Dear MQ member,
Is your club inspiring all the volunteers it needs?
It does not take a lot of discussion, or research, to conclude that the answer to the question is very probably NO! But motorcycle sport is not unique in experiencing a crisis in the decline of volunteering. Very few community organisations can honestly claim to have enough volunteers. Indeed, I doubt there is any problem in having too many volunteers, although we would all like to experience that phenomenon to see if that is in fact a problem. Is there something we can do about this crisis? I suggest there is, but there are limited ways in which MQ can assist directly because volunteerism is so intricately entwined in the relationship each club has with its own members. If you think there are things MQ can do to assist your club in attracting volunteers, the MQ board and the MQ office is very keen to hear your ideas.
Are we even asking for 'volunteers'?
A volunteer, by definition, is a person who freely donates his or her time to assist with a cause or event that he or she considers is worthy of that donation. We too often do not seek volunteers. Rather, we base our 'requests' on threats that we cannot operate unless people 'volunteer'. We have all been involved in 'no volunteer – no ride' schemes and 'if we do not get the flaggies we need we are all going home' threats. Or we 'bribe' our volunteers with club benefits. Currently, that seems to allow us to limp along essentially relying on a small core group within the club whilst shaming some others to assist, too often reluctantly. That cannot be sustainable in the long term.
Is there a better way to attract volunteers?
I suggest there are better ways to attract and keep volunteers than the ways in which we mostly go about recruiting our volunteers. Here are some ideas you may consider for your club:
1. Job clarity:
Volunteers need to know with clarity what they are required to do. Does your club have clear job descriptions for all the volunteers roles you require?; eg flag marshal, starter, finisher, lap-scorer, pit marshal, start gate operator, canteen helper etc etc. Many people will not respond to general public requests because they are unsure of what is required of them and do not want to be embarrassed by not knowing. In writing this article, it occurs to me that the MQ office could develop generic job descriptions for clubs to use, with or without additions any changes your club may choose to make.
2. Ask, don't demand and threaten:
Everyone responds more readily to requests for help than they do to threats about what may happen if they do not. And a request made directly and personally to an individual to help will almost certainly get a better response than threats made over the PA system. But organising volunteers in that direct, personal way takes time and effort. Does your club have a volunteer sub-committee who can share the load of filling the roster with volunteers before the event? If not, perhaps you should seriously consider forming a volunteer sub-committee with each member of that sub-committee being a convenor for various areas of operations: eg Canteen, Tower/Event administration, Event Officials etc. Call members before the event to get commitments to do the jobs your club needs done.
3. Look after your volunteers:
Ensure each post has sufficient shade. Regularly deliver water to each post. Give your volunteers at least lunch. Ensure that volunteers can be temporarily relieved for calls of nature etc. Too often, after shaming enough people into volunteering, we leave it at that and forget about their comfort and provision. It will cost a lot less to extend these little kindnesses to your volunteers than paying outsiders to do the jobs you need done to operate.
4. Explain why you need volunteers:
Publish short profit and loss statements for every event, including practice, to demonstrate transparently to your club membership where the money goes. Too many of our participants simply count competitors and multiply that by the entry fee and assume that is free revenue for the club and use that flawed logic as justification for not helping. This serious misconception can be easily allayed by publishing accessible financial information to all members. It will also demonstrate why the club cannot pay people to do the jobs for which the club needs volunteers.
5. Determine exactly how many volunteers you need:
When you do this, if you have not already done so, you will likely be surprised at how many volunteers you need for an event. It may be that allowing for the supervision of juniors etc (ie people who cannot reasonably volunteer), you simply do not have sufficient non-competitors present to fill your volunteer roster. If that is the case, then you may wish to look for help outside the club – another club not active that day, other community organisations whose members may enjoy the experience (although other community organisations will likely and reasonably expect some financial contribution for their members assisting). Do you have a military base nearby? Military personnel often have time to spare on weekends and may be prepared to help out. Is there a Men's Shed who may like to help out?
6. Benefits for volunteers may work:
But equally it may tend to have a detrimental effect. The motivation of your volunteers may be purely mercenary. However, if it fills your volunteers roster, it may not matter whether the volunteers you attract are doing it for purely altruistic reasons or not. And there will always be people that are disinterested in benefits.
7. Differential entry fees:
Many clubs have club day schemes that offer reduced entry fees for those who say they will provide a volunteer, or charge a premium for those that cannot name a volunteer. And we all know that many of those 'promises' to provide a volunteer are illusory. However, if you charge a standard entry fee, inclusive of a 'premium' to all entrants and later refund part of the entry fee to those who actually help, then that takes the guesswork out of it. Some points to note about differential entry fees:
7.1. Yes it means more club administration, but it will be more effective.
7.2. The differential must be meaningful to send a message of the value the club ascribes to volunteer help.
7.3. Club event financial viability must be based on the reduced fee so that refunds do not cause the club difficulty and the 'premium' paid by those who do not contribute to the club's volunteer work force provides the club with additional profitability.
8. Thank your volunteers:
This may seem obvious. But it happens way less than it should. If your club forms a sub-committee of volunteer convenors, then you will have the structure and resources to ensure every volunteer is sincerely thanked for his or her help. If they feel valued and appreciated, they will be more likely to say 'yes' when next asked to help.
9. Keep records of your volunteers:
If you know your members who contribute the most, then you know who must be thanked and perhaps rewarded at you club's annual presentation function. Again, making public and overt how much the club values its volunteers raises the status of volunteering and creates a culture of more generous members.
Club culture is a very complex matter and it is not changed easily or quickly. But if you think of the way in which most of our clubs conduct club days, you will see that club days are most often merely mirrors of championship formats. Because of the nature of motorcycle racing, it is mostly a fiercely individualist pursuit (sidecar teams aside). That individualism tends to work against the community culture a club needs to survive and thrive and we need to recognise that and do more to improve the community culture within our clubs.
This natural individualism may be diluted if your club invents some team events and even team club championships to introduce at least a small amount of team cooperation and inter-dependency. It can also be a valuable way in which experienced seniors at your club are introduced to mentoring more juniors, creating more positive links amongst your membership. Perhaps it is time we introduced more genuine inter-club competition in which your club competitors truly represent your club in events in which the premier prize is a win for the most successful club, not individual competitors. That should, over time, re-introduce the authentic notion of 'membership'; ie not just financial membership that is necessary to have an opportunity to ride.
Volunteers are more likely to come forward in a club that has a genuine community culture. But we have allowed a situation to develop where too many competitors (who of course are club members) see the club only as a deliverer of services to them as competitors, not necessarily something of which they feel a part.
Each club can only properly address these club culture issues. However, if you think MQ can do something to assist, like assisting with organising truly inter-club team series in your area, please let us know.
If you want different results, you must do something differently. This is, of course, a paraphrase of what Albert Einstein said of the definition of insanity. If what we are doing is not attracting enough volunteers, we must stop blaming the nameless people we accuse of not contributing. We must change the way in which we ask them to contribute and the way in which they are treated and we will see beneficial changes.
As I said above, we will have the office prepare typical volunteer job descriptions. I hope your club will find that useful in changing the way in which your club attracts volunteers.
As always, if you have different or further ideas about improving the volunteer help for clubs, including anything MQ can do, please let us know in writing and we will certainly consider what we can do.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Until next month………….
Regards, Jim Feehely.