As every race organizer knows, there are certain non-negotiables you need to in order to pull off a successful event: a good location, ample parking, people to actually PARTICIPATE in the event, an awesomely robust, simple-to-use, industry leading free online event registration platform (nudge nudge, hint hint, wink wink), snacks (if there’s one group of people who knows how to put down some serious chow, it’s athletes), water… and, of course, volunteers.
The quality of your race volunteers is, most often, a direct correlation to the happiness of your participants.
Bad volunteers = bad participant experience.
Great volunteers = participants come back year over year.
If you consider your event a well-oiled machine, then you should think of your volunteers as the oil. They are an absolutely ESSENTIAL part in making sure that everything goes smoothly on race day. You need volunteers at bib assignment, volunteers passing out water along the course, volunteers to help set up and break down, volunteers to cheer on participants, volunteers to manage voluteers… seriously, you can’t pull it off without them.
But how do you go about recruiting volunteers? Here are 5 easy strategies to get 'er done.
Keep It Simple
The easiest way to chase away potential volunteers is to overcomplicate the volunteer process. If they have to search your homepage with a fine-toothed comb to find the volunteer registration page only to be taken to a form that asks them for their name, birthdate, mother’s maiden name, square root of pi and 10,000 other completely unnecessary questions, we can pretty much guarantee that your volunteer sign ups are going to hover right around the ZERO mark, give or take zero.
Keep it simple. Volunteer sign up should be an easy-to-find part of your online event registration. Don’t ask them a million questions. Gather the minimum amount of information that you need to get the process started.
It’s challenging enough to get people to sign up in the first place, so don’t overcomplicate things. You don’t want to lose them because your sign-up process needs its own instruction manual.
Make It Worth Their While
Volunteers, as a very definition, don’t get paid. But as the old saying goes, “nothing in life is free”. In other words, don’t expect people to do something for nothing!
The better you treat your race volunteers, the better they'll treat your participants.
If you want a healthy number of volunteers on your roster, you have to make the opportunity exciting. If you make your event an experience that volunteers WANT to participate in, your more likely to attract people.
Let’s pretend that you have the opportunity to volunteer at 2 races. Race #1 hasn’t really offered you any incentive. You just show up, do your job, and go home.
Race #2 has a kick-off party for race volunteers and staff, free breakfast for the early-birds at sign in and bib assignment AND offers all volunteers a free registration on a future event.
Let me ask you: Which event are you signing up for?
Don’t be Race #1. Volunteers are giving you their time. Make sure you’re giving them something awesome in return.
Get Your Athletes On The Job
You’ve got enough on your plate organizing and running the event without worrying about bringing in volunteer registrations. So… why not have your athletes do the work for you?
Athletes are an invaluable (and underused) resource for bringing in volunteers.
Set up an incentive plan as part of your online event registration - for every 5 volunteers an athlete brings in, they get a free entry to a future event. Or 25% off their existing registration, or a free movie ticket, or a 50% off coupon for new running shoes, or a complimentary back massage, a pet goldfish, a new car… whatever incentive makes sense for your event (and your budget). (If you feel like it, you can see the reports on how imATHLETE helps you tracks how many volunteers came from each athlete)
The point is, give your athletes a REASON to enlist their friends and family as volunteers and they WILL. Then you can kick back, stop worrying about volunteers and instead give your attention to one of the other 25,467 balls you have up in the air leading up to your event.
Reach Out To Schools
This tried-and-true method is a go-to for a reason: it works.
High schoolers are always looking for ways to check off their “community service” box on college applications.
Some high schools even REQUIRE that their students complete a certain number of volunteer hours to be eligible for graduation.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS SYSTEM! There’s no better place to find young, strong, eager volunteers. Reach out to local schools and ask to be included in their morning announcements or school newspaper. Then watch the volunteer registrations pile in.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s 2016. And in 2016, literally EVERYTHING can be done digitally. Grocery Shopping? Yep. Dry Cleaning. Absolutely. Hiring a dog walker to take care of Mr. Puddles during your next vacation? You betcha.
So why not go digital for recruiting volunteers?
Leveraging the digital space to drive volunteer registrations is a MUST in 2016. Blast to your social media following that you’re looking for race day support and send out an email to your list. Ask your sponsors to do the same. Post ads on Craigslist. Use digital tools to get your message to people where they already ARE.
Also, leverage imATHLETE and use the social referral reporting that let's you show exactly how many volunteers signed up from their friends' mentions on Facebook and Twitter!
Seriously, if you’re relying on passing out flyers and word of mouth to find volunteers, it’s time to pull yourself out of 1996, go digital and watch your number of volunteers grow quicker than you can say “hashtag”.
Recruiting volunteers should be part of your strategy from day one - don't wait until your 2 weeks from the event before you start thinking of volunteers! These ninja recruiting strategies will guide you to having so many volunteers, you won’t know what to do with them.
Remember - volunteers can mean the difference between an awesome event or a total sh*tshow.