Volunteers are the lifeblood of any endurance event. They receive no money, no medal, but they still show up early and ready to work. Yet too often these efforts go underappreciated. We get it: as a race director, volunteer management is just one more thing on your checklist. Between runners, vendors, sponsors… it’s easy to put volunteers on the back burner.
But don’t do it! Having a strong, motivated volunteer base is worth every bit of effort. Do it right and they’ll keep your event running smoothly year after year. That being said, here are our 6 steps to effective volunteer management.
Start with a Head Count
First, figure out how many volunteers you need! Make a list of every task you’ll need help with, like the following:
- Goodie Bag Stuffing
- Packet Pick-Up
- Parking Attendants
- Course Set-Up
- Day-of Registration
- Information Booth, depending on size of event
- Aid & Water Stations
- Course Marshals
- Food & Beverage
- Clean-Up Crew
- Floaters to fill in the gaps
If you’re not sure how many volunteers you’ll need for a task, visit races of a similar size to see how they do it.
Designate a Volunteer Coordinator
Like we said, we know you have a lot on your plate. Save yourself time and stress by making a staff member your volunteer coordinator. They’re responsible for recruiting, managing, and communicating with your volunteers. This is their baby – you just check in on it every once in a while.
Instead of trying to grow your volunteers one-by-one, go to local clubs, schools, and businesses to recruit groups. You can also target athletes’ friends and family; volunteering is a great way for them to get involved and support their loved one. Put a clear call-to-action on your confirmation emails, website, and social media platforms. Mention that you are looking for volunteers in press releases you send out. Finally, make sure you’re keeping track of your volunteers. You’ll want to invite them back next year!
Time to Train
You got your volunteers… now you just need to make sure they know what they’re doing! Start by making a detailed volunteer packet for each position – and when we say detailed, we mean detailed! Include where and when to check in, who to check in with (include photos so there’s no guessing), a course map, parking info, emergency contacts, what they’ll be doing and how to do it. It may seem like a lot, but trust us. The more seamless the process, the more likely they are to come back next year.
Send this information well in advance with plenty of reminder emails. In every communication, include who to contact if they can’t make it. Consider hosting a volunteer orientation to get to know your volunteers face-to-face and answer any questions before race day.
Race Day Logistics
In most cases, volunteers can check in at the same place, usually a tent near the entrance. Your Volunteer Coordinator should be armed with a handy-dandy check-in list organized by last name and task; this will help keep track of your volunteers and identify where floaters should be. It doesn’t hurt to have some food to hand out, either! Volunteers should also receive their volunteer shirt, swag, and name tag, if applicable. Better yet, allow them to pick up these items beforehand.
Once your volunteers are settled, try to squeeze in a visit with each volunteer station to answer any last-minute questions. Don’t be afraid to shift volunteers as needed throughout the race to combat boredom and help stations that are swamped. Just have a game plan for how you’re going to get from registration to the halfway water station!
Appreciate, Appreciate, Appreciate
Let’s go back to the beginning. Remember when we said volunteers were underappreciated? This is your chance to change that. When talking to volunteers, every other word should be ‘thank you’. Okay, not literally, but you get the point. You can never say it enough! Say it when they sign up, say it when they check in, say it in your reminder emails, your volunteer packet, your award ceremony, and a personalized postcard mailed after the race.
But of course, don’t just say it. Show it! A great way to reward volunteers is through recruitment perks like swagadocious volunteer shirts or registration in next year’s race. Let volunteers who are done with their shift enjoy the post-race expo and consider hosting a volunteer appreciation event of your own! Snacks and a free beer at the local pub will go a long way.
There you have it! Just like your participants, your volunteers should have a great experience and feel appreciated. The events with the best, most loyal volunteers have a rock-solid volunteer management team and create strong, genuine relationships with their volunteers.
For more race management tips, contact ChronoTrack!