5 Ways To Cultivate & Keep Volunteers

Cultivating Volunteers

5 Surefire Strategies For Successful Recruitment & Retention

By Selena Chavis

Seasoned sports events planners know that the success of any event hinges on its volunteer base. Many amateur sporting events are run exclusively by volunteers, and even some of the largest sports governing bodies often don’t have the staff base to pull off a national event without help.

Thus, planners need to develop strategies and programs not only for recruiting volunteers but also for ensuring the volunteers are so engaged with an event that they want to come back. “You must have a compelling event for a volunteer to want to be part of it,” said Ron Radigonda, executive director of the Amateur Softball Association/USA Softball, adding that it’s important to find ways to help communities and groups of people rally around an event.

It could be an event that raises money for a local charity or builds pride in a community. Or, it could be an effort that unifies athletes with common interests.

Here are five strategies for attracting volunteers to your event—and compelling them to come back and help the next one.


1. Leverage Local Civic Groups & Corporations

From Kiwanis to Rotary, there are organizations in every city looking for ways to increase their exposure and help their local community. Rashelle Beasley, manager of the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), said her city’s annual marathon and half marathon have had great success in reaching out to these organizations.

Ranked as one of the top Boston Marathon qualifiers in the country, the Albany Marathon and Half Marathon require the use of approximately 1,500 volunteers. “When you have an event that provides a lot of exposure for a company or civic group, many will take advantage of the opportunity to create a positive image.” Beasley said.


2. Feel-Good Incentives

Adding incentives to the mix can also increase the chances volunteers will want to participate. “If you give someone a T-shirt, they will do about anything for you,” Beasley quipped. But taking a more serious tone, she said that even the smallest of gestures could go a long way.

At the Albany Marathon and Half Marathon, each volunteer receives a packet that typically includes a T-shirt, a local restaurant-sponsored meal coupon and two tickets to the city’s street festival, held in conjunction with the races.

Ladona Weathers, director of tourism and membership events for the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and CVB, said that they incentivize non-profit participation by offering to donate to a group’s cause. For the region’s Ironman event, a donation is provided to non-profit organizations that provide 20 or more volunteers.

“It’s a great way to guarantee volunteer involvement and give back to the community,” she said. “It builds good will.”


3. Don’t Spread Volunteers Too Thin

Radigonda said it’s important to align volunteers with a single event to build loyalty and longevity of participation. Instead of reaching out to the same volunteers for numerous events, he suggested developing a separate pool of volunteers for each event.

“People are willing to give you a few days for a defined period,” he said. “It’s really tough to have people commit to open-ended timeframes.”

To make volunteers feel they are truly part of an event’s team, Radigonda also said that it’s important for all volunteers to have a specific, clearly defined role in the event that this information is clearly communicated.

Weathers agreed, adding that a pitfall for many events is ending up with too many volunteers and not enough work for them to do. Volunteers who don’t feel like they have ownership in a specific task or effort will be less likely to return, she said.


4. Don’t Be Afraid To Use Social Media & Other Networking Tools

Networking through social media has been very successful in helping to fill the 500 to 700 volunteer slots needed for the Ironman held in Branson, Weathers said.

A virtually cost-free method of promoting and recruiting, inviting Facebook fans of similar events to “like” the Branson event has helped her recruit volunteers. “We write on other events’ pages to help increase exposure. We develop a rapport with their fan base.”

Equally effective has been the process of attending similar events, setting up a booth and interacting with fans, athletes and volunteers. “We believe in building a fan base rather than just recruiting volunteers,” she said. “Fans will be better volunteers because they are more in tune with what’s happening.”


5. Timely & Regular Follow-Up

Many sports events use online recruitment and registration techniques today. And while this process is efficient and effective for building databases, Weathers cautioned planners not to expect volunteers to show up just because they registered to do so online.

“You need continuous communication re-confirming their commitment,” she said. “Be prepared to communicate immediately after they sign up and multiple times afterward, or you will lose some of them along the way.”

Also important is showing appreciation after an event and regular follow-up preceding the next scheduled event, Beasley said. “Even though we have around 1,500 volunteers for the Albany Marathon and Half Marathon, there has to be that personal touch,” she said.