You’re not the first, or the last, event director to be worried about volunteer management and numbers as you plan a race. It can feel like you’re chasing down tumbleweeds sometimes, but there are things you can do to make your life a lot easier and get thehelp you need. Avoid the dreaded “one and done” experience and keep your volunteers coming back year after year with these tips:
WRITE A BOOK
First things first. It may seem annoying and time consuming, but creating a volunteer handbook will pay off big time. Document everything and be as specific as possible. This will take work up front, but will save you hours of time when you begin planning for your next event.
In the handbook, include:
- Outlines of each volunteer position: Clearly explain the responsibilities and expectations for each position
- Course maps
- Emergency contact numbers
RUN THE NUMBERS
Do you know how many race volunteers you’ll need? It’s important when thinking about volunteer management to determine how many helping hands should be at the start line, finish line, and along the course. And don’t forget about pre-race goodie bag stuffing, race registration at the expo, and post-race clean up. Really think about it because too many or too few volunteers can both be bad news.
If you’re not sure where to begin, go to other races and check out how many volunteers are manning the water stops, packet pick-up areas, finish lines, etc. This will give you ballpark numbers to start with.
RECRUIT (OR BRIBE) YOUR COMMUNITY
Don’t try to grow your volunteer numbers one by one—that’s just too hard. Go to local clubs and businesses to ask for volunteers. You can “bribe” them by offering a discount to next year’s race, a donation to their charity, free schwag, etc. Once you get these groups on board, you can add them to your online registration software (as a separate list from registrants), helping you keep everyone involved with the event in one system.
Here are ideas on where you can start recruiting:
- High schools (many students are required to complete a certain number of volunteer hours)
- Running or triathlon clubs
- Local charities
- Adult sports leagues
Assign someone to be your lead at each volunteer station. This will be your go-to person whom you communicate with, saving you from having to update each volunteer individually. This person will have a copy of your volunteer handbook and will act as your liaison.
The volunteer lead could also be tasked with finding more volunteers to help fill his or her station if you need some help.
TRAIN YOUR VOLUNTEERS
It’s important for your volunteers to feel prepared for race day. Many race directors hold pre-event volunteer training meetings (these can even be done virtually). Whether you choose to do that or not, just be sure to prep your volunteers on what to expect. Arm them with race maps, talking points, FAQs, general timelines, and any other pertinent information.
As part of volunteer training, set clear expectations to avoid drama. Explicitly state that each volunteer is responsible for showing up on time, finding a replacement if they need to back out, acting professionally as a representative of the race, etc.
CHECK IT OFF
There’s a reason that checklists have been used for task management since paper was invented—they work. Create a volunteer race day checklist that will help you stay organized and quickly assess if the right people are in the right places.
Organize your checklist chronologically, and then by location. For example, your start line volunteers will most likely have the earliest call time, so put them first on your checklist. Within your “start line” section, create subsections that follow your start line map (furthest to closest to the start line): parking lots, general assembly areas, corrals, etc.
MAKE IT FUN
A sure-fire way to lose race volunteers after one event is to stress them out. Along with giving them some pre-event training, make race day fun. Play music, offer them snacks, and ensure they have all the information they need to do a good job. In general, think about the little things you can do to make the day enjoyable and positive for your volunteers.
Monitor your volunteers all day and be prepared to shift them around. If some are idle (maybe they’re assigned to packet pick-up or race-day registration so they’re done when the gun goes off), move them to an area that is extra busy (perhaps the increasingly long lines at gear check). This will combat boredom and relieve stress for your volunteers.
Just like your participants, you want your volunteers to have a great experience and feel appreciated. The events with the best, most loyal volunteers have a rock-solid volunteer management handbook and create strong, genuine relationships with their volunteers.
Download our eGuide on how to make race day a success for more race day tips.
To learn more about ChronoTrack, contact us.