easier!
If you are recruiting volunteers via your facebook page, on your website, or via email, it will be worth it if you create a special ‘ticket’ link for race volunteers details to sign up their interest. By creating a FREE volunteer ticket on your Eventrac platform, you can get your potential recruits to register details to be stored on your platform. Each entry can specify the details of their involvement, such as ‘team name’ for the role in which they are being allocated to. This gives you the ability to email them all together, with relevant information about the day, find their numbers easily in the entries database and not lose their details.
Finding your Volunteers
When it comes to recruiting race volunteers, besides the odd person signing up here and there, you’ll want to focus your energy on recruiting teams rather than individuals. And there are two groups, in particular, you’d want to focus on: charities/volunteer organisations and amateur sports clubs.
Working with groups is a great way to leverage not only numbers but existing team relationships and structures. Remember: people in these groups know each other outside your race and may have worked on several other volunteering projects before.
- 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.
To get enough volunteers you’ll likely need to offer something in return and give 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:
- Describe the impact of their work on the runners, especially those who are raising money for a cause
- Offer a discount to next year’s event
- Offer their friends & family discounts to this year’s event
- Offer them food & drink discounts at your event
- Give them a snazzy job title they can put on their CV
- Get them a volunteer t-shirt as a souvenir
- Say thank you and keep them informed
Most work volunteers work is not rocket science. However, coordinating a large number of people to show up for a race and work together safely and effectively takes prep work.
By using your organisational chart, you can start with all of your team leaders and those assigned to more responsible roles. With the help of these guys you should be able to train the others, as they will assume the ‘managerial duties’ for your event until everyone is comfortable with their role in the chain.
It is important to keep in mind some best-practice rules during this process:
- Start early. Always keep in mind that your volunteers are enthusiastic part-timers, not dedicated professionals. This means they have lives to run and may not be able to all coordinate at the same time or at short notice. So, the earlier you start the training the better.
- Update them regularly. As the training progresses, make sure you get feedback from your team leaders. It’s important to be confident training stays on track. If there are any issues, make sure they’re quickly escalated and resolved.
- Group Meetups. Meet up a couple of times before the race with your entire volunteer team. It’s good that everyone knows each other, gets to see the broader picture and is made to feel part of a team.
Make sure you cover a couple of key points:
- Does everyone know where they need to be on race day and at what time?
- Does everyone have contact details for people they will be interacting with on race day (their team captain, other team members, the medical team, as well as the race director as a last resort)?
- Does everyone feel sufficiently equipped/informed to carry out the task assigned to them?
- Does everyone know how to escalate issues they cannot resolve themselves?
If every one of you volunteers is confident of having answers to all of the above at the end of training, your training has been a success.
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.
Retain your volunteers!
Always remember to show your gratitude, 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.
After you’re done expressing your appreciation for your volunteers’ contributions, put some effort into keeping up team spirit throughout the year. Create a dedicated Facebook group for your volunteers and link the group to your race Facebook page. Maintaining communications can be made easy with your Eventrac platform to send them emails with links to pictures, facebook groups and info regarding any perks they might be able to redeem eg. discounted race entries.