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What Motivates Volunteers?

Volunteers are necessary to keep agility afloat. Why do competitors volunteer? By Brenna Fender

Without volunteers, agility trials would be few and far between, and entry fees would be a fortune. But while most competitors know that volunteering is necessary and important, only some of them work at trials. What motivates these competitors to work, some one class and some all weekend? 

Photo courtesy of David Bozak.

Many competitors state that they volunteer simply because they feel that it is the right thing to do. They love the sport, and they want to help trials be successful and fun. They like trials to move along efficiently and realize that, by volunteering, they can make that happen. Respect and appreciation from trial-giving club members, competitors, and judges go a long way in motivating many workers. Extra perks like food, drinks, raffles and discounts on future entries often provide extra incentives.

Learn more details from agility volunteers themselves:

I volunteer because it's the only way that trials happen.
--Margaret Hendershot

I feel like it's my duty as a competitor to help out with something. The perks are the icing on the cake.
--Lisa Brockmeier

There are only a very few trials I have not volunteered at. I even showed up at trials to volunteer over quite a number of years that I didn't even have a dog to show in agility. So why? 1) Because that up-front seat is one of the best places to learn about agility. You get to watch handlers and see what works, what doesn't, handling options, and get a thorough understanding of rules, and can ask questions to other volunteers (and sometimes even the judge when they are done judging the class) to clarify things. 2) If there aren't enough volunteers the show will go really slow and potentially overburden the volunteers who are trying to hold down multiple ring crew spots (making them grumpy, and that can make the show experience less pleasant for all). 3) If people don't volunteer, the shows cannot happen at all! 4) If I want to encourage the next generation of agility exhibitors... I love to both lead by example and train in my replacement (because I cannot do this forever). 5) I get a free lunch most of the time. 6) Sometimes I get vouchers toward my next entries or get cool prizes in the volunteer raffle. 7) It is just plain a matter of ethics, in my opinion, that if you are going to do the sport, that you also help with the work. 
--Leona Hellsvig

Workers raffles, food/vendor coupons, and certificates for future free runs are nice but do not sway me either way. Water for workers is always good and I think it should always be available, especially on very hot days. The way volunteers are treated is huge. Whether free stuff is offered or not, clubs must treat workers with respect.
--Deb Bogart

I volunteer whenever I can. I do it to help the club, the judge and because I enjoy it. Since I also judge, I know that volunteers are worth their weight in gold. If I see a need, I try to do what I can to fill it. I frankly don't need any incentives with the exception of drinks and snacks. Other than that, I'm fine with just being there and helping out.
--Karen Gloor

I like the perks if I get them, or just helping out is a perk. Trials are incredibly hard to put on.
--Harry Melamed

I always volunteer; it's half the fun as far as I'm concerned. I like building courses and gate stewarding, but I'll do pretty much any of the jobs. The only thing that puts me off of volunteering is if the club isn't appreciative (and I don't mean with vouchers or raffles; a simple 'thank you' is enough).
--Mark Shaw

I always volunteer at trials. The "reward" I like most for volunteering is "doggie dollars" or whatnot that equal money off my next entry. But I also appreciate drinks, snacks and worker raffles.... I've also volunteered where workers got zilch for it, and that's because I understand trials don't run without people to help. The incentives given by hosting clubs are icing on the cake. 
--Paula Smith
I usually course build. I like to be helpful, but I also like to keep the day moving. Slow course builds make trials last forever!
--Katie Gibbons

I always volunteer at trials, usually timer, scribe or both. I like to keep moving trials along and doing this job well is a big help.
--Val Reiner

I do volunteer at trials. I know the help is needed and appreciated plus I get a great seat to watch some great handling moves by other handlers. Perks are nice - I've gotten some cool t-shirts, free food, and even a free weekend of trials. It's all good!
--Jan Casey

It's good to help move the trial along.
--Elaine Rinicker

I always volunteer also. Trials are impossible without volunteers. Worker bucks do help and are appreciated; I use them toward future entries so they do come back, but I would help anyway as well.
--Debbie Mosher

I always volunteer. Trials don't happen without volunteers. So if I want to trial, I have to volunteer. Worker bucks are nice but I would still work. Kindness and consideration to workers and general good manners will affect how much I work.
--Elizabeth Ampleford

I always volunteer. Early in my agility career, before I was even competing, Ali Johnson taught me the best way to really get involved in the sport was to work at trials. I think competitors who don't work miss out on a lot. 
--Cindy Hensley

Clubs in our area are small, so every extra pair of hands helps make things run faster and more smoothly. Having a reward or incentives like lunch, snacks and water, raffles, free entries, [and so on] are nice, but I do not need them. I feel it is every competitor's obligation to volunteer at trials. Maybe not every trial (I know there are very good reasons why someone might not be able to volunteer at a particular trial), but as much as they can.
--Esther Bozak

I volunteer because I can spend more time with my friends, help out, and it makes the day go faster. I also learn a lot by watching the judge and talking to him when there are problems to be solved.... I just enjoy helping out.... Mainly I help out to catch up with friends, be at the ring to see their runs, and talk and laugh about all sorts of stuff that happens when you're trying to keep a venture with as many moving parts as a trial together.... It's a chance to connect.
--Shawn Steadham

 I like to volunteer because of three things: it makes the time go faster, [I get to] watch every move both handler and dog in the ring, and free food!
--Mona Rinnander

I volunteer for a number of reasons but mostly because that's how I was "brought up" in the sport. That was back when class couldn't happen if we didn't help lug the equipment out from storage, put all the contacts together, and help build the courses. And then help tear everything down and store it away again after classes were done. A good way to learn early on that agility is a labor intensive sport. Now there are private training schools where the equipment is always at hand and the courses are already built before you arrive for class, so many people think they just have to pay their money, show up, and run their dogs at trials, just like at their training classes.
--Sally Josselyn

I volunteer because it's fun, and trials can't run without volunteers. Club bucks and snacks are nice, but a "thank you" from the chief ring steward is fine, too.
--Debie Jacques

I volunteer at every trial. Without volunteers, the trial would not be possible. My conformation club has to hire ring stewards. It seems no one cares enough to help with the show. I am so thankful agility people understand without their help trials would be much more difficult to put on. I get a chance to watch other teams and quite often learn by watching other teams run. I do appreciate clubs that offer snacks or lunch for workers. Some clubs offer vouchers for food, vendors, or future entries. And it's fun.
--Cheryl Holman

 I volunteer all the time. Right now I don't have a dog to run and still go to trials to work. I find it very easy to help clubs that treat their workers nicely.
--Diane Aramian

Everyone wants a smooth trial so most jump in. They usually feed workers really well and that is just an added bonus.
--Steve Steeler

I try to volunteer at most trials. Very rarely do I take a trial off.... I do it because that is how I was introduced to the sport. My wife was/is a club member for Keystone Agility and when she brought me to the trial for the first time, I went right to work. That's just what clubs/club members do. Her first few trials as a club member, she didn't even compete, she just went to work and learn all the jobs. I'd say I am very inclined to volunteer for hosts/clubs if see them reciprocate. I'll jump in at any time if I can help. I am an odd duck here, but I don't care for any incentives. If I am given worker tickets or coupons, I'll either refuse them or give them to a kid I see working. I don't really care for gifts. If I am working it's because I enjoy it and I feel a sense of duty to the sport I love. 
--George Mariakis

April 12-18 is Volunteer Appreciation Week. Check back for a future article on about what clubs can do to encourage volunteers!

Brenna Fender is the editor for USDAA's newsletter, the Overview, and USDAA's news page (among other things). She can be reached at


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