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Getting and Keeping Volunteers

Tips clubs can use to encourage volunteering at their trials. By Brenna Fender


Volunteers are an absolutely necessary part of agility trials. What can clubs do to encourage more people to volunteer at their trials and keep those volunteers coming back trial after trial?

Food

The way to a volunteer's heart may be through his or her stomach. Lunch and snacks are a very popular way to secure workers. Some groups simply provide tickets for free lunch at a trial vendor. Others offer a wide selection of food and snacks. Some groups may do a combination of the two, providing snacks as well as a lunch ticket. Remember to give water to your volunteers as well.

How can a group afford to provide so much food? Asking group members to donate snacks can really help!

Free or Discounted Entries

Some clubs will give free entries to competitors who work large jobs, like the trial secretary or chief course builder. In this scenario, those volunteers will not pay for their entries during the trial weekend. Another way to make entry discounts work is to provide workers with discount coupons for future entries. One or two dollars may be offered per class worked, for example. Some groups may even vary the discounts so that jobs that few people want (like chute straightener) "pay" more. Awarding half- or full-day free entry certificates is another option.

Raffles

Worker raffles are nice ways to encourage and reward volunteers. The worker raffle can be as large or as small as a group wants it to be. One possibility is that all raffle tickets (which are awarded per class worked) go into a raffle for one item, usually a weekend of free entries for a future trial. Another popular option is to have a raffle table with a variety of donated or purchased items, from free entries to dog toys to dog crates, T-shirts and more. Raffle ticket holders can put their tickets in to win specific items that appeal to them.

Groups with limited funds can offer free or discounted entry certificates in their raffle and can ask group members to donate items. Businesses may donate items as well in turn for advertising, and vendors at a trial might donate an item in return for some privilege (advertising over the loudspeaker, for example) or for discounted booth space.

Other Incentives

Sometimes, it's not what you can give volunteers that keeps them coming back, it's how you treat them. George Mariakis is a long-time agility volunteer, and he has hosted many USDAA trials as well. He believes that treating people well is an important part of getting and keeping volunteers. "Small acts of kindness will get you dedicated volunteers every time. Treat them with respect," he says. Frequent volunteer Mark Shaw says, "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)."

Paula Smith, who also volunteers often, says, "It makes it easier to volunteer... when I see everyone else is pitching in, including the hosting club and/or owners of the facility. So, advice there would be, if you're putting on a trial and asking for help, make sure we volunteers see you pitching in, too. Asking nicely goes a long way, too. And say thank you! Sad that I even have to add that, but I know from past experience that not everyone realizes this." Elizabeth Ampleford, who volunteers regularly, says, "Kindness and consideration to workers and general good manners will affect how much I work." Hard working volunteer Diane Aramian echoes: "I find it very easy to help clubs that treat their workers nicely."

Make it Easy

Make it easy for volunteers to sign up to work. Large white boards, prominently displayed, can be a great way to organize workers and allow volunteers to see what jobs need to be filled.

Don't allow volunteers to miss their runs. Have a plan for relieving handlers who have a class to walk or run if a conflict occurs. Don't make a worker feel bad for running their dog - they have already paid for that privilege!

In addition, explain, in detail, what is expected of a volunteer, particularly to those who are new to the sport. Be patient with their questions or concerns. Many volunteers are afraid of making mistakes that will negatively influence another person's runs. "Explain what the job entails to people who don't know and be understanding when things go wrong. I've been to trials where I've seen or heard reports of volunteers being berated or made to feel bad for mistakes. You'll never get people back at your trial to work if you treat them badly," Smith says.

People Enjoy Volunteering

For many reasons, agility competitors like to volunteer and will happily work long hours at sometimes difficult or tedious jobs in order to support the sport of agility. Groups can encourage and reward these volunteers through intangibles like respect and appreciation as well as through rewards like food and discounts. The sport of agility is nothing without volunteers, so make sure you thank them!

Photo courtesy of Deborah Davidson Harpur.

Brenna Fender is a freelance writer and is Associate Managing Editor and Special Projects Assistant at Clean Run. She lives in Florida with her husband, two children, three dogs, two rabbits, and a ridiculous number of guppies. You can read her blog (http://laughingattherain.blogspot.com/), buy her stuff (http://www.zazzle.com/0brenna0) or contact her at brennafender@gmail.com.

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