Published on November 28th, 2012 | by DerbyLife0
fiveonfive: Volunteer Voodoo: Why Derby Cannot Live without Volunteers
Republished with the generous permission of fiveonfive, this piece by Col Lision, Roc City Roller Derby is in Issue 18–on sale now, don’t miss it!
“By the skaters, for the skaters.”
It’s the phrase that helped guide the modern roller derby revolution. It represents the DIY, hands-on, roll-up-yer-sleeves-and-get-‘er-done, “Hey, kids, let’s put on a bout” ethic that is so much a part of modern derby. It’s how derby restarted; it’s how we were reborn. But if that’s where we began, we have to admit that, as derby grows up, defining derby as being made up of “just” skaters doesn’t work anymore. It’s not the whole truth; as Bonnie D. Stroir said in a blog post from earlier this year, “It’s much bigger than that. We’re all much bigger than that.”
What I’m talking about is the importance of volunteers. Those intrepid folks who work behind the scenes – and sometimes center stage – do help make things happen. They’re not on wheels and they don’t juke or block or pegassist, but they do make those things possible. Maybe they’re your officials; out front helping you skate the best possible game you can skate. Maybe they’re your production staff; organizing venues, setting up hospitality, booking halftime entertainment, announcing their hearts out, and taking care of all of the details so bouts go off flawlessly. Maybe they’re your worker bees; helping with appearances, selling league merch, or attending to one of the hundreds of other tasks that need doing to keep your league healthy and thriving.
Any way you look at it, though, they’re volunteers. They donate their time and talents for the love of the growing, evolving sport called derby – and without them, we could not thrive. So let’s talk about how leagues can foster volunteers as the important parts of our organization.
Long have our volunteers been pulled from the ranks of friends and family; moms and dads and significant others purposed into duty as need crops up. As the Gospel of Derby spreads; however, there are more and more non-related fans out there positively itching to get more involved with their favorite sport. Give them the chance. First, dedicate some space in your various public communication vehicles – your website, your bout program, your Facebook page – to share clear directions on what opportunities are available and who budding volunteers can contact for more info. Create a central email – volunteers@YourLeague.com – where all interested parties can go to start the ball rolling. And when you have Fresh Meat Info Nights? Take time to talk about volunteer opportunities; it’s often the perfect way for interested folks to get to know the league better, and to understand how derby really works behind the scenes. Treat volunteer recruitment similarly to skater recruitment. That first contact can mean the difference between a lifelong volunteer and someone who just sits in the stands but never takes thenext step.
Being a derby volunteer can sometimes be a tough job – many hours of work, and not particularly glamorous work at that. Support your volunteers by creating an organized league volunteer squad. You can get as formal (regular meetings, dedicated discussion boards, the works) as you like about this, but I’d suggest creating at least a loose “team” identity where there’s a space for online connection and conversation. It helps your volunteers share information and ideas, gives them a place to connect to derby and each other, and instills pride in being part of your league – which keeps them coming back and giving their all as volunteers. Everyone wins.
Every squad needs a leader. In Roc City Roller Derby (RCRD), this is a committee-chair level position: Volunteer Coordinator. I held this position for several years, and this role is crucial for volunteer squad health, no matter how serious or casual a volunteer’s involvement. The Coordinator gives your league a central person to send new recruits and interested parties, and also establishes the “face” of volunteer recruitment out there acting as your champion in the community (pro tip: it helps if this person is friendly, outgoing and has good people management skills – RCRD’s current coordinator, Sinister Minister, is a people person extraordinaire, which serves this role VERY well). (S)he also has a bird’s eye view of what roles and support are needed across your league, and can help track and assign volunteers to help as opportunities pop up. Having a central Coordinator gives your volunteers someone to look to with questions, to share ideas, and to help as they decide to deepen their involvement as well. This is your volunteers’ link to the league, so be sure to invest some thought in how this role is positioned and who holds it.
Once you have your volunteer squad and leader in place, the work is not yet done. Oh no, indeed. Now you need to DO something with those volunteers. First, maintain good records. Keep track of your volunteers’ names, their contact information, and when and where they’ve helped before. Acknowledging key dates like birthdays – maybe with a league-branded card – is a nice touch, too. A spreadsheet is a good place to start and can be easily shared and transferred as the Volunteer Coordinator position changes hands.
Second, stay in contact. During your season, talk with your volunteers regularly – at least once a month. Email is lovely for this. Send not only a call for help/volunteer opportunities, but also share interesting (non-NDA) derby news and tidbits: the latest scores, interesting milestones, a picture or two from a practice or scrimmage… insider information that is well-earned and helps your volunteers feel like they’re really a part of something. In addition, when someone is scheduled to work for the league, be sure to formalize the communication chain: provide lots of clear information about the job description, expectations and details (times, parking info, dress, etc.) to make things as stress-free and smooth-sailing as possible.
Third, give something back. All of our volunteers who work an assigned job at a home bout get free admission to the bout, as well as access to our post-bout hospitality area. You can also implement a basic rewards system. For example, if a volunteer works one job, they get a thank you. After volunteering for three work opportunities, the volunteer gets a bumper sticker. Six opportunities earns a t-shirt; ten or more earns an invite to the end-of-year banquet. These are low-cost investments that yield great returns. Don’t ever underestimate the power of a free league-branded drink koozie. It might say “cold beverage” to some, but to a volunteer it might be a bigger sign that the work they do is valued, acknowledged, and appreciated.
Make a place for volunteers in your league. We can say all day long that volunteers are important, but it’s our actions and how we treat and include our volunteers that REALLY tell the story. Create spaces for volunteers to be as involved as they want to be. Maybe they just want to hand out programs once a month; that’s cool, and much-needed. But maybe they want to get down and derby, as deep as they can go. At RCRD, volunteers can be full dues-paying members of the league. I started as a volunteer handing out programs and eventually graduated to being an official attending practices and meetings several times a week, acting as committee chair. I am just closing out a year serving as an elected member of our Board of Directors. How your league does it is up to you, but be sure to create a culture where volunteers are not just helping your league but are a genuine, important part.
I’ve said this already, but it bears repeating: just say thanks. Volunteers love derby as much as you do. For whatever reason, they can’t be skaters, but they darned well want to further the cause. Take the time to acknowledge the work they do – when they say “Great bout!,” you say, “Back at ya!” Because we’re all here for the love of the game, and we all do what we can to make it happen. We all need each other to build modern, strong, growing leagues that do awesome stuff – and, in the end, isn’t that what derby is all about?
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