Volunteers are the backbone of any race. The success of a good event depends heavily on the time, energy and talent they contribute long before the event begins and even after the last participant crosses the finish line.
Building a good team of volunteers takes a lot of hard work and organization, but the investment you make from the beginning will be well worth it! Just follow our step-by-step process to make it as easy and painless as possible.
First piece of advice? Start early! A good head start will give you plenty of time to think carefully through all of your volunteer needs, find someone to lead your volunteers and to adjust as necessary.
Having a good volunteer lead will determine the success of your volunteer program. Choose someone whom you can trust and has proven their ability to work with a variety of people and can think on their feet.
Next, determine the areas that you need volunteers for, how many volunteers you need for each area and any special requirements of your volunteers. Some areas may require standing for a long period of time or lifting somewhat heavy objects, for example, so you may want only able-bodied volunteers for that job.
In order to stay organized, develop a spreadsheet that includes all of the information you need for your individual areas, including area leads, volunteer contact information, location, date, time and special instructions. A good place to store this is in a Google Drive, for example, so that you can share it with other team members and make live changes.
Now the fun part – locating these fabulous volunteers for your event! You’d be surprised at how many people are looking for opportunities to volunteer their time, and it doesn’t even have to be for charity’s sake. Some love to align with a particular event because the love the energy, or they just want to be a part of something cool without having to actually participate in it.
Here are a few groups to tap into for volunteers:
- Local schools, especially high school and universities
- Rotary clubs
- Neighborhoods associations
- Online volunteer sites
- Your own marketing channels – newsletters, website, social
To make life easier, you might want to create a form on your website. This can be as easy as creating a Google form, the answers for which go to a Google Sheet spreadsheet that updates as new entries are made. You can also ask your webmaster to create a form that sends the information to your email. Be sure to include basic information such as full name, phone, email, the areas they would like to volunteer for, any restrictions, age/birthday, group from which they came, if applicable, and other information you need to track and keep record of your volunteers.
Most people forget to add this, but include a paragraph to which they must agree that waives liability on your part and also allows you to use any photographs or video that includes them for marketing purposes.
Communicating with Volunteers
People lead busy lives, so it’s key to communicate with your volunteers on a regular basis. A schedule of important communication messages is a good idea to plan ahead of time and to set for certain dates. Some examples:
- A thank you email right after someone signs up. Make sure you let them know that you will be sending frequent communication to them. You might want to have them confirm they are receiving your email with a quick reply.
- One month out – Remind them of their role and responsibility and provide a general idea of what the day will be like.
- Two weeks out – Send out an FAQ, a reminder to have any forms proving they volunteered if they need it for an organization printed and ready to bring on race day and other small deails.
- One week out – Include a map of the event, parking information, a parking pass if they need it and other pressing matters.
Keep each email friendly but straightforward. People don’t read, so having visuals and keeping it short and sweet will more likely get it read!
Preparing your volunteers will help race day go more smoothly, so provide your volunteers as much guidance as possible. A bulleted one-sheet of duties and even step-by-step instructions can help take out the guesswork for volunteers for complex roles. This is great to send out to each volunteer group prior to the race to make sure they have had a chance to review it and to ask questions.
The team lead or area leads should be well versed and prepped to train volunteers hours before the race starts. It will give everyone a chance to review tasks.
It’s finally arrived – event day! Volunteers should arrive at least an hour and a half before “doors” open. This ensures any late stragglers and non-morning peope have a chance to get settled and not miss anything.
After everyone has arrived, make sure everyone is checked in at the volunteer tent or table. Some may ask you to sign their volunteer forms, if they have them, but it’s better to wait until after the race, if possible. Get everyone excited, invite them to grab a quick snack or cup of coffee and begin training either as a group or with team/area leads.
Make sure everyone knows where to go and whom to contact if they have an emergency or question during the race. Most races provide a sort of laminated badge with key volunteer numbers and even a map for their volunteers.
Just because the race is over, that doesn’t mean you end communication with your volunteers, too. Be sure to send them a nice thank you email as soon as you can. The easiest way to do this is to pre-schedule an email to go out either the day after or even two days after. That way it stays fresh on their minds. Include a survey (SurveyMonkey is great for this!) and an invitation to next year’s event.
If you have the budget, throw a volunteer appreciation party or get together. This is a great opportunity for a sponsor to chip in and provide either food and drinks in-kind or cash to support the event.
What would we do without our race volunteers? By taking care of your volunteers from start to finish, you can provide a wonderful experience for your participants, too. Just remember to stay organized, have a great team behind you and communicate often.