Volunteer Coordinator - Rules of the trade

Posted on March 20th, 2012 by Mark "Spike" Liu
This is a guest post by Chris "Bus" Olig, founder of Midwest Ultimate
For more td-tuesdays articles: http://leaguevine.com/blog/tags/td-tuesdays/

Running a successful event is only as good as your volunteers, and there are some general guidelines that I have picked up from personal experience and previous event directors. Tips from the small events are just as important for the larger events as well:
Small Event (Local/Charity event w/ 5 volunteers or less, 12 teams or less)
  • Try to arrange for dinner or a small party as a way to give back for their help.
  • If there is no party and they are participating in the event, make sure that they get the best fields/schedule you can offer.
  • You can also budget for miscellaneous funds and buy them a jersey/disc or something else they want.  An additional $5 a team goes a long way towards showing the volunteers the necessary appreciation.
 Medium Event (Regional event w/ 6-25 volunteers, 13 to 28 teams)
  • You need to delegate duties for this level and above as one person can easily get burned out arranging all the details.
  • Create a database of duties that need to be performed (e.g. water, marking corners, gear sales) and figure out the time for each duty.  This will help for future events as well.
  • Make sure you ask volunteers for their full schedule. You may be stranded if people say they can help all weekend but fail to mention that they can only help in the morning each day.
  • If you need somebody at tournament central to watch over gear or other aspects, it's best if you can split it up into one round per person. They can overlap if necessary.
  • An often forgotten job is to have somebody check toilets and porta potties for TP.  It's a simple aspect that means a lot to attendees.
  • Garbage and water detail are that much more important when it's 90+ degrees out.  Make sure not to neglect these duties as you are likely the attendees' only resource for them.

 Large event (Large regional event or a nationals type event w/ 26+ volunteers, 29+ teams)
  • When you're away, even people you trust won't stay on task.  Example: When I left my post I saw "on the job" volunteers laying down watching games and had no idea where the cart they were using was at.
  • If you're not 100% sure if somebody will work hard and do the job, don't assign them to it.  This is especially important for lead volunteers, as all your leads are able to speak up for themselves nicely but firmly to any rude people.
  • Nap time is necessary when you're there for 16 hours. A 20-30 minute nap makes a world of difference.
  • Figure out how to organize schwag handout ahead of time. Otherwise your vehicle will be filled with it for the 4 months following.  If possible, have one separate person in charge of only that. It's much more time consuming than anybody would believe. Tip: Give out local league gear or previous event gear as an alternate in case you run out of regular schwag. 
  • Google Documents is a godsend in sharing and organizing.  Have a volunteer signup sheet setup that pulls all data easily onto a spreadsheet.  Setting up a Google form for signup is fantastic, but ask volunteers to include more data rather than less.  Make sure people are specific on their availability as there will always be more jobs than you believe there will be.
  • Tell people to bring their own nalgene/reusable bottles and have jugs of Gatorade there to refill them.  Having enough bottled drinks for people is extremely expensive if you have them at your event.
  • Volunteer coordinator will receive more e-mails than one would think possible.  Example: At College Nationals (120 volunteers) my max was over 130 in a day, but averaged 50-70 most days.
  • Overlap your volunteer shifts as much as possible.  There will be twice as many jobs than you can think of to do and you can always give somebody a radio and tell them you'll call them if needed.
  • Use people who pledge more time first. People that say they want to watch one game in the middle of the day often do not workout in the reality of the event.
  • Also, make sure you have good working radios.  At least one for every cart and one for each organizer.  You will need radios for parking too, if that is an issue.
  • If you think parking may have an issue, parking will have an issue.  Parking turns sweet old ladies into foul mouthed beasts and players feel they deserve to park where ever they want.  It should be expressed that this event was made for them by volunteers sacrificing their time for them.  Instill in the captains at the captain's meeting that they should thank the volunteers, not cop an attitude because they are the 'talent'.
  • You should have volunteer shirts to identify your staff, and it's best to over estimate them by about 20.  Have extra shirts of the same color to have people look official.  Local league shirts work for most events, so long as they are the same color.
  • Volunteers need to be told ahead of time to remain professional.  This is common sense to most, but at College Nationals I still had a few incidents where volunteers were disrespectful to players.
  • Make sure you're not the one crying.  Example: In one event, I made 3 people cry because they were disrespectful, did not live up to their promises, or misused equipment (runaway golf cart). You can always make it up to them later, but often times a stern voice is required.
  • Flatbed golf carts are your best friend.  Regular golf carts make sense for when the tournament is going on, but setup and take down should be done as quickly as possible and for that you will want flatbed carts.
Related Article: The Ultimate Volunteer by Frans Passchier

Chris Olig (aka. Bus) organizes Ultimate events throughout the Midwest including the Wisconsin Swiss tournament in Madison, WI.  With over 16 years of Ultimate Frisbee experience, his directing résumé spans over 30 events of varying size including volunteer coordinator for the 2010 USA Ultimate College Nationals.  With his organization, Midwest Ultimate, he hopes to bring together events and coordinators throughout the region in order to harbor the high standard required for growth as a sport.
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