As much as participants may think races run themselves, they don’t. It often takes an army of volunteers to make sure these events go smoothly with minimal setbacks. And the real key to a successful race are those perennial volunteers who come back year after year. They are enthusiastic about helping, passionate about your event and require little training. You just point them to their station and let them get to work.
But often, those volunteers are also racers. How do you allow them to keep their volunteer obligations while also participating in the race? Try one of the following ideas.
There are a couple of things that all organizers should do for their volunteers. First, offer your volunteers either a tent or free locker to store any personal items—keys, purses, bags—they might bring with them. Many of them will likely need to change into race gear, so at the very least allow them a place to keep their change of clothes.
Next, be flexible. These are volunteers after all. If they’re racing the same day they’re volunteering, let them go a little early so they can have time to prep. If they are racing early and volunteering later, realize that they may not be right on time.
For Multi-Day Events
It may seem obvious, but if you have an event that runs across multiple days, allow your volunteers to race on one day then volunteer on the next. For example, if they are signing up to work on Saturday, give them a code that will allow them to register for free for the Sunday event. Or, if they are working Sunday, allow them to pay for the event and get a registration refund after they complete their volunteer shift.
For Single-Day Events
If your runners only have the option of volunteering on the same day they race, offer a rebate program that refunds their entry fee once their volunteer shift is completed.
Or, you could allow them to volunteer for pre-race work that doesn’t occur on race day itself, like working packet pickup or stuffing event bags. When they arrive for their shift, you can give them a code that will allow them to register for the event that day or for a future event.
If your race starts in waves, consider having a wave that’s all volunteers, allowing them to finish early enough to report for their shift. Or, allow them to reserve a space within a wave that will accommodate the time they’re needed as a volunteer.
What Are You Capable Of?
All of these suggestions are fine, but at the end of the day, they may all be useless if you don’t have the capability to pull any of them off. And that may be the most important thing you have to know before you figure out how you’ll manage your volunteers: What is your organization actually capable of?
Keep in mind that when we talk about capabilities, we don’t mean merely physical ones. Consider the software tools you’re using, as well as how can those tools help you manage your volunteers. For example, allowing volunteers to register for specific waves if one worked better for their schedule than another. It’s a good tip, but does your registration software allow runners to do that? Can your registration software handle refunds or rebates easily? It’s important to consider because many racers volunteer because of those free or reduced entry fees. At the end of the day, your registration software should make all aspects of an organizer’s job easier. If it doesn’t, maybe it’s time to consider a change.