Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Volunteers at the End of the Tunnel: Retaining Club Covid-19 Volunteers Beyond Covid-19


I don’t need to rehearse what a devastating, uncertain and challenging time that pretty much every aspect of life as we knew it has had since March of this year.  From a sport perspective this has generally impacted negatively upon opportunities to participate, face to face coach and volunteer development provision, club membership and operations, and the ability to generate revenue.  While not making up for these challenges in any way, this time has also seen some positives in relation to the advancements in technology usage and digital learning within the sector. 

One of the most heart-warming positives that I’ve seen first-hand, and heard about second-hand from governing bodies of sport that I work with, has been an apparent spike in sports club volunteers.  Yes, as unlikely as it may seem, in some clubs and some sports there seems to have been an increase in the number of people who are prepared to raise their hand and say ‘yes, I’ll help out with that’.  I fully accept that this spike may not have been at all universal – but, where it has occurred, I am now left with the questions…why has it happened? and… Is there any way we can encourage the new volunteers to stay involved at the end of the tunnel that we are currently in?

Where increases have occurred, most of these new volunteers have become involved in assisting sports organisations to deliver upon the Covid-19 protocols that they have put in place over the past six months, as Covid Officers or Marshals, to enable their activities to re-start. At the club where I coach, we’ve been really fortunate to have had 30 new parent volunteers get involved, who have taken on the task of checking-in every young player and coach as they enter the club facility on the Covid-19 registration App that the club uses.  This has made a huge difference in our ability to operate the club’s activities at the current time.  As a result, our Youth Coaches have been able to focus their attentions on creating positive on-pitch experiences that comply with Covid-19 guidance, rather than adding what would otherwise have been another additional task for the coaching team.

Over the past week or so, those who’ve raised their hand to help with ‘Covid Check-In In’ at the club have been good enough to give me a few minutes of their time complete a survey on their volunteering motivations now and considerations in the future.

Almost 60% of these valuable new volunteers hadn’t previously been involved in helping out with club activities – so why now?  Well, in true Family Fortunes style, ‘our survey said’… that the biggest reason for not previously being involved was limited time available/juggling other responsibilities.  Beyond that, responses included ‘not previously been asked’ and ‘didn’t previously feel I was needed’.  These responses aren’t unexpected based on previous, much larger, volunteer surveys.  But what was different this time?  Why did these people decide to answer the call?

From the responses I received, there seems to have been three common factors in this:

  • Desire to help get children back playing as soon as possible after lockdown.
  • To make a contribution to the club or support the volunteer coaches, and generally spread the workload at a time when they could see we really needed extra help, in appreciation of the opportunities that their child has received.
  • The flexibility of the ‘Covid Check-In’ role.

For context, the ‘Covid Check-In’ role at the club requires around 10 slots to be filled in any one week, and with a pool of 30 volunteers for the role - this means that individuals aren’t required every week.  The rota is operated from Google Sheets in a WhatsApp group and as such each volunteer can select slots around their own availability, and in a frequency that suits them.  The nature of this role seems to have addressed all 3 main reasons for not previously volunteering in that these individuals could see a way of helping that fitted around their other responsibilities, they could clearly see we needed help, and they were being asked to help if they could.

While for many of us it may still seem like a long-way off, at some point down the line, our clubs will be able to return to some form of normality.  So – is there any way that we could retain the involvement of these valuable new volunteers when we reach that point?  Much to my delight, 84% of my new volunteering colleagues at our club said yes, with the remainder replying ‘maybe’.  Brilliant news – but what as a club can we do to make that more likely?

The overwhelming majority of comments in response to this (64%) referenced flexibility, time, availability and frequency in relation to what was being asked of these volunteers.  Communication and organisation were also identified as important – ‘let me know what is needed, when, and give me good notice’, as was finding a role that would make a useful and practical difference. 

This additional support and spreading of the volunteering load is vital to help reduce the number of ‘off-field’ tasks for our coaches, managing what is being asked of them, reducing coach burnout, and as such increasing our chances of coaches at the club continuing to coach into the future.  In a sports club, as in most organisations, many hands really do make light work!

To finish, I humbly offer you my 5 top tips from the experiences of the past few months, and more importantly - the insight shared with me by the parent volunteers over the past week:

  1. Share what you need help with & paint a picture of what difference it will make.
  2. Ask people if they would be willing or able to volunteer some time (I know it’s obvious – but “not being asked” is so often a reason for not volunteering).
  3. Create volunteer roles that can be flexible around other time commitments.
  4. Factor in choice about how & when people can volunteer.
  5. Be planned and organised to allow for maximum notice & role clarity.

By Simon Toole, Coaching Consultant, Sport Northern Ireland

@CoachingTooleS @SportNINet #SportNILearning

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