April is National Volunteer Month. As teams are formed in the spring, many clubs and organizations are now recruiting volunteers to staff summer tournaments. This week’s goalWA.net bi-weekly “Off the Pitch” column by Ruth Nicholson identifies the keys to recruiting tournament volunteers and the value they offer. Ruth is the founder of GO!, a go-to expert resource for youth sports governance and operations.
by Ruth Nicholson
Are you dreading your organization’s annual request for volunteers to staff its summer tournament?
Years ago, I took on the task of redesigning the volunteer program to staff an international youth soccer tournament for about 200 teams. The work included recruiting volunteers and managing the staff on-site during the event. Fortunately for me, the focus was only on operations. It did not include game or referee scheduling. I even had a designated pool of volunteers because the sponsoring club required each player’s family to donate a specific number of hours to work at the tournament.
How hard could my job be? All I needed to do was schedule over 300 volunteers into about 600 shifts of work for a four-day tournament.
The Key to Sanity and Success
Even when using feature-filled volunteer management software, the foundational component for a successful tournament volunteer staffing program is in the design of individual volunteer jobs.
There are typically three types of jobs needed to run tournament operations:
- Directors or coordinators who oversee groups of volunteers focused on a specific service or program
- Customer Experience Stars who work the shift jobs that implement specific tasks
- Superheroes and floating staff who compensate for no-shows and unanticipated staffing needs.
Directors and Coordinators
These people are the key tournament coordinators who are critical for managing and supervising volunteers working in a specific area. The job descriptions for these people not only cover the skills needed and tasks to be done, they may also include a timeline of pre-tournament planning activities spanning the months prior to the tournament and a list of supplies.
Many tournament program coordinators need individual volunteers before and during the tournament to implement their programs. For example, a tournament may have someone who coordinates the overall program for inviting and hosting college coaches to scout players. The College Coach Coordinator may need individuals to stuff gift bags prior to the tournament and to staff a Coaches Tent or information station during tournament play. Other common coordinator positions include Team Registration and Field Marshals.
Customer Experience Stars
Shift jobs are the backbone of tournament operations and the front line of creating a quality experience for those attending the event.
When I managed a tournament, I developed job descriptions for 16 different positions we needed to run the tournament (not including game and referee scheduling). These included set up and cleanup of the tournament complex, checking in teams, picking up trash, parking cars, and staffing field marshal tents.
The secret to attracting volunteers for these jobs and making it easy to manage the diversity of tasks was in taking the time to develop job descriptions for each job. The reason is that the process of developing the job descriptions forced me to think about the skills needed for each job, the specific tasks that had to be done, what volunteers needed to know to do the job, and what supplies were needed. Once I had the job descriptions, developing supply lists and identifying what I needed to communicate to volunteers was easy.
Concise job descriptions make it easy for people to volunteer for specific jobs because expectations about the work, its value, and the time commitment are clear.
For example, managing parking at a tournament seems like a simple and straightforward job. What does a parking volunteer need to know? What questions and issues will come up for them?
- Where to park and where not to park
- The most important places to have parking volunteers. Clear signage. Bright vests so that volunteers are both visible and safe when working among moving vehicles.
- Money handling system for parking fees and program sales
- The site layout, common areas, bathrooms, first aid station, field layout, and game schedules
- What to do when emergency vehicles need to get into the tournament complex.
Yes, sometimes parking is a boring and unglamorous job. However, these volunteers play a huge role in the customer service and safety component of a tournament by welcoming and helping participants and by facilitating access in emergency situations.
What other shift jobs are critical to making your tournament run well so that people have a good experience and want to come back next year?
Floating staff are the superheroes of tournament operations staffing. They are the secret to surviving no-shows and addressing unanticipated needs.
These volunteers are your staffing contingency plan and are as important to fill as any other tournament job. The job description for shifts of Floating Staff is basically “anything that needs to be done”. It is important to caution volunteers that they might be doing a lot of nothing or be busier than a one-legged person at a butt-kicking contest.
How did my tournament turn out over the years?
- It averaged a 93% fill rate and a 7% no-show rate for tournament operations jobs. This was off-set by volunteers who signed up to be Floating Staff. We were rarely short-handed.
- Our operations volunteers donated an average of 1,250 hours of work annually (not including game and referee scheduling). This represented an annual monetary value of about $37,550. (See Independent Sector’s calculation for the value of volunteer time at https://www.independentsector.org/resource/the-value-of-volunteer-time. The revised US and individual state numbers for 2016 were released on April 20, 2017. In Washington state, it increased 3.6% from 2015 to 2016 for a value of $30.04 per hour in 2016.)
- The volunteer program design, recruitment, and on-site management took about 300 hours a year. That is the equivalent of about 7.5 weeks of full-time work spread over 4-6 months.
CAUTION: The work of a Tournament Volunteer Staffing Coordinator probably requires more than an average of 10 hours a week in the 4-6 months prior to the event. This is the caution threshold for volunteer positions. Volunteer jobs that require more than an average of 10 hours a week are rarely sustainable because that level of effort increases the likelihood of burnout, turnover, and potential loss of valuable institutional memory.
You Can Do It!
Your tournament can have fill rates of over 90% for its volunteer jobs. This can represent thousands of dollars of in-kind donation to your organization. It can also offer a quality experience for participants which will make them want to return to your tournament in future years.
Wouldn’t you want to volunteer to be a part of that kind of successful event?
Ruth Nicholson is the founder of GO!, a 24/7 Asset and Training Library offering youth soccer organizations proven leadership and administrative tools. It includes resources for tournament staffing, including job descriptions for coordinators and shift work. To download a survey to gather feedback from your volunteers that can improve your tournament, click here: Tournament Volunteer Survey.