Working With Volunteers
Have you ever asked a friend to help you move? Knowing that they are there out of the kindness of their heart makes a slightly more problematic to order them around. But, when it comes to organizing and operating a race or obstacle event, it is imperative for everyone’s safety that even volunteers know what they are doing, are creating a positive experience for runners, and that volunteers are the face of your organization.
Sometimes it is a fine line to walk when you are working with volunteers to be kind but authoritative. The key is to be appreciative and manage your volunteers using their individual strengths and weaknesses so that the event participants have a good feeling and your volunteers feel valued and appreciated.
To effectively create a general goodwill feeling for your event from runner to organizers, it is essential to use the following tips and tricks to deal with volunteers.
Don’t just assign at will
When things start to get complex and harried it is easy to just start randomly assigning people to do various tasks that need to be done. The best way to manage volunteers is first to know who they are and what they are capable of. There are going to be some that are good behind the scenes and others who you will want to put front and center.
Knowing just a little bit about who they are is the only way to effectively use their skills to your advantage. It might take a little more time to interview your volunteers to know what they are all about. But, in the end, if you choose the right task for the right person, you are going to get the best out of everyone. You will also get things done more efficiently, and you won’t risk putting someone in a position that they aren’t prepared for, or not fully utilizing someone who can do a whole lot more than you have them doing.
It is easy when you get busy to get stressed out and forget that the people who are there are doing you the favor. But, that is a huge mistake. People volunteer to make themselves feel better and screaming at them, being very critical, or generally making them feel unappreciated, will not only not get them to do their best for you, but it will also make them less friendly to the participants. Volunteers who are anything but jovial can tank the atmosphere of your event, and leave volunteers with a bad taste in their mouth, which could limit them every helping out again.
Even if you aren’t completely happy or satisfied with what a volunteer has done, refrain from being negative even if it is difficult. Instead of letting them have it, save it and try to find a more appropriate spot for them. If they mess up, don’t be Captain Obviously, just say it’s no big deal and clean up the mess, you will gain nothing but negativity if you chastise your volunteers.
Have someone in charge of your volunteers
If you want to make sure that you are fully using all the people who are there to help, then it is important to have someone who is allocated solely to dealing with volunteers. If you aren’t so good at delegating, or even if you are, race day is likely going to be insanely crazy. Take one thing off of your plate by having just one person in charge of signing in volunteers and making sure that they show up and are covering their posts.
Always have a few backups
The perk of using volunteers is that they are offering their services for free. The downside is that they can sometimes feel less loyalty to show up after committing. If something comes up, your race or event might take low priority. Don’t ever turn a volunteer away. First of all, it leaves them with a bad feeling to offer and be turned away.
Second, you should anticipate that many people who said they would be there might not show up on time, when they are supposed to, or stick it out as long as they said they would. Volunteering is so nice to do, but it does take away from a little of the commitment and loyalty that they feel to be there and accountable, After all, they are doing you the favor.
Unfortunately, when you are relying on them, and they don’t who or do what they are supposed to, it is no favor at all. Make sure to try to over staff everything instead of spreading things thin. Anticipate that you will have at least 20% of those who say they are going to be there back out, so that you have enough people in the empty spaces with extras.
Give them t-shirts and instructions about what to wear
Even though they are volunteers, you will want some uniformity that signals the participants that they are working the event. Since you can't expect someone who is volunteering to purchase clothes, make sure to offer them t-shirts or a uniform to wear race day so that they stand out.
That serves three purposes, first, you can make sure they are dressed appropriately and not offensively. Second, you are offering them a t-shirt for their participation, so they feel like they are getting something and third, you make sure to present a professional front to your event participants.
Don’t wing it
Although they are already giving you their time on race day, make sure that you have enough time alone with them so that everyone is on the same page and knows what they are doing the day of the race. Have a practice run or ask them to show up the day before or several hours prior to the race, so that they have time to ask questions and so that everyone is on the same page and is aware of their responsibilities when the guests start arriving.
Have contact information for pre-race communication
To limit the time that you take from your volunteer's personal life, a lot of the things that you want to communicate to them can be done through things like facebook, Snapchat and email notifications. Make sure to collect everyone’s information so that you can talk before the race without taking up too much of their free, free time.
It is so amazing to have people volunteering for your event. Sometimes when someone is doing something for free, it can be harder to manage them. You want to be grateful and not order them around, but being in charge is a part of running a successful race event. If you take the time to get to know your volunteers, understand their strengths and weaknesses to use them effectively, and make people happy by being grateful and giving back, then you will leave them with a good impression, and they will leave your participants with a good feeling. Make sure to recognize that those who volunteer are doing you a favor and be thankful they are.