OFF THE PITCH: Secrets to an effective volunteer program is pleased to continue with its “Off the Pitch” column by Ruth Nicholson. Ruth is the founder of GO!, a go-to expert resource for youth sports governance and operations. Since many local clubs are approaching tryouts and recruiting volunteers for the coming playing year, this column addresses the keys to creating and sustaining a successful volunteer program.


by Ruth Nicholson

Good volunteer program design decreases administrative costs, engages members, increases program support, shares the workload, and improves support for coaches so they can devote more time to our players.

But volunteers are not free.

The average value of a volunteer hour in the Washington state in 2015 was $28.99, a 5.3 percent increase from 2014. For comparison, the nationwide value of a volunteer hour in the United States in 2015 was $23.56 (see This figure can be used in annual reports, grant proposals, and financial statements to support your organization’s work.

A volunteer for Vancouver Victory FC of the Evergreen Premier League addresses ball kids ahead of the match. 

The cost of volunteers is not just reflected in monetary terms. In order to get the best results, volunteer programs need the investment of time in thoughtful planning and preparation.

The five steps to building a successful volunteer program are knowing what you need, inviting participation, preparation and training, doing the work, and volunteer appreciation.

1. Know What You Need

The first step in building an efficient and sustainable volunteer program is understanding how your organization is put together. From that foundation, you can identify what specific volunteer jobs need to be filled.

It is important to develop a written job description for all your volunteer jobs, regardless of size or complexity. The four basic components of a job description are an outline of skills and abilities, tasks and time, communications and reporting, and supplies and equipment.

Volunteers run a fan gear table at a match for EPLWA (adult men’s) club Vancouver Victory.

2. If You Don’t Ask, They Can’t Say “YES!”

When you approach people to invite them to volunteer, be specific about the help you are requesting. Use the job description to both inform the potential volunteer and make yourself and your organization look good and well-organized. Describe both the benefit of the volunteer job to the organization and to the volunteer. Make the volunteer job both meaningful and manageable.

CAUTION: If a volunteer job requires more than an average of 10 hours a week, you are setting up a situation for volunteer burnout, turnover, and potential loss of valuable institutional memory.

3. Preparation and Training

Ensure that your volunteers have the knowledge to do the job, as well as the right supplies and equipment. Let your volunteers in on your organization’s institutional knowledge and “the way we do things here”. Make sure they have clear instructions about the job they will be doing, which may include written instructions with diagrams or pictures, oral explanations, or a physical demonstration of how to accomplish a task. Also, tell them who they can contact if they have questions or need help.

Let your volunteers know who is providing supplies and equipment, including how they are acquired and delivered to the job site. In addition, clearly communicate what happens to any leftover supplies after the job is completed.

Volunteers help a local cause in Yakima on behalf of Yakima United FC of the EPLWA.

4. Get Stuff Done!

After all the planning and preparation, it is time to do the work!

This step is all about supporting your volunteers doing their jobs. Know who is going to actively support and supervise the volunteers as the work progresses. Set the organizational priorities and have a back-up plan in the event something goes amiss, such as a no-show or a lack of supplies.

In addition, incorporate volunteer feedback and suggestions into the job. Your volunteers may identify different ways to get things done and have ideas about how to improve the work in the future. Listening to recommendations and incorporating new approaches will more deeply engage your volunteers and build their loyalty to the organization.

Volunteer engagement is often more important than job perfection.

5. Say “THANK YOU!”

This can be the one of the most rewarding parts of your volunteer program. A key component to retaining volunteers is remembering to thank them for their time and contributions.

Consider expressing your gratitude in ways that align with how your volunteers see themselves and their talents.
Those who see themselves as technically skilled will appreciate being recognized for their expertise.
Others who are caregivers and peace makers will respond well to your gratitude for their looking out for everyone on the team.
A third group of volunteers are those who are well-connected with people in the community. These folks will appreciate being thanked for their knowledge of who to call to engage resources and how to get things done.

What kind of thank you makes you feel the most appreciated?

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Bellingham United volunteers made these displays for the EPLWA club to hang at the Bellingham Sportsplex indoor soccer center.


goThe real secret to building a successful volunteer program is in the preparation and planning.

Consider how much time a coach spends preparing a team for competition. There are considerably more hours of designing and conducting training sessions than there are hours competing in actual games.

How much time does your organization spend preparing for success in your volunteer programs?

Ruth Nicholson is the founder of GO!, a dynamic resource offering youth soccer organizations proven leadership and administrative tools. Her work includes designing and managing volunteer programs for soccer organizations with up to 98% return rates. Set to launch in April 2017, GO! includes resources on both volunteer and paid staffing. For more information, visit

Yakima United FC volunteers run a table that greets fans at the club’s EPLWA home matches.

4 thoughts on “OFF THE PITCH: Secrets to an effective volunteer program

  1. Great article! Was wondering, what are your thoughts on clubs mandating volunteer hours of parents? (Either as general requirement and/or of scholarship recipients).


  2. I like the idea of player families giving back to their clubs. For me, the key is to be specific in the request in terms of both time/hours and specific tasks and jobs, and to be specific in how that donation of time supports the players – in short, what is in it for my player and my family (not just for the club). With some thought and organization, a good volunteer program can build a strong “off-field team” of parents, coaches, staff, and board members. The benefits of that stronger team of adults is that it builds a sense of community and understanding that we each have a different role to play in supporting our players. With that increased understanding, it becomes easier to let coaches coach, board members and staff handle operations, and parents enjoy the growth of their children with less conflict, overlap of responsibilities, and conflict. We are all soccer people, we just need to learn to respect and play our individual positions.


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