How to Get Volunteers!
How many booster clubs, organizations, committees, and groups struggle each year to get people to actually volunteer for the events you hold? How many have to make it MANDATORY or offer some sort of “reward” to get anyone slightly interested?
We are not alone, friends of the cheer world! I recently took the position of Treasurer on my daughter’s elementary school’s PTO, and what is their number one issue? YEP – getting volunteers! Meetings themselves are sparse at best, with the officers and maybe one other parent besides the three teachers and principal that attend! I am sure that many gym’s meetings look somewhat similar to that! When I took the treasurer’s position, I gained access to a website built specifically for Parent Teacher groups, and it is a TREASURE TROVE of information! But the stuff that truly caught my eye were their suggestions for getting (and keeping) volunteers. They have a ton of it!
I was reading through a bunch of different articles and finding so much helpful information that is so BASIC! The number one reason that people don’t volunteer is that they are afraid of the time commitment. In the world of cheerleading, there is already a HUGE commitment on the part of families getting their athlete(s) to practices, special events, bonding sessions, as well as competitions! And then a booster club or organization comes along and wants MORE time? YIKES!! They all run for the hills! And can anyone blame them? For those of us blessed enough to be officers on those clubs and organizations (I was an officer on our gym’s booster club at one time), we end up carrying all of the weight and putting in all the work for Sally Sitsalot’s daughter to get the very same benefit that your daughter gets, and YOU put in all of the time and work! It is very frustrating!!
Getting people to be interested in volunteering is a great way for you to truly check your systems and figure out what YOU as an organization can do to make the experience better. Some places have a specified amount of hours that are required for parents to volunteer, others have “buy outs”, still others have projected goals that if they are reached they don’t have to do any more fundraisers. . . There are so many things out there. But nothing to truly address the issue at heart – why be afraid to volunteer?
I can answer that. You get “sucked into the black hole of volunteerism”. You end up helping out with one event, and then they are calling you because you stepped up once, and since no one else will. . . And you did such a great job. . . And we really could use you. . . It’s been done. And it gets tired after a while. But working to assure that your organization is not “the black hole” is a huge start. Break tasks up into shifts, and give them time limits. “We need to set up this fundraiser, and it will take us about an hour for set-up. Who can help us out starting at 9am?” The ones that come and help, when 10am hits, let them leave. Even if you are not done, you make a guarantee to be done in an hour. If you aren’t that is poor planning on your part, and others will have to help out. Don’t ask them to stay (even though you will be very tempted to ask), just thank them for their time, and make sure they feel appreciated for giving you that hour, and send them on their way. What you have done there is shown them respect for their time given, shown them that they are able to give what they can (not everyone is able to stay all day), and showed them you appreciated the work they did do.
Another thing you can do? Preplan. How many volunteers have shown up at an event they promised time to, only to find that no one seemed to know what was going on, no one was truly in charge, and everything was crazy? What that says to a volunteer is that the organization is truly unorganized! You expect this person to give up a few hours on their weekend – their “family time”; their “off time” – to come and work for you. Show them the courtesy and respect to have a plan in place, a job for them to do, and either direction on how to do it or someone that can work with them and show them how to do it. When people volunteer their time, they want to feel like it was time well spent. If they come and for two hours do tons of work and it is noticed, they will most likely come back and do it again. If you have an organization to the event, they will be much more likely to come and do what you need. It is true – so many volunteer and walk up to someone and say, “What do you want me to do?” Well, if you have a planned out event, you will have their answer, and will not look foolish trying to find them something to do. Sit down beforehand and list the jobs that need to be done, list shifts for each job, and list who is doing what for that job and how many you will need. No one likes to volunteer and be told they are doing one thing and come to find out there are thirty others doing the very same thing and it is truly a job that takes maybe three to do. How many cashiers does one need at a brat fry at a time? How many people manning the grill? How many serving the food? Examine the tasks and how many can do it and for how long. Don’t expect anyone to be there the entire time – set up shifts. People are much more willing to give two hours rather than eight. That way they can schedule their day, do other things and still take part in the event without worry.
Along with that preplanning, you should at the beginning of each year send out a survey for families. What interests them? What can they offer you as an organization? Can they offer only three hours the entire season or can they offer you a lot more? Find out what they like to do. You might have a mother that works weekends and can’t physically attend the event, but she might be able to do some of the pre-planning for you. She might be able to type up letters, create brochures, or signs for the event. Maybe you have a dad that loves to grill and is willing to do that for a cook out or sale. Maybe there is a parent that with their job travels a lot, and they know how to get the deals with hotels, so they can do the blocking for competition season for hotels? These are all jobs that people don’t always think of handing off, but can easily be done. Figuring out the type of volunteers you have is a great way to arrange your tasks through the year and get EVERYONE involved. Maybe you have a person that is a whiz at social marketing? Get them to handle your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to promote upcoming fundraisers! What if you have someone that is great at photography? Bam – you have your promo pictures to use for advertising, brochures, posters, flyers, signs. . . It is about getting people to do what they are interested in. People will volunteer to do things they enjoy doing if they are able. There is no law that says the officers have to do all of that work! They do enough with meetings, planning and scheduling! Let parents help out!!
It is something easily forgotten, but something that is so very essential. Thank your volunteers! Don’t just put out a blanket statement “Thanks to everyone that helped out on Saturday!” Make it personal and quickly! Send them an email, “Sue, Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy Saturday to help us set up that hot dog sale at Walmart! Those tables looked great when you were done with them! We truly appreciate it!” A few seconds, it was personal, and you thanked the volunteer for a specific job done – recognition! It is a great way to make people truly feel appreciated for the work they put in. Even if it is a person that taped signs up, set up the cash box, organized the coolers, or whatever! Every task is important, and everyone wants to be appreciated for what they gave. It is so simple to do. Don’t just thank those that did HUGE jobs; thank the ones that did the small ones as well.
In discussing the jobs at hand, there are some jobs that aren’t that much fun to do. Let’s face it, it is so much more fun to take the money than it is to just stand there and get the food ready for the customers. But each job has its necessity. Nothing is too small for anyone to do. Some might feel that way when you give them the job, but what you should be doing is getting them to “buy into the outcome”. Help them have a vested interest in what the job will do for the entire project. “Yes, you are just making signs, but without those signs no one would know where we are at and what we are selling! The flashier you make them the more people are going to look at them and the more interest in our sale they will generate!” You just got a person making signs to be a part of the success of the sale itself! Everyone has that interest in the sale – show them how their job is just that important! Along all of this, you should communicate how things are going during the event. “Guys! We just brought in another $100 this past hour! Woo hoo! Let’s see if we can double that next hour! We only have three hours to go and we have our goal in reach!” When there are goals, people are going to enjoy the challenge of working towards them! If you just say you are selling something, they are just going to sell. If you say you are looking to raise $1,000 with this one sale so let’s push to sell $200 per hour, people are going to work towards that! Make it a game – see which shift makes the most in sales! Give them a prize for winning! It can be as small as a pin or ribbon saying they were first place, to a $5 Starbucks Gift Card! Plan on making things fun, worth their time and get everyone involved in the outcome of things!
Something that many organizations forget about at the end is asking their volunteers for feedback on the event! Was it worth running? How can we make it better? What can we do without? What do we need for next time? Was your job rewarding? Did you feel your time was put to good use? How many people do you think could work per shift next time? All of these questions are great for those working to respond to! They can do nothing but give you an opportunity to better your event, make people feel involved and like they have a voice in how things are done, and gives you first-hand experience of what worked and what didn’t. Don’t be bull-headed and think that your way is the best way! Try new things. Maybe a different layout for the sale might be the answer to things? Quite possibly having fewer people or running it for a shorter time frame might be the way to make more money! Maybe we don’t need as many hot dogs next time, but more hamburgers would score huge! So many things that can only be offered up by a person that was there working. Feedback – as harsh and personal as it can be at times – is the best way to make changes and improvements. Don’t just ask for it, but HEAR their answers. Maybe three people suggested one change – recognize all three of them for the idea with a tag of “great minds think alike, and Alex, Mark and Sherry all had this AMAZING idea. . .” You don’t have to do it for every idea given, but some that might be a huge change, give them the kudos for the idea! Let them be the ones that own it.
Something that many different organizations don’t think about but it would be a great addition to things is a “volunteer coordinator” chairperson. They are responsible for the events, getting volunteers, getting everyone interested, and the thanking them afterwards. They should work with the officers on planning and spending, but they should be the contact person and the one coordinating the event so that there is one person that is “in charge” at that point. They can do schedule changes, fill in quick or get someone to, or work with the officers on pre-planning the event set up and getting the jobs together and ready for the volunteers. The more work that is put into things, the more organized it will be and the more appreciative (and willing to come back) will your volunteers be!!
When you talk about recognition and thanking people, it doesn’t have to be extravagant, expensive or huge! Sometimes a simple thank you card hand written by the volunteer coordinator or an officer might be the ticket. Sometimes a goofy way to recognize others might be the way to go! Here are some great (and inexpensive) ideas:
- Chocolate says it best – pass out Hershey’s Hugs or Kisses to volunteers as you thank them for braving the rain and cold selling burgers and hotdogs!! Simple, yet a way to say “we love our volunteers”!
- You’re a “Lifesaver” – Give out some Lifesaver candies to thank the volunteers! Maybe you had a few volunteer at the very last minute because of a family emergency, or someone stayed extra of their own accord to cover a shift that was empty! Keep them on hand to give to those people during the event with a cute little card stating they were a “Lifesaver”.
- A picture is worth a thousand words! – Take pictures during the event! Post them out and share how much fun everyone is having, who is there, and what they have done for the event! Give them shout outs! Maybe you have a goofy picture of the person operating the grill burning a burger – share the laugh and make it about the fun! Make an album at the end of the year for the gym to have on hand so that people sitting and waiting for their athletes can look through and remember or get energized to help out with events in the future!
- Say it NOW – don’t wait a month or two to send a card or note. The event was on Saturday? Get those thank you’s out starting on Sunday and Monday!!! Make them sincere and personal! Email, small card, a note, a small token. . . Whatever you feel you would like to do! Just do it NOW rather than LATER!
- Luck of the Draw – Got a huge event to set up for? A showcase, a rummage sale, or some other large event? Hold drawings for small prizes for those volunteering! Give them an entry for each hour they are spending at the event working! 5 hours of work will get you 5 changes in the drawing of your choice! Have multiple prizes, or just one large one! Ask a local business if they would be willing to donate something (it can be smaller, as you are not looking to raise money with this drawing). Make sure you thank the business publicly for the donation, as well as take a picture of the winner of the prize with their prize and post it out for everyone to see, thank the business as well as the winner for volunteering!!
- A token of thanks – Those small things that you can say thank you with! Coffee mugs, pens, buttons, note pads or other things that you can use! Give those out to each person that works a particular event! Maybe you thank the people that set up the book fair with a small book bag with the event on the front of it. Maybe you have on hand various gift cards for the purpose of thanking volunteers at different times, or maybe it is the one that goes “above and beyond”. You can give them a small key chain that has a saying about volunteering on it. So many different ways to show appreciation!
- A Special Card – Send an e-card (a thank you card by email) to those that took the time to help out! They can be ready-made, animation and sound, or create your own at some different websites that do those things. Easy ways to show appreciation that can mean the world to a person that had dreaded giving that time! You could turn a one-time volunteer into a regular with simple demonstrations of appreciation!
- Parking Privilege – maybe you create a special parking space at the gym for the volunteer of the month! That primo parking spot that every parent would DIE for opportunity to use, but the one that won the Volunteer of the Month gets! You can present them with a certificate, maybe hang a photo and a blurb in the viewing room about who is the volunteer of the month and what they did for the organization! Easy, and for the price of speaking to the gym owner, you are getting a HUGE show of respect!!
In discussing the small ways of saying “Thank You”, there are so many ways that you can demonstrate to your members that they truly are worth everything to you and your organization! So many times, it is “expected” of parents to give and give to the program. They are paying tuition, travel, hotel, food, uniform, shoes, makeup, bow, warm ups, spirit wear, practice clothing, bags, swag at competitions. . . And then they have to give TIME?! Or it will COST THEM?! Not the most welcoming of atmospheres to step into and making you want to roll up your sleeves and help. But with simple things, you can change the mind of so many. There will still be those parents that are CPINO (Cheer Parents In Name Only), and you never see them at all save for the competition or two they have to show up at. They drop their child off for practice, and wait in the lot when they are done and pick them up. They do nothing for the gym, and they are not ever involved. The only ones that know them are those that knew them before they joined the gym. They are always a part of things, and many of them you will not see or hear from unless absolutely necessary.
Still there are so many that would LOVE to be a part of things, but they don’t want to feel like they have to be at every meeting, do every fundraising event, and sell so many things to their friends and relatives that they notice that mom and dad stopped returning their phone calls! Things can get very intrusive when it comes to getting involved and what it can entail. But if you work hard on keeping the promises, showing respect, and making the commitments small, you will find that more will volunteer than not. If you have an event running for 5 hours, you need 5 people per hour, break it up into 5-one hour shifts each hour. 25 people could commit to that, and most likely would do so for that short amount of time! It is all in the presentation! And then when they do it, they get to know parents, have a lot of fun with their athlete(s) and raise some money in the process, they will most likely be back again to help out!
There is also the option of making it a “pledge drive”. What? A “pledge drive” to volunteer? Sure! Why not? You could choose an orientation meeting (speak to the gym owner first), a team meeting, or parent meeting to create a pledge drive. Ask everyone to pledge to give Just 2 Hours for the season! If everyone promised to give Just 2 Hours, and you have 80 athletes in your gym, that is 160 hours of volunteer time! Imagine what can get done in Just 2 Hours per person? Create a letter explaining what the drive is, a form they can complete that pledges the Just 2 Hours, and then Celebrate when they complete it!!!!! Recognize each person that fulfills their 2 Hours as promised! If someone gave more hours, acknowledge them as well!! Do this at the end of the year banquet! Heck, create your own adult banquet where they can be recognized! The sky is the limit on this, but something so simple and I don’t think it would be hard to get each parent to commit to Just 2 Hours during the season for a fundraiser, or volunteering to do something. Give them all sorts of jobs for this – team parents, maybe doing admin work, typing the booster club meeting minutes for the first 3 months (then pass it on to another parent), maybe they are sending out the mass emails to all the families about booster club events, or doing some work in the gym that is much needed. They can do just about anything to give those 2 Hours, the volunteers will be coming out of the woodwork!! And have a recognition board in the Parent Viewing Room where those that fulfill their 2 hour commitment get their name up! As soon as they fulfill it, put up some recognition! See how many you can get by the end of the season! In the end, everyone wants to be appreciated, recognized and do productive things with their time given. You can fulfill this need simply by some planning, a bit of creativity, and a lot of vocalizing!!! Most of all, show that it is a way to meet people in the gym, take part in their athlete(s) activity, and have a lot of fun doing it!!!!
9 Involvement Builders –
- Get Social! Use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram to promote and recognize! Advertise meetings, events, group needs, etc. so that everyone can know if and where there is a need!
- Serve up Opportunities! Create a “menu” of opportunities! Allow people to choose what they can do and how they would like to contribute! List a contact officer or a chairperson for information, questions, assistance and so on.
- Send Volunteers Home! Create opportunities for people to volunteer from their home! They can coordinate volunteers for an upcoming event (make calls, emails, etc.), create signs, price lists, coordinate volunteers to bring something (picnics, etc.), write a newsletter or flyer, track orders for a sale, run the social media page(s), update website, or prepare items for upcoming events that need pre-planning! The bounds are endless, and the work much appreciated!!!!!
- Offer Prizes! Give out incentives! They don’t have to be huge, but show that the time and participation is greatly appreciated! Small gift cards, mugs, key chains, etc.
- Simply Ask! Send out notices stating what is going on, what the needs are, the time that you would need committed from each person, etc. You could create a booster club specific newsletter (get a volunteer to create it and get it out) for notifications, alerts, and so on. Don’t just rely on meetings to get this information out to the masses – use phone, email, text, Snapchat. . . Whatever works for you!
- Promote Your Work! Get those photos out there of the cook out that you hosted on Saturday! Show off the new paint job in the Parent View Room compliments of the Booster Club members that painted! Give a huge shout out to that amazing cheer dad that with his great skill and craftsmanship was able to help repair a section of the spring floor for the athletes without the interruption of practices!! Make sure everyone knows what you do, what has been done, and who was responsible!!!!
- Make it a Family Affair! At times there is the reason that a volunteer can’t work is due to not being home enough with the entire family. Well, why not bring the entire family to the event? Kids do great promoting sales, and the littles look so cute doing it!!!! Get everyone involved, and try to find jobs for the young kids as well. Kids want to help, and parents want to be able to not worry about finding someone to watch their kids! Kill two birds with one stone!
- Take Notes! Keep a database – who did what, when did they do it, did they contribute an idea? Make notes on all of that for the thanks to go out later! Also the ideas generated from people as they are talking. “You know what would have been great to do?” People come up with the darnedest ideas when they are not trying to. You can also keep note of volunteers and what they did so if you need that job done again, you can ask the one that already knows how to do it, and possibly have someone as a supervisor for the next event!
- Have Fun! Does this truly have to be explained? The more fun people have doing it, the more they will want to come and do it again! Some events themselves are rather boring, but with the right personalities, they can be the most fun on a weekend to have! Make the event itself fun for those that volunteer and see how well it helps your pool grow!
I hope that all of this offers some the energy to create something that truly energizes their families to take part! If it does, feel free to shoot me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org – and I would LOVE to share your ideas, your successes and the things you have learned truly worked for your gym!
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