Make Volunteering Easy!

28 Jun 2011Steve Schwarz

Lately there has been a lot of discussion on the Clean Run Email list about volunteering to work at agility trials. Rather than discuss why people choose not to volunteer, I’d like to focus on how folks giving the trial can make it easier for folks to come forward to help.

I think the most important things a club can do are: stay flexible, create many short tasks, and thank your workers. Ideally if someone has 5 minutes free and feels like helping you could take advantage of their help.

For flexibility allowing day of show sign up for tasks is really a necessity. It allows people jump in when they have time and allows them to change their assignments in case the judging schedule has changed or one ring runs faster/slower than planned. I know this means people who obtained their entry in a full trial by signing up as a volunteer can “scam” the system. Well let people change on the day of the show and “hunt down” those who exploit the system afterwards. The club’s flexibility will make for happier volunteers.

It is certainly easiest for the club to sign up workers for large blocks of time, like bar setter(s) for Excellent 20” Standard at an AKC trial. That can be anywhere from 1 to 4 hours of time, depending on the size of the trial. If the club allowed people to sign up for smaller blocks of time I think they could get more people who would jump in. People with more time could sign up for multiple slots. This can be true for many jobs. I’m sure judges would be agreeable if workers leave and enter the ring unobtrusively and as long as they know what is going on.

In the Chicago area there are a number of clubs that hire experienced gate stewards, scribes and timers for each ring. That really takes the load off of the volunteers. The volunteers need never get “locked in” to volunteering for a long time period. I love those trials because those important aspects of running the ring are in good hands and the rings tend to run quickly and smoothly. I think this is the future for small clubs running multi-ring trials.

Hiring experienced timers/scribes/gates also means flexible scheduling of volunteers for leash running, bar setting and chute straightening should be easier. You don’t need to find experienced people to work for long blocks of time timing/scribing/gating.

I tend to build courses at trials because it is a defined, relatively short task that I know how to do. At most trials there are the same a 6-10 volunteers who descend on the course for each course change and, no matter how much needs to moved, get the job done in minutes. It isn’t rocket science, but having people who have done it a number of times makes the work go quickly. The clubs that thank me for my part also make me want to continue to help; besides it makes everyone’s day go faster.

I know clubs and volunteer organizers are thankful for their volunteer’s efforts. But all it takes is one or two times where someone wasn’t thanked for their help and that person might not be so quick to help in the future. Giving out $ off vouchers? Lunch tickets? Make sure everyone who helps gets one. I’ve seen half a dozen workers build a course and no one gets a thanks.

I know the coordinator is often a volunteer too, but they are the linchpin who makes or breaks the experience for the volunteers. For workers within the ring you really need a volunteer coordinator for each ring to keep tabs on who is working and so each person can be thanked. You can also give the chief course builder for each ring vouchers, or volunteer stickers, or whatever and tell them how important it is for them to thank their helpers.

A kind word and a smile go a long way to making people feel appreciated.

IMHO the whole point of a trial is to spend time running the course with your dog and being judged on your team’s performance. Everything else that goes on needs to support that activity. Clubs that are organized, flexible and thankful for their volunteers will have the most successful trials with competitors and volunteers happy to come to their next trial.

I wrote this article as part of the Dog Agility Blog Action Day on volunteering. Read what other bloggers wrote about volunteering!

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