From organization to creating a strong sense of community and properly acknowledging volunteers, these are crucial aspects of creating and sustaining a strong volunteer based event.
Glenda Buchanan, Administrator, Northern Ohio Golf Charities/Bridgestone Invitational is a perfect person to offer advice. She evolved from being a volunteer to overseeing them!
Now in her sixteenth year overseeing the volunteers for the well-known professional annual golf tournament, she manages over 1,000 volunteers that are needed to run the tournament.
As all planners can attest, being organized is a basic requirement for successful events, but it is even more of a factor when you’re responsible for a countless number of unpaid and much needed staff.
The volunteers for the Bridgestone Invitational handle the basic and essential work of the tournament, ranging from the operations of setting up, taking tickets, parking cars, and acting as marshals on the golf course to keep the crowd quiet and manage the flow. To make sure this happens, Buchanan has 43 committees to stay on top of things.
Ben Sigle, owner of Manhattan Running Company also understands the importance of organization. He manages to operate a successful business while planning and organizing 5+ running events a year, ranging from road races, trail races, and 5-10k marathons. The largest event drew over 1,500 people in 2015, none of which could be done without a committed and organized group of volunteers.
How does Sigle manage multiple events and volunteers? After he establishes his volunteer groups, he arranges for a main point person for each group of volunteers, primarily achieved through the charity groups selected. Next, he communicates the number of volunteers needed, with a slight attrition built in to make sure they are fully staffed. Sigle then takes care in sharing the details with his main contacts so everyone understands and can effectively communicate to the individual volunteers. When you’re running a race, it’s crucial to provide detailed information, covering the who, what, where, and when; including pre-event distribution of staff shirts, safety vests, course maps, and any other essentials needed.
Many volunteer based sporting events require strong support from the local community members. Other than finding community minded individuals, how does an event garner the people they need? Through giving back directly to the community.
A component both Buchanan and Sigle know and manage extraordinarily. Because of the volunteer support the Bridgestone Invitational receives they are able to donate over $1 million through their foundation to charities each year.
They also take on about 150 junior volunteers each year, which provides them community hours for school or organizations they are involved with.
Sigle also cites the uniqueness of their event from others because they donate a large portion to select charities each year, something that wouldn’t be possible without their volunteers. This offers a great way to generate youth volunteers who want to raise money for their clubs and organizations. Sigle’s events only seek to cover essential fees, but after that, all the money is donated to designated charities.
It’s always important to show appreciation and gratitude for paid staff, but even more so for people who are giving freely of their time. Whether it’s through event apparel, passes to events, complimentary food and beverage, or personal thanks from leadership, sincere thanks is necessary considering the importance of having repeat volunteers. Buchanan has mastered this art and later this year will celebrate three volunteers’ 58th year and seven on their 50th year of volunteerism with Bridgestone Invitational.
How do they manage to do this? As Buchanan knows from being a volunteer in the past, “I try to remind myself these people are volunteers, and make it as much fun and as rewarding for them as we can.” She also shares that many people give their time year round to help during the off season too. While many are avid golf fans, she makes sure to play to people’s talents and interests. “We have different committees that cater to what people are interested in, for example, we put people on the course who love golf. And there are others who just like helping people, we have spots for everyone.”
No small feat, considering that their volunteers pay $75 each, but receive a logo’d shirt, hat, credentials for the week to come and watch the tournament, and a buoyant volunteer compound where they offer coffee, snacks, donuts, muffins, lunch coupons for concessions, and adult beverages in the evening.
In addition to all of the fun and perks, they also have a volunteer kick off party with door prizes, and a title sponsor welcome to give thanks.
Sporting events have an energy different than any other type of meeting. Volunteers play a big role. Planners have to utilize a unique set of skills in creating an organized and fun atmosphere that can make or break the event’s success.