The Pursuit of Happy Volunteers

Every year our country remembers the acts and declarations of our forefathers. And every year, 30,000 runners take in the sights and long-standing history in the city of brotherly love. As George Washington once said, “Let’s run this thing!”

The Philadelphia Marathon was founded over 60 years ago and is consistently listed among the top ten courses in the country. While the theme changes every year, the course and the people remain favorites among the runners trotting along the water and through downtown Philly.

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Christine Waite is the volunteer coordinator for the ~3,500 volunteers it takes to make this race happen each year. Between the Kids Fun Run, 8K, Half Marathon and Marathon, she says the event could not be the success it is without these volunteers.

While this is a long-standing event with many repeat participants and volunteers, the process to get there has been far from seamless. In fact, they have switched volunteer registration processes three times in the last three years.

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With the ability to send confirmation emails to volunteers, customize volunteer roles, and run up-to-date reports, the Philadelphia Marathon has finally found their perfect match with VolunteerLocal. Waite says, “Compared to last year’s system, it is 100 times better!”

It’s not too late to help these founding runners!

To life, liberty, and happy volunteering!

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We heard it through the Grapevine (Texas)

Courtesy of Grapevine Texas

You may recognize the name “Grapevine” as one of your favorite dance moves, but did you know that Grapevine, Texas is a nationally-acclaimed destination spot in the Southwest? Boasting 80 locally-owned shops, wineries and restaurants amid the gorgeous scenery of north Texas, it’s no wonder thousands travel here every summer for a relaxing, tannin-infused getaway. 

Beyond the local attractions, Grapevine is also the home of multiple events, such as GrapeFest®, the largest wine festival in the Southwest; the Christmas Capital of Texas®, which features 1,400 Christmas events over more than 40 days; Main Street Fest, a three-day family-friendly festival of fun; and numerous others. Grapevine has even been officially recognized as a World Festival & Events City by the International Festival & Events Association (IFEA).

Courtesy of Grapevine Texas
Courtesy of Grapevine Texas

These events are made possible by the Grapevine Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). “The Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau is the destination marketing organization for the City of Grapevine, Texas,” says Luke Wolfard, Festival and Event Manager at the Grapevine CVB. “It’s our mission to attract new and repeat meetings and conventions, leisure travelers and local residents to experience the superior level of attractions, shopping, dining, annual events and more.”

These festivals are also a way to support the local community. “Grapefest (and others) are very important to the community because the proceeds help finance the Grapevine Heritage Foundation,” explains Wolfard. The Grapevine Heritage Foundation is a not-for-profit community organization committed to promoting the preservation, protection, and economic development of Grapevine’s physical and cultural heritage.

Before switching to VolunteerLocal, Grapevine recruited volunteers using paper forms that volunteers filled out by hand, and then mailed, faxed, or dropped off at the CVB. Data was then manually inputted and stored in (you guessed it!) Excel spreadsheets. For an organization that recruits up to 1,000 individual volunteers for some of it’s largest events, VolunteerLocal has made it much easier to organize and communicate.

“[VolunteerLocal’s] ease and online use for the volunteers to sign up for shifts has enabled us to recruit a larger amount of volunteers with greater efficiency,” Luke Wolfard, Festival and Event Manager at the Grapevine CVB says. “I will continue to use VolunteerLocal at our future events and would definitely recommend it to others.”

When you’re planning your next family vacation, or simply craving a glass of the best wine the southwest has to offer, consider Grapevine, Texas: it’s as fun (and accessible) as your favorite dance move (step-behind-step-touch)!


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Trot Your Stuff at the Turkey Trot!

VolunteerLocal was created and is headquartered in Des Moines, so we guess you could say we’re biased when it comes to our love for the city. But it’s for good reason. With the amount of young professionals, awesome restaurants, affordable housing and more, there’s no reason not to love this metropolis.

Photo cred: Raygun

Michael Zimmerman, founder of Rip Roar Events, agrees with us. “The cost to culture ratio in Des Moines is great. You can afford to take a risk and start a new company. People are trying to do things that might cause great change without worrying about paying thousands in rent or for groceries. Instead, people can reinvest into things that benefit the community.”

Rip Roar Events was created with that idea of culture and community building in mind. Zimmerman founded the company in January 2015, with an interest in children’s endurance events. This November, they’re hosting their first ever Turkey Trot, a 5K and 5Mile race on Thanksgiving day which encourages runners of all ages. Beyond featuring an awesome route, it will also include a community meal, to bring the people of Des Moines together.

Turkey Trot Vector Logo-page-0 (2)
Courtesy of Rip Roar Events

“We’re focusing on community and culture building events,” Zimmerman explains. “We thought, ‘What are we going to do that’s actually going to benefit the community?’ So we created the Turkey Trot, which I believe provides people with an outlet to do something besides sit around the TV… We’re having a community meal, and one of the options when registering is asking if you want to buy a plate for somebody else. We already have 150 plates bought, so people are saying, ‘It’s Thanksgiving, let’s continue to make Des Moines great and give back.’ Everyone will be coming around the table to share a meal that perpetuates that [greatness].”

VolunteerLocal has been a useful tool for gathering new volunteers–and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a local business. “It’s great that we’re using something that was developed locally by young people, people that we know in our community. We try to do as much within a local platform as possible to say, Des Moines kicks butt and we’ll prove it in every facet,” says Zimmerman. “For a first year event that’s up and coming, and trying to establish consistency, it’s fantastic to be able to give people this very professional platform… [VolunteerLocal] is a total luxury for a small up and coming race.”

So while we understand the temptation to stay on the couch in your most forgiving sweatpants, we recommend taking part in this year’s Turkey Trot. It’s an event that promises to benefit the community, and you. We’re positive it will make those turkey legs and mashed potatoes all the more satisfying.

Click here to sign up and learn more about volunteering opportunities for the Turkey Trot 2015!

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5 Steps to Volunteer Greatness

Now, we understand that volunteers can be a complex group to pin down. They run the gamut from teenagers to seniors; some are looking for community involvement, some want a free parking spot. We like to think that most volunteers are passionate about the work they’re doing – if they care to give, odds are, they’re giving because they care. With that in mind, we’ve put together five easy steps you can take to hone your volunteer force into loyal, informed and enthusiastic advocates for your event.


Step 1: Train Your Volunteers

Make sure those volunteers know their moves.

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A training session should include a step-by-step of their actual job duties. Bonus points if you can bring in returning volunteers to give newbies the real low-down on how things will work. Do they know where to check-in when they arrive? Do they know what to bring? Who to talk to if they get lost or confused? Introduce the volunteer coordinator; it’s always helpful to associate a face with the name of the person who’s choreographing the big dance.

Pro tip: a pre-event volunteer training session rarely has perfect attendance, but don’t sweat it. You just need a handful of informed volunteers to lead the rest of the pack.


Step 2: Let’s Get Digital

Welcome to 2015. Your volunteers will almost undoubtedly turn the volume up on your events – through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, you-name-it. As representatives of your organization, be sure they understand the gravity and implications of what they post online.

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Our best advice? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Leverage social media to draw attention to your event. Create a hashtag you’d like your volunteers to use when they tweet about their experience. Share with them your Facebook page and encourage them to “Like” what you do online. Ask your volunteers to tag your event in their photos (you might even consider hosting a photo contest!). There’s nothing wrong with a little free publicity – just make sure it’s the right kind of publicity.


Step 3: Repeat After Me…

Your volunteers are the most visible representation of your organization on-site; make sure they know the lingo. All your volunteers should be able to speak intelligently about your event in case they find themselves on the recording end of a microphone by a media or news outlet.

Moreover, equip each volunteer with a map of the event grounds or venue where they’ll be working, and make sure they can locate information booths and bathrooms on a dime.


Step 4: Always Assess Risk

If you’re running a post-race beer garden or beverage tent, prep your volunteers on the signs of alcohol poisoning and where to find birthdates on IDs. Set up wrist-banding stations and coordinate with the local police force wherever possible.

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If it rains, provide ponchos. If it’s starting to get late, put together a hospitality crew to distribute fresh fruit to your folks on the course. You’re the kind of coordinator who looks out for your volunteers – rain or shine. Keep them happy, hydrated and nourished throughout the day.

If there is the possibility of physical injury during your event, be sure to explain proper protocol to your volunteers and get those waivers signed. Liability less, volunteer more!


Step 5: Volunteer Appreciation

The last (and perhaps most important) step of this process is a simple “thank you.” Volunteers love a little kudos (don’t we all?), so make sure they know how much you appreciate their hard work. From a t-shirt to a candy bouquet, a handshake to a milkshake, there are myriad ways to show your gratitude. Try a little tenderness: it’s the key to happy volunteers.

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