Volunteering in a Pay to Play Organization

While talking with a co-worker the other day, who is a non-dog sport person, we were discussing dog sports and the clubs that run them.  I had recently received a renewal letter from one of the clubs I'm a member of, and they changed how they do renewals.  I felt it had the potential to be detrimental to the club in terms of $$ and membership numbers, and asked for an outside opinion.  This segued into a general discussion into how dog sport clubs are run, with the comment that my co-worker didn't understand why people don't volunteer for positions, and that "lack of willing to work" must be a "dog person" thing.  I replied that I think it's a "people thing" and commented that the youth sports organizations I've been involved in all have the same issue.  People pay for their kids to be in the organization, but someone still has to volunteer to coach, assistant coach, bring snacks, etc. and there are never enough people willing to step up.  Which led to him making the comment "I'm already paying for my daughter to be in the organization, why should I have to also give up my time or deal with things like bringing snacks for everyone?  I’ll take care of my own kid, everyone else can take care of theirs."  My response was "BINGO".  And this is the same attitude that we see in the dog sports. 

Whether its youth sports, horse clubs or dog clubs, all which I’ve been involved in, the general attitude that I see is "I've already paid to play, so why should I give more of my time/resources volunteering?"  The problem with this is the organizations are run on the work of volunteers.  The money these organizations collect goes to the organization to pay for insurance, events, newsletters, equipment, etc. In some organizations there are a few paid positions at the top, but not in all.  And the people we interact with on a regular basis are almost all volunteers. If nobody volunteers, at best the organization will have to cut back on benefits offererd, at worst the organization will die out and there won’t be any opportunities to play. I’ve seen this happen with multiple youth sport organizations, not enough people volunteered to coach, so the number of teams was cut way back, and many kids didn’t get the chance to play.  Only a few people wanted to volunteer to work an event, so that event was cancelled and nobody got to play.  Or the services those organizations offer will be severely cut back.  For example, newsletters, website maintenance, and social media.  None which are required for an organization to continue, but all which do require time/effort, and are of benefit to the membership. And usually the people screaming the loudest about their lack of ability to play or member benefits, are the same people who will refuse to volunteer, even when told if nobody steps up, the chance to play or benefits won’t be available. 

So what can be done about this? 

  1. If the majority of members/players have the attitude of "I already paid my dues to play, so why should I have to volunteer also?" then the next logical step should be "those who do donate their time as volunteers should have some sort of compensation".  I know of a few organizations that do this.  Coaches get reduced fees for their own kids to play in the league.  Dog sport volunteers get a reduced rate on their national club membership.  Or on a more local level, volunteers get a reduced rate for their competition entry fees, or are given a thank you gift.  Ironically I also see people who refuse to volunteer complaining how it’s "not fair" that these volunteers get some sort of discount.  When considering the amount of time being donated by volunteers, a discount on fees of $50 or $100 is minimal.  Heck, if people broke down what that worked out to be in terms of an hourly wage, it’s actually kind of insulting LOL  But it’s the gesture that will really count, and make volunteers feel appreciated.  And most volunteers aren’t doing it for the minimal compensation they might receive, but because they truly want to help out the organization, so a good will gesture will be appreciated for what it is. 
  2. Stop complaining.  This doesn’t mean don’t give feedback on areas of concern.  But balance that feedback.  One of the biggest things that will cause volunteer burnout is constant negative feedback.  If people are working their butts off for a group of people, and all they ever hear is what they are doing wrong, or what a crappy job they are doing, why should they continue to do the job?  Most people can find something better to do with their time and be constantly dumped on, and the love of the sport will only carry people so far.  Especially when some volunteer positions can take 10, 20, 30 or more hours a week from someone’s life.  Time they could be spending with their family, on their own hobbies, making a little extra money on the side, whatever.  When you have an area of concern, try to coach it in a polite way, and balance it with comments on things you feel are going well.  Even better, when pointing out areas of concern, also have some potential solutions.  When you see something that you like/appreciate/value, SAY SOMETHING.  Let people know you feel they are doing a good job. 
  3. And finally, be willing to step up for minor volunteer requests.  If the coach sends a text to parents and says "I’m stuck in traffic and going to be 15 minutes late to practice, can someone get the equipment out and have the kids start doing a drill until I get there" they shouldn’t have to beg and plead, only to show up and see no equipment out, kids running around unsupervised, and parents standing around bitching about how the coach isn’t there yet.   If the newsletter editor asks you to write a quick article or sending them some photos about an event you hosted, not only is it of interest to the membership, it gives you the chance to market your club/events.  It's an hour or two of your time, compared to the 20-40 hours of theirs.  When someone is volunteering a large chunk of their life so you or your kids have the opportunity to play in your sport(s) of choice, or receive a benefit from the organization above and beyond the ability to play, being asked to give 20 minutes here, or 60 minutes there shouldn’t receive an automatic "NO, I’m too busy".   That just screams "I don’t value your time, but I do value mine, while still expecting you to give up yours for my personal benefit".   

Treat your volunteers with respect and appreciation, and you may discover not only does your organization keep the volunteers they have, but more people become willing to step up. 

2 thoughts on “Volunteering in a Pay to Play Organization

  1. Chris Daugaard

    Absolutely spot on!

  2. Snow Katze

    Well said! 

    I've volunteered for several different clubs over the years. There are now only 2 that I will volunteer for. Not because I get a discounted entry fee or paid, but because they say thank you. Those two words mean a lot to a volunteer. 

    It's nice when the judges ask, either through Facebook, Messanger or privately, if you are volunteering. I've have seen judges write thank you to the volunteers on the club's FB page. To most volunteers, that means a great deal. To have what we do acknowledged in some way, will help encourage more people to volunteer. 

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