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June 06, 2016

How To Train Your Volunteers

How To Train Your Volunteers

We’ve already talked about why you need awesome volunteers to throw an awesome event and how to recruit them. So, if you followed our advice, you’ve probably got a gaggle of awesome volunteers on standby, ready to roll.

But…. What are you supposed to do with them? How do you train your volunteers to make sure your event doesn't fall apart quicker than a post-Sixth Sense M. Night Shyamalan flick?


Have A Plan

You know the saying “the best offense is a good defense?” Well, when it comes to training your volunteers, the best offense is a good plan. Failure to plan is basically the same thing as planning to fail (that’s the last overused idiom that sounds like it came from a high school football coach that I’ll use in this post… pinky promise).

Just like you need a training plan to get your athletes ready for a race, you need a training plan to get your volunteers ready for your race, too.

Look at what’s going on leading up to your event. Where do you have the biggest need for volunteers? Do you need some tech nerds to help you with your social media or to work out the backend of your race management software? A street team to spread the word and drive word-of-mouth race registration? Dancers to lead a Michael Jackson flash mob at your awesome post-race party (in which case, look no further, because I'LL DO IT PICK ME I VOLUNTEER)?

Once you know exactly what you’re looking for, it will help you recruit the right volunteers and make training them a heck of a lot easier.


Systematize, Systematize, Systematize

When you’re training volunteers, the last thing that you want to do is train one person, then 10 minutes later have to train another. Then the next day train one more, and so on and so forth into infinity. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Systematizing your training process will let you essentially do the work of training once instead of doing it over and over again for every single volunteer until you lose your cool and go off in an energy chew-induced rage.

Write a detailed training manual for each type of volunteer and exactly what’s expected from them. You’ll want to be sure to include:

-       An overview of your event

-       What’s expected from them in their role

-       A breakdown of how to get everything done

-       Important race contacts (including who they should get in touch with if they have questions)

-       Event and Race day logistics (like what time to arrive, parking, etc)

When you’re creating your training manuals, a good rule of thumb is to leave no stone unturned (or no running shoe unlaced): leave zero room for ambiguity or creative interpretation.  Spell everything out. BE CAPTAIN OBVIOUS.

Write your volunteer training manuals like you’re writing them for someone who’s one fork short of a full set. Trust me, it’ll save you a ton of stress-induced headaches (or stress induced eating, if you’re me) down the line.


Review Before Race Day

Once you have your volunteers in place, have distributed their training manuals and briefed them on exactly the part they’ll play in your event, you’re going to want to train them again.

Whether you lined up your volunteers months ago or you recruited them the week before go-time, it’s super important to do a pre-race day review of how everything – and everyone – is going to work.

The night before your event, gather all of your staff and volunteers and go through everyone’s roles individually to make sure everyone knows what they’re responsible for, where they’re supposed to be and when they’re supposed to be there (you don’t want people showing up at 10am on Saturday morning when your race isn’t until Sunday, ya dig?). If you have a ginormous event with a ton of volunteers and it isn’t realistic for you to review with each team individually, delegate different volunteer groups to your trusty staff and make sure that they get everyone on point.


And Lastly, Remember…. They’re Volunteers

At the end of the day, you need to remember that these people are volunteers, not paid staff, and mistakes are probably going to happen. Train them (and train them well), but also take it easy on them. Remember – they’re giving you their time because they think your event is awesome, not because they HAVE to. So if the person who volunteered to manage your online race registration made a typo on the homepage (even after you trained them to run their copy through spell check) or the person in charge of schwag bags stuffs them incorrectly (even though you clearly told them that every bag gets 1 protein bar, not two), cut them some slack.

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