It’s a World Champs, we’ll need 100s of volunteers, and it’s 500 miles away….

“Congratulations to the organisers and army of volunteers who helped make this happen” Dougie Vipond, The Adventure Show, BBC2 Scotland.

He was referring to the Event Team of 700 volunteers who have just delivered a Home World Orienteering Championships. A Team that was put together specially for this complex, week-long event that was broadcast live on TV. It was also held in parallel with the biggest ever Scottish 6-days making this the biggest and highest profile orienteering event ever staged in the UK.

It was a good year for Denmark, Ida Bobach World Champion at the finish of the Long Race in Glen Affric. Courtesy Liveblog http://www.woc2015.org/liveblog/long

It was a good year for Denmark, Ida Bobach World Champion at the finish of the Long Race in Glen Affric. Courtesy Liveblog

The Challenge

In May 2012, British Orienteering’s Dave Peel, recruited me into the post of WOC2015 Volunteer Manager, as a volunteer, because he could see that the team needed experience from other major sports events. My brief: Recruit a workforce to deliver the World Championship and support the Scottish 6 Days in a remote part of the UK using volunteers from outside of Scotland, and ensure that most of the orienteering volunteers can take part in most of the 6-Days.

My induction came at WOC2012 in Switzerland. Here I learnt about silent starts and sponsors, quarantines and TV demands and strict International Federation Protocols that govern a World Championships. The London Olympics came soon after WOC, and my role as a Team Leader in the Aquatic Centre was a welcome inspiration.

Recruit

We started by defining roles, identifying what could be done by people without orienteering experience, and recruiting and selecting the right people for different jobs. We had to develop our own recruitment and communication systems and I am grateful to Paul Frost, the SOA Web Developer, who helped me build a very effective volunteer recruitment website which was integrated with MailChimp for our sign-up and communication systems. I also promoted opportunities on the Volunteer Scotland website which enabled us to attract Commonwealth Games volunteers.

Of the volunteers, 120 came from outside of the sport of orienteering to do roles like sprint control marshalling, minibus driving and arena building. 580 were orienteers from all over the UK and Europe.

Volunteers came from orienteering clubs all over the UK and beyond, from local running clubs and parkrun, Volunteer Scotland, Glasgow 2014 and all of the organisations shown above

Volunteers came from orienteering clubs all over the UK and beyond, from local running clubs and parkrun, Volunteer Scotland, Glasgow 2014 and all of the organisations shown above

Prepare

Everyone needed to understand the scale of the World Champs and the orienteers needed to see how it differed from regular multi-day events.  As nothing existed, we developed our own induction and training resources including videos from footage we’d recorded at previous WOCs. We wrote comprehensive briefing instructions for control marshals to make sure they didn’t jeopardise the integrity of a sprint race. We also produced safety and social media guidelines.

My team did some clever stuff with MailChimp to produce team and key contacts lists, and to send tailored, personalized messages to each volunteer, reminding them of their team and role and including relevant inductions. These tailored communications helped us achieve a 100% turnout of volunteers on the day.

Crowds getting ready to watch the Relay in front of Darnaway Castle, Moray

Crowds getting ready to watch the Relay in front of Darnaway Castle, Moray

Support

All of the Event Team needed uniforms, photo accreditation passes and lunches – a significant undertaking. We also identified some unexpected obstacles which were extra challenges to overcome. Helping volunteers find affordable accommodation – we organised a homestay system. Overseas volunteers needed help with transport – we organised lift-sharing. Preparing non-orienteers for the vital role of sprint control guarding – we held a marshal training evening for local volunteers and it was a packed house. We worked closely with the 6-days to ensure that orienteers could have start times that were compatible with their WOC jobs. And there was one challenge that defeated us right until the end – providing helpful travel instructions to volunteers without breaking strict embargo rules of orienteering which keep map and location details strictly confidential until days before the event.

Reflections

Minority sports can benefit from volunteers that are not involved in their sport. For orienteering, volunteers such as local runners, D of E students, and increasingly “Event Volunteer Tourists” can help at big events. And there are well established routes to recruiting them – like www.joininuk.org #BigHelpOut. But it takes an investment in time and the right people to recruit and support these volunteers. When working with volunteers who are not normally part of our specific sport’s culture we mustn’t forget to really look after them – tell them what to bring, train them and give them lunch.

A little bit of legacy

We worked with the Scottish Club Development Officers to offer all the local volunteers – many members of running clubs who had been sprint control marshals – a free entry into events organised by local clubs Moravian, INVOC and BASOC following WOC2015. This was both a thank you and a chance for the volunteers to try the sport that they had seen so closely, for themselves.

Acknowledgements

To all of the individuals and clubs who worked hard in the lead up and during WOC2015:

Thank you and we hope that you were proud to be involved in the biggest and highest profile orienteering event ever held in the UK.

To Paul McGreal, Event Director who skilfully and calmly managed a very complex event – it was a pleasure working with you Paul. I believe that we benefited hugely from Paul’s leadership and his experience as ED for Celtman and World Duathlon Champs.

The heart of my volunteer management team

The heart of my volunteer management team

I’d also like to slip in a special thank you to my own team of 12, and in particular David Maliphant – Comms; Ann Haley – Data; Terry Williams – Newsletters; Craig Lowther – training.  We Skyped every fortnight in the 18 months leading up to WOC and only met for the first time in Nairn.

Postscript Focus Chief Exec's words

This post was published in part in “Orienteering Focus, The Official Voice of British Orienteering” in the Autumn/Winter 2015 Edition

So, I’m worth £16,000

…..as one of the 3.2 million people who regularly volunteer in sport.

Join in, the volunteering organisation, set out to calculate the true value that a sport volunteer contributes to society. Using information on the “Social Value of Volunteering” from the Bank of England, Join In has released ground-breaking research in it’s report Hidden Diamonds.They evaluated the increase in wellbeing and improvement in mental health for both the volunteer and the sports participants and found that:

A volunteer creates the capacity for at least 8.5 people to participate.

One volunteer in sport creates wellbeing worth £16,000

Join in talks about us volunteers as investing our time, skills and energies in creating opportunities for others to take part in sport. In doing this, we are seen to be creating community assets. Hardly surprising then that a volunteer in sport is significantly more likely to feel good about their community than someone who doesn’t volunteer.

Join in compared the community feel-good factor between volunteers and non-volunteers and demonstrated that volunteering boosts happiness and wellbeing.

Compared to those who have never volunteered in sport, 87% of people who volunteer agreed that their life has meaning.

If you volunteer in sport you are significantly more likely to trust people in your community

We know that sports clubs and volunteer-led events like parkruns bring communities together and we feel happier as a result. I believe that quite a few people go home from volunteering feeling better than they do after competing. But is nice to see the social value of volunteering being recognised and hear the Bank of England’s chief economist describing volunteering as a hidden jewel.

You might also like to read:

“In giving, how much do we receive. The social value of volunteering.” Bank of England speech

“Jo Pavey: Volunteers enabled me to fulfil my dreams in athletics” The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network

parkrun newsletter in which Tom talks about the potential of this research for parkrun which had 33,000 volunteers in 2013,

 

 

Where can you look for volunteers?

Positive cycleVolunteers and volunteering in sport: Some ideas, advice and agencies that can help you.

An extract of my presentation to a recent British Orienteering Conference.

 

Want to join in and help with a local sport event?

Saturday 27th July 2013 is the anniversary of the London Olympic Games opening ceremony. If you were inspired by the Olympic Volunteers a year ago, do you want to dip your toe in the water of volunteering now? No big commitment. No long journey. If you do, Join In UK has the answer by offering you a way to find a sports even near you that needs some helpers. There are more 10,000 events to choose from all between July 27th to Sept 9th.

I was lucky enough to be at the Olympic Park for the launch and I recommend you watch this video now for some inspiration!

And you can listen to Dave Moorcroft (Director of Join In Local) talking to Danny Norman of parkrun.

If you want to be part of the Olympic Games volunteering legacy, then Join In is the place to start. And if you are a club or group looking for volunteers you can register here.

parkrun volunteers get cold fingers and toes and a warm feeling inside

parkrun is a growing movement that organises 5k timed runs for thousands of people every week. I first talked about it in my blog post The volunteering phenomenon of the decade. Since then the numbers have grown, and currently 253,000 people take part in parkruns at 170 locations around the UK.

If you are not familiar with parkrun, this is how it works: Each event will have a Run Director who leads a team of helpers, and these helpers can be runners or local community members. Runners can help as much or as little as they like; there is no obligation to help. Results are published and there are tables of fastest times and numbers of runs. parkrunning is addictive and competitive – not in terms of medals or places as it is not a race – but in terms of how many you have completed. There is a small but growing band of stalwarts who get to wear “250” t-shirts. Some events find it easy to get enough volunteers, others find it harder. Apparently only around 10% of active parkrunners volunteer. Anyone that wants to run just needs to register for parkrun and can turn up and run every week for free.

There has been a debate recently about the right level of recognition and reward for volunteers. Should volunteers get more recognition? Should volunteers not get any reward at all? Should all parkrunners be made to take a turn?

“It is absolutely our belief that volunteering should be done simply for the pleasure of doing it, not because you think you will receive some kind of material reward. ….I firmly believe that we should engage in volunteering because it is something we would love to spend time doing, and not because we will receive material goods in return. That doesn’t mean I don’t think volunteers should be recognised, they’re changing people’s lives every day through their amazing actions.” says UK Country manager, Tom Williams, who deals with the issues surrounding volunteers on a daily basis. parkrun weekly-newsletter-30th-January

Tom adds “They are contributing to the greater good of a healthier society, building communities, bringing friends and families closer together, creating true quality time in a World where that is lacking and building toward a greater good for altruistic reasons. Surely that is reward enough?”

Anyone who reads this blog will know that I believe that volunteering is not at all about “doing good” but instead it’s all about “making things you believe in happen” and enjoying yourself while you do. I think volunteers need to get something for themselves out of what they do. But this something is not a material reward. It is usually satisfaction, camaraderie, or a sense of community. If you are volunteering out of obligation then you won’t do it with good grace, you probably wont enjoy it and you certainly won’t keep doing it.

But despite all this, I had started to think of parkrun as more of a cooperative – that everyone who took part was obliged to take their turn organising, rather than truly volunteering. As a runner, and a Run Director, I had even started to fall into the mindset of feeling that I was “sacrificing my runs in order to volunteer”.

Whatever happened to altruism? I’m pleased to say that Tom has helped me to find it again. I enjoy my runs, but on my Run Director days I am happy to get cold fingers and toes and a warm feeling inside.

 

Sports clubs – looking for new volunteers?

Is your Clubmark club seeking new helpers?

Here are two sources of young volunteers that you may not know about:

  1. Young people taking Duke of Edinburgh programmes
  2. Students taking community sports leadership courses
DofE (Duke of Edinburgh) programmes are run by Schools, Further Education Colleges and other groups. You probably know that young people go on an expedition as part of the award. But you may not be aware that the award also has physical, skills and volunteering components. Young people do regular, long term stints as volunteers:
  • 3 months volunteering for Bronze – aged 14+
  • 6 months for Silver – aged 15+
  • 12 months for Gold  – aged 16+

There is a very helpful DofE website.

Sports Leadership courses are run by Schools, Colleges and Universities. Here is an example of courses.

How do you go about finding these volunteers?

Firstly, enquire among your own membership to see if there are any family members who would be interested in doing their volunteering with your club. It’s always easiest to start with people who know you and know what you do.

Secondly, it is worth building up a relationship with local organisations that deliver DofE and Sports Leadership courses. Bear in mind that DofE and education course programmes run to strict annual timetables and the students will be required to do their volunteering in a specified time window. So clubs need to plan ahead. Don’t expect an e-mail this week to generate a group of helpers for your event next weekend!

To start with, you are best to contact your local school or college – for attention of person in charge of DofE or Sports Leadership training – and let them know briefly:

  • the name and location of your club
  • what type of activities you organise
  • what regular volunteering opportunities arise
  • the likely times and duration of these opportunities
  • an e-mail and mobile contact number for the volunteer coordinator
  • the club’s website address

If you manage to make contact with the right person you can ask them about their needs and, most importantly, their time-scale. The ideal situation for a club to be in, is to be ready to give relevant information at just the right time for it to be distributed to potential volunteers.

Are you worried about what to say to students? Just describe your volunteer roles in language they will understand – and don’t assume they know anything about your club or sport. And be aware that they will be much more interested if they can work in pairs or small groups.

It might sound like a lot of trouble, but schools and colleges work on annual cycles and like to repeat what works. If you can get the right contact, build up a good working relationship and deliver worthwhile opportunities you could be setting up a system that runs for years.

And, while these young people may start as volunteers, their experiences with you may turn them into participants, members or even ambassadors for your sport. So make sure you look after them well.

CRB checks – new name – new system

It is good news for volunteers that CRB checks are to become portable. So if you have a CRB (Criminal Record Bureau) check for one charity, school, club or job you can use it for another. This change will save volunteers time and inconvenience and save taxpayer money.

The CRB has now been replaced by Disclosure and Barring Service and so checks in future will be known as DBS checks.

See further information from the Home Office.

Volunteers hold British sport together

“Paid only with badges, stickers and memories, those beige-trousered philanthropists held the greatest show on Earth together in exactly the same way volunteers hold British sport together.” Matt Slater, talking about Olympic Games Makers in his report “How unpaid volunteers make the sports world go round”.

I like being described as a beige-trousered philanthropist but I am worried by the statistic that 3/4 of UK clubs have not noticed a change in the number of people volunteering after London 2012.

Clubs need to find volunteers and volunteers need to be better looked after. In an earlier post I looked at what can be done – and what is being done – for volunteers in sport. Can we really deliver an Olympic Sporting Legacy? was written at the time when the Olympic Village was sweeping up after the Olympians and getting ready to welcome the Paralympians.

As we all turn our attention to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year this weekend, give a thought to the volunteers who make your sport (or your children’s sport) happen. And if you are brutally honest, do you do your bit to support them?

 

Who is the most important person in your organisation?

“The Chairman” I hear you cry!

“Or the Treasurer?”

I disagree!

Having been a chairman of a large PTA for a number of years, I actually think the most important job in any association, charity or amateur club is the volunteer manager. This is the person who inspires, motivates and nurtures the workforce – all the people who give up their time to take on responsibilities to help the organisation.

The volunteer manager could be anyone on the team. You might have a dedicated role, or you may have another post holder who’s particularly good with people and who takes charge. Particularly good with people – this is the key! You need someone who is easy to get on with, understands and cares about others and who knows the difference between what motivates and what dispirits. It helps if they are involved in the organisation so that they are familiar with what is going on – but everything can be learned. Lack of experience is not a barrier: lack of empathy is.

What should a volunteer manager do?

  • Know who the volunteers are – especially the new ones
  • Know where they have helped
  • Know what they would like to do and have the skills to do
  • Recognise their contribution
  • Encourage them to take on new responsibilities if these suit the volunteer
  • Keep in touch with the volunteers letting them know past successes and news of what is coming up

To sum up: recruit one good volunteer and you have someone who can take on one role: Recruit one good volunteer manager and you have someone can maintain a supply of volunteers to keep your organisation rolling.

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” – Carl W. Buechner

 

Are you new to working with volunteers?

Have you just taken on a new job – paid or voluntary – where you work with people who are  doing their roles as volunteers? If so, this is for you:

Time and energy

When you are planning – whether its a project, an event, or a new direction – make sure you build in extra capacity because it will likely take more people and more time than you think you need.

Is it that volunteers are naturally inefficient? Not at all! Your supporting team will be fitting their volunteering around both work and family commitments and when unexpected things happen and take up their time, it is their volunteering that gets put on hold. Expect the unexpected! Get things done ahead if you can and allow a longer lead time to deadlines. And recruit a few more people – say 10% more – than you think you need  It makes for less stress if you do.

What do you know?

Your volunteers probably know less than you think. Make them feel comfortable by explaining the system, showing them how things work and getting them started. They might be too shy to to ask you for help but they will thank you for putting them at ease.

Hello – how are you?

Keep in touch with your team. I don’t mean bombard them. But check how they are getting on and encourage them to talk to you regularly. You will enjoy hearing the progress updates and good news from them. And if there is bad news then it’s better to hear it sooner rather than later.

Keeny beanies

Make the most of a new volunteer’s initial zeal. Some people love a new project and will bring huge amounts of drive and enthusiasm at the outset. If you can harness this productively the volunteer will have a much better experience and be more likely to move onwards and upwards. If they experience frustration and barriers in their early days they may give up on you.

Have you got any suggestions you would like to pass on to someone just starting out working with volunteers? Please leave them in comments.