AXCS: Club ResourcesHow To...XC Ski Events -- Part 2.2
Early on in your planning process you'll want to create a volunteer plan with several
1.) Determine a rough figure for how many volunteers you'll need. Find the minimum (the fewest you can possibly get by with) and optimum (up to the point where you'll have too many) numbers. Keep in mind that some groups can do limited double duty -- Example: stadium set-up crews can also help with parking and refreshments.
The basic volunteer groups you need to fill for major ski races are:
- Publicity Crew
--Report to Chief of Publicity. Volunteers assist with promotional efforts including
placing entries and posters at different locations; preparing/sending press packets;
and promotional appearances at other events. All work is prior to event so this is
an ideal job for folks wishing to actually participate in the event.
- Stadium/Main Event Site Crew
--report to either Chief of Race or Chief of Stadium. Volunteers help set-up and clean-up
start/finish areas; man control points for participants and spectators; and other
stadium duties. This group, or parts of it, will often be needed the week prior to
the event and sometimes during the week after. These are great spots to put people that don't mind doing a bit of grunt labor -- example: hauling fencing around -- and/or people with some construction skills if you need to assemble scaffolding, tents, scoreboards, and other large items.
- Parking/Road Crew
--report to Parking Chief. Volunteers direct traffic in parking area; assist police
with any necessary road controls; man any road snow bridges; and can also assist
with parking lot snow removal.
- Registration/Race Secretary Assistant Crew
--Volunteers assist the Race Secretary with every aspect of processing registrations
before and during the day of the event; assist in answering any questions and providing
information about the event before and during the day of the event; assist in processing results while event is in progress and afterwards. These are great jobs for folks that don't particularly like to be outside or feel confident with on-course tasks.
- Timing Crew
--Report to Chief of Timing. Volunteers provide hand-held back-up timing for race
events even if professional timing is officially timing the event; provide official
electronic timing if Club has access to a reliable timing device. Must be trained
prior to event. This is one area where it really helps if everyone in the crew gets along well and feels comfortable with their roles. Timing crew can be very fun and social if everyone is well-trained and jobs are clearly defined.
- Course Marshals/Marking Crew
--Report to Chief of Course or Chief of Marshals. Mark course and place all signs/controls
(some events require several days of these tasks before the event); man all control
points along event route checking for safety, technique compliance, route compliance, etc.. You can always find folks that like to ski out to places on the course. This is especially true if you position marshals in such a way that they have attractive viewing spots. It is also usually easy to find someone to do "sweep" and follow the final skier on the course (a key job).
- Refreshments Crew
--Report to Chief of Refreshments. Assist with all preparation, presentation, and
clean-up of refreshments. Folks that like to cook or host parties are in their element with these tasks.
- First Aid Crew
--Report to Chief of First Aid. Assist with all first aid requirements; safety checkpoints;
search and rescue efforts. Requires trained/certificated personnel with Medical Background
and/or Winter Emergency Training.
- Grooming Crew
--Report to Chief of Course. Assist with all grooming. Must be trained to operate
3.) Set-up an introductory volunteer meeting that most of your planning committee can attend then advertise the dickens out of it. Schedule this meeting 2-4 weeks before the event depending on exactly how much training you will need to conduct. If the event is truly an in-house Club production you shouldn't have to look far to find prospective volunteers. However, you may tap out Club members' volunteer time with too many events so it never hurts to be ready to go other places. Good places to find volunteers for non-profit organization events are:
- Service Clubs (Kiwanis, Rotary, Elks, etc.)
- Hospitals, HMO's, other health groups
- Recreational Clubs (snowmobile groups, running clubs, etc.)
- Senior Citizen Groups--particularly good for mid-week events!!!
- High School and College teams/clubs
- Youth work or service programs (can be great for simple grunt work)
- local/regional military posts
The absolute strangest source I've ever seen used for, uh, a different kind of volunteer is a minimum security prison or a local community service program. The 1989 Park City, Utah World Cup utilized inmates to help shovel imported snow onto the bare ski course the week leading up to the races. I would recommend saving this option as a last resort for an emergency such as my example but if you were ever in need of a huge group of manual laborers--it is an option.
4.) The introductory volunteer meeting doesn't have to be a fancy affair. The whole meeting should only take about 45 minutes to an hour. If you really need some special training time, sub-group leaders can either set-up special meetings just for specific volunteers or they can extend the intro meeting a little while.
What to include in your introductory meeting:
- Pass around clipboards to collect everyone's name, mailing address (both postal and
E-mail), and phone number.
- Pass out a small info sheet with the date(s)/time(s) and contact info listed in large
block letters on one side. On the other side of this sheet, write a brief summary
of the event. Why it is held, who benefits, the logistical background, and anything
else you think will help the volunteers understand the event better.
- Introduce key committee members
- Briefly go over the event (be sure to include why this event is happening and where the proceeds will go). The more educated your volunteers are the
more help they will be and the better your event will be for the participants.
- Give a quick description of all the volunteer positions.
- Have people physically divide themselves as per the jobs they'd prefer to have (Ex.
back-up timing, course marshals, etc.).
- Give each group a short period with the leader of each sub-group. This will also
allow you to move folks around so that you have enough volunteers in each group.
- Have some extra volunteer sign-ups for people to pass on to interested friends.
6.) Education and Experience are the best ways to develop a top volunteer group. This process starts with your Organizing Committee. Always make sure that your Crew Chiefs understand not only the inside and out of every aspect of their area but also the broadstrokes surrounding every other area of the event. The more these Chiefs can pass on to individual volunteers the smoother everything will go in every aspect of the event. Nothing detracts worse from otherwise great events than clueless volunteers--and worse, clueless volunteer Chiefs!!! Conversely, even mediocre events can receive favorable reviews from helpful, friendly, and enthusiastic volunteers!
7.) Never forget that volunteers are just that...volunteers. Have your Crew Leaders get in the habit of phrasing every request to volunteers as a favor...and be specific with every item. Under this system, you would say...Can you move the blue fence about fifteen feet towards those trees? Thanks! ...instead of...Move this fence that way. Under the former you have made a very specific request in a very nice way and most folks will respond enthusiastically. You also are including an automatic thank you in every request which is a great way to maintain a positive feeling even in the face of lots of work under a tight timeline (and sometimes nasty weather!). Under the latter example you have given a vague order which might work (not very well!) in professional situations, but it will really diminish volunteer enthusiasm and enjoyment. The difference is subtle, but it can dramatically impact how event leadership and volunteers interact and benefit from the experience.
Another event management technique you can employ with volunteers is to empower as many positions as possible. Let's face it, you don't need to hand-hold a perfectly capable adult thru the process of handing out tissues at the end of races or setting up a coffee maker. Just make sure that your volunteers know where things are, how to use them, and when to set them up/use them--and trust them to get the job done. A big part of this picture is encouraging volunteers to ask as many questions as they want to about their jobs, the event, everything. Also encourage suggestions. The more they know, the more fun they'll have and the more they'll add to the event.
Finally, the hands-down best way to handle stressful situations with your volunteers is to add some humor whenever possible. It can be tricky to be funny at 6am and it is pouring rain on your ski course, but what else are you going to do?? Organizers that stay upbeat in the face of stress or tough conditions are the ones that develop respect and get great volunteers to return year after year!