Would it surprise you to know that there are nearly 3.2 million people volunteering their time in the sport sector in the UK alone? Or that the estimated economic value of all those volunteers is around £53 billion? James Stibbs, Head of Communications for the London-based Sport & Recreation Alliance, examines the importance of encouraging club volunteers.

To say that sport and recreation relies heavily on the efforts of volunteers is an understatement. In fact, even these efforts in terms of time given are not enough to support all the sport and recreation clubs nationwide who rely on volunteers in order to provide their activities and services. Even those clubs and organisations that are in the fortunate position of having a good network of volunteers will be affected if even only a few dropout, so retention of volunteers is also an issue that clubs need to be aware of whatever your club.

Recruiting Volunteers

Take the UK as an example. The average UK sports club has around 24 volunteers and 204 members.This equates to one volunteer creating capacity for 8.5 members. The more volunteers you have, the more people can take part in and enjoy the club's activities.

Looking at Alliance member, Parkrun, a not-for profit organisation which organises running events, has over 325 events taking place in the UK each week, seeing over 72,000 participants get their running shoes on. All of these events are arranged and managed by an army of volunteers around 6,000 strong. Were it not for volunteers, these great events would not be able to take place.

So how can clubs go about finding volunteers? Accessing online communities and forums is one of the best places to start. 

Following the impact that the London 2012 Games Makers had, national governing bodies of sport are keen to tap into the enthusiasm and value that volunteers can bring to their competitions and sport. 

The Rugby Football Union has its “My Rugby” microsite where people can go and register their interest in becoming a volunteer. England Hockey has a similar approach. Through its Hockey Maker initiative, people can again view the latest opportunities to volunteer at hockey events up and down the country.

The Sport and Recreation Alliance has itself worked closely with Step Up To Serve’s #iwill campaign, a campaign designed to “make social action [volunteering] part of life for as many 10-20 year olds as possible by 2020”. We created a pledge that clubs can support, promising to create opportunities for young people to volunteer in sport and embed youth social action into sport and recreation activities.

Campaigns like this seek to create opportunities for people to volunteer as there is increasing awareness of the benefits volunteers extract for themselves through their activities. So if the demand is available, how do organisations connect with volunteers?

Make the connection

Unsurprisingly, online campaigns and resources are the best way for connections to be forged. Dedicated volunteering campaigns have been setup in order to grow the volunteer workforce in sport and also marry up would-be volunteers to opportunities near them.

The Join In campaign is just one example of this kind of campaign in action. Join In, the nation’s charity for local sports volunteering, has a mission to recruit and retain 100,000 volunteers in community sport each year.

Using a two-pronged approach, individuals can find volunteering opportunities local to them while clubs can create a page and list the skills and number of vacancies that they are looking to fill, all from the same website.

The tools available to both would-be volunteers and those looking for them have never been so sophisticated.

However, finding a volunteer is one thing, ensuring they regularly come back and dedicate their time is another challenge altogether. And this is a truism whatever your club and in whatever country you are reading this.

Retention to detail

As with many commitments, the initial burst of enthusiasm is the easiest to act on. Think of New Year gym memberships for example. The same is true with people new to volunteering. If their first experience is not a particularly rewarding or enjoyable one, they are unlikely to continue to devote their time.

All of which means creating a volunteer proposition and environment that is rewarding and keeps people coming back. A key and often missed component to ensure that clubs are delivering the right propositions is the tracking and monitoring of the volunteer workforce in the first place. If you can see how many volunteers you have and how frequently they give up their time, you’re in a better position to be able to discover and create ways to entice and retain other volunteers. 

In the UK, companies like Volunteer Kinetic (www. VolunteerKinetic.com) a volunteer management software company, enable organisations to take this kind of control over their volunteer proposition and data. From its own data, Volunteer Kinetic have found a few simple things that keep volunteers engaged and coming back.

Things like a low cost reward or incentive can really help motivate a volunteer to go above and beyond, so clubs should think about linking this to a system whereby you can give tangible rewards to volunteers in exchange for hours logged. Volunteers are giving up their time and skills; it is not at all unreasonable to expect them to get positive and affirming experiences in return. Even rewards like free access to club facilities, a small credit at the bar or waiving of annual subs work.

One of the easiest ways to retain volunteers is also one of the simplest; making sure you say thank you to your volunteers, personally and through your management tools in obvious and public ways. Volunteer management platforms enable organisations and participants to thank their volunteers using feedback, and in addition, they are able to leave a few words of appreciation. Volunteers only see their positive responses and this accumulates on their achievements page and helps push up their volunteer achievement level along with their logged hour total. This gives a clear line of progress for the volunteer and constantly affirms their decision to volunteer.

If you want to retain your great volunteers and build a lasting community keep in mind the mantra, affirm, reward, return.It is also important to remember that volunteering is not a one-way street in terms of deriving benefit. Volunteers themselves accrue benefits from their activities. The economic value of a volunteer and the improvement in their wellbeing and mental health as a result of their activities, has been worked out to be £2,974 per volunteer 

Equally, our own research has shown that employers value volunteering when it comes to improving job and careers prospects. Around 87%of UK employers believe volunteering can have a positive impact on a person’s career progression, while 80% value seeing volunteering information when it is on an applicant’s CV. When it comes to volunteering, the situation is clearly a win/win for all concerned.

Article published in Clubhouse Europe issue 7