Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why Volunteer? Blog Action Day

AgilityNerd's Steve Schwarz has organized what he is calling a "Blog Action Day" on the topic of volunteering at trials. Here's our contribution:

I've chaired trials, I've worked as volunteer coordinator at trials and I've volunteered at nearly every trial I've ever attended - usually working several classes a day in some capacity or another. My favorite jobs are generally course building, timing, scribing, gate steward and score running. In general I don't often volunteer to leash-run or chute fluff - not if I want to run my dogs later (ouch).

Individual clubs might make a bit of profit on each trial they offer - but the individuals who are chairing, setting up rings and equipment, making the costco runs for hospitality muffins are are volunteers - often volunteers who are running (walking, pottying, etc) their dogs that weekend as well! Sometimes we're also coaching students and mentoring newbies at these trials too. It can be a long thankless day!

We do it for the love of the sport, for the good of the club and we do it so that we have a place to trial our dogs. Quite simply if no one steps up to chair the trial - we won't have a trial. If we're unable to staff the ring with a full set of table workers (scribe, timer, assistant scribe) than we're going to have trouble running that class. If we lose our local trials its hard for some of our local people to get out on the road for a weekend to trial and we all lose the opportunity.

I offer the following thoughts:

For potential workers:
* There's truly a job for everyone. Just as there are different kinds of volunteers there are so many diverse jobs that need to happen at a successful trial. Want to warm-up for your run? Leash run for a class. Need to film friends in this class but want to work too? How about score running? Want to be in the heart of the action? There's a chair in the middle of the course for you as ring crew.

* It's really important to volunteer. It's how trials run. Sure, you've paid an entry - but so has everyone else - it's really important that if you can you offer to help. Maybe you're running 5 dogs in two rings and have conflicts all over the place - you can still help. You can 'spell' another worker for a few reps of leash running, you can help setup for the trial the night before, you can stay late and help break down the rings and pack up the trial gear at the end of the trial. One of the hardest classes to staff is the last class of the day - stay for the novice people. I know a couple instructors who make volunteering mandatory for their students (though probably not enforceable), instilling a community centered aspect of trialing. I like the concept and I love that those instructors are in there stepping up to work too. Just a few more balls in the air!

* Volunteering is a great way to meet people! I've had some really fun times working the score table with people I didn't know that well and now we're really good friends.

* Volunteering makes the day go faster! Not only does keeping busy make the day feel faster, your effort helps get the job done, the more efficiently the trial runs the earlier we all will be on the road home.

* Karma. Really. Don't you need good karma?

For Clubs:
* Nothing sours a volunteer more than being treated badly while they're volunteering. There is one club for whom I won't offer to course build (and I'm not alone in this decision) because their chief course-builder is an abusive control-freak. I'd like to help but I'm not an idiot and I really don't want to listen to the verbal insults directed at everyone building. Yes, I know your dog can't see yellow (taped) bars - how unfortunate for him. Yes, I know that's a single bar non-winged - do you not see that I have two wingless jump standards in my hand?

* Feed 'em. In the northeast every club gives out lunch tickets to every worker. Lunch tickets are grand, but a few clubs have started offering "club bucks" that are redeemable at every vendor - work 10 classes and you've got $20 or $30 in your pocket to go spend with the vendors. It doesn't cost the club any more - but it's a real WIN for volunteers.

* Have good stuff in your raffles. We're cheap labor - we're OK with that. Put a couple of really cool things in the raffle and you'll have volunteers falling all over themselves to earn raffle tickets. Consistently hot items seem to be: bags of dog treats (pick a kind of training treat you give your dogs, put baskets of those items in your raffle), nice toys - something unique, gift certificates for entries, to Clean Run, to the show Photographer, gas cards, etc. One local club here has a member who is a potter - she donates bowls to every worker raffle - they are absolutely gorgeous. I've put tickets in that cup every year I've worked that trial - it took me 6 years to win one but I got my bowl this spring! In this same vein - skip the re-gifted garage sale crap.

* Be generous with your raffle tickets. They're paper - cheap paper. It costs the club virtually nothing to hand out tickets for the worker raffle. Sure, start out giving everyone a smaller amount for their first class (let's say four tickets), but when that person comes back to work another class give them eight. When that person works a third and fourth class give them an arms' length of tickets. It makes people happy. Keep your volunteers happy and you'll never have to beg for a ring crew.

* Be generous with your hospitality. It doesn't cost a lot to have several coolers of water. You really don't need to have every flavor soda on the planet, but some cartons of juice, bottles of water and hot coffee in the morning are going to go a long way to keeping your workers happy.  Our local clubs generally have muffins and fruit in the morning and then sweet or salty snacks in the afternoon. On the last day of the trial to-go sized packages of chips, crackers, dried fruit, etc are a big win for folks who have long drives ahead of them.

* Set aside the personal club politics for the weekend, don't put your workers in the middle of club squabbles.

* Don't span worker shift across classes. I know that your open and novice classes are small, but don't span your workers across both classes to save a few bucks or some raffle tickets. If people want to volunteer for both classes - GREAT! But working, then going off to do something else while the novice class is built, briefed and walked is a lot to ask of people.

* In a perfect world everyone would volunteer for one job at a trial per day - it doesn't always happen that way. There are legitimate reasons why someone can't work today - we're not a sport of 20-somethings, there are conditions which might not be obvious which prevent people from working this weekend. Don't badger people for not working.

* I love the online volunteer forms - particularly the ones with estimated class times. I can sign up for exactly what I want to work, when I want to work it. This has led to much fewer conflicts for all involved.

* In general, know that exhibitors trial to have fun with and compete their dogs. If you make it easy for exhibitors to volunteer they will. If you make it hard for workers to volunteer - or unpleasant to do so - finding volunteers will get harder and harder for you. Don't threaten to not run this class because you don't have a leash runner - instead ask nicely if anyone is able to leash run for this class - be open to folks splitting the class (Brenda leash-runs for the 24" dogs and Billy leash runs for the 20" dogs).

And lastly, remember - this is what we do for fun with our dogs. This is how some of us have chosen to spend our disposable income and our precious little free time. In the end "it's all good".


Jan W said...

Gee! I want to volunteer at YOUR events! Great post!

Melissa said...

Great post! Thanks for the suggestions. Makes me think about volunteering at our next trial.

Landslyde Shelties said...

Excellent post Erica! You know that volunteering at shows is near and dear to my heart. You touched on all the important points. Thanks!


Unknown said...

I have been volunteering on different events and societies for some years now and I currently manage volunteers on a private organization. Volunteering have really been a big part of my life and I feel that all hard work are paid off by the happiness that you can see from the people you were able to help.