Here at VolunteerLocal, we get asked pretty frequently for advice about how to recruit volunteers more effectively. Especially in the case of triathlons and other endurance events using our platform, those tough-to-fill volunteer positions can sometimes start as early as 5am, and they often span through the early to mid-afternoon.
So we decided to ask the experts: our friends, customers and partners at USA Triathlon.
Meet Caroline Robinson, Event Services Coordinator at USA Triathlon. She helps USAT produce events that range from 900 to over 5,000 athletes – and she works with thousands of volunteers throughout this process in cities across the country.
“Our four National Championships are all very different,” says Robinson. “The smallest event only needs 200 volunteers, but the largest needs nearly 1,000.” Along the way, she’s learned some valuable lessons about volunteer recruitment, retention and communication.
On getting creative.
When it comes to filling volunteer shifts, Robinson is anything but shy.
“We say, reach out to high school kids, collegiate clubs, sports management programs at local colleges and universities, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, local community volunteer databases (online), and tap into those corporations that offer Volunteer Time Off,” she laughs as she adds, “I don’t ever think there’s a group you can’t ask. The worst they can say is no.”
Robinson recommended flexibility and creativity as a part of a comprehensive approach to fill volunteer positions. “If you need to set-up a booth at a local festival, go out and do that. Have the face-to-face contact, speak to a college class for ten minutes.” She cautioned, “Don’t be afraid to go out into the community to speak with these people.”
We think she has a point. It’s a lot tougher to turn down a volunteer ask in-person.
Keep it simple.
Robinson explained that because one of the Championship events will be produced in Cleveland this year, she has to rely heavily on outside groups to provide volunteers. “There’s only so much we can do from Colorado Springs,” she says. “So we try not to overburden our groups with a complicated sign-up process.”
For Robinson, it’s as simple as saying, ‘we’re looking for volunteers, here’s the date, here’s the link’ – and she likes to begin her outreach with certified Coaches, Race Directors and other officials who aren’t working the event.
In this regard, Robinson strongly recommends leveraging the USA Triathlon Race Director database to find expertise, mentors and (of course) volunteers in your area.
Read the room.
“It’s about knowing your audience,” says Robinson. “That means knowing your participants, and adjusting accordingly.” She explains that for her larger events, athletes usually bring family members along with them – and these auxiliary attendees can be a great resource for volunteer shifts. Alternatively, when community members understand (and support) the impact that an event like this can have, they are more easily incentivized to get involved as a way to be a part of the magic.
“That’s what’s exciting to me about getting volunteers for these events we have going on,” explains Robinson. “It’s being able to adjust as needed, and supporting these communities every step of the way.”