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Sea Sure 2021 - FLO - LEADERBOARD

Enabling volunteers for greater participation

by Mark Jardine 5 Sep 11:00 PDT
Volunteers have a good time too © Sam Pearce

One of the great things about managing a portfolio of marine media websites is that I get to see news from right across the sector, not just sailing, and also what is happening around the world.

A news release we ran on MarineBusinessWorld.com in Oceania really caught my attention, titled Australian Sports Commission (ASC) unveils new vision for sport volunteering. This is a subject we've discussed at various points, including the Your club needs you! editorial I wrote in May last year, and the recent publishing of the ASC 'Sport Volunteer Coalition Action Plan' prompted me to revisit the subject.

Issues with volunteering aren't just confined to sailing, and the action plan above is aimed at all Australian sport. Modern-day lifestyles and the impact of Covid are being pointed at for Australia losing over 100,000 volunteers in the past few years, and other data I have seen shows a similar picture around the world. This has led to the most committed volunteers increasing what they do, risking disillusionment and burnout. Sport everywhere needs a larger pool of volunteers to draw upon to reduce the burden on these key people.

The action plan makes interesting reading and identifies some of the key barriers to participation, as well as putting forward ideas to encourage volunteers moving forwards. I usually run a mile when I see the word 'reimagine' in a document, so I'm glad I persevered. It was the second paragraph which had me hooked:

Without volunteers, Australian sport wouldn't exist. Volunteers are the backbone of local sporting clubs, freely contributing their time and knowledge for the benefit of their sport as well as the participants, their families, and the local community. We want to celebrate all that volunteers bring to sport, while attracting more volunteers, and better supporting the ones we have.

It is absolutely true that competitive sailing simply wouldn't exist without volunteers, and they are the backbone of sailing and yacht clubs around the world. Clubs are our local community, and with so much day-to-day communication being digital, having a hub where you regularly meet in person for social interaction and to pursue our passion for sailing is more important than ever.

In Australia alone the labour value of volunteering is 4 billion AUD. A 2013 report in the UK put a very conservative value for Britain's community sport at 7.9 billion GBP, which has no doubt increased. Those are huge figures in anyone's budgets, and so encouraging and enabling volunteering should be at the top of every single club's agenda.

Putting aside the impact of Covid, the ASC report highlighted a number of key points as to what could be holding people back from volunteering, including:

  • The volunteer experience not meeting individual needs
  • Roles being time consuming and rigid
  • Club cultures with entrenched ways of operating inhibiting participation and involvement
  • Clubs not having a complete understanding of what volunteers need
  • A lack of systems, tools, and processes for managing volunteers
  • The fragmented nature of sport ecosystems resulting in unclear roles and responsibilities

The goal of the report is of course to increase volunteering, allowing people from all walks of life to realise opportunities and contribute in a way that suits them. Of course, this is easier said than done, but by understanding the requirements of each role, documenting that, addressing potential barriers, and then effectively communicating to club members, can make roles far more accessible. We need to make it as easy as possible for people to step up and help, facilitating their journey to give them the confidence to do something which at first glance can seem daunting.

I love volunteering at my local club, but even as an experienced sailor, when I first did safety boat duty, my first day as Race Officer, and my first session as lead for a Junior Sailing session were all daunting. With time comes experience, and the more volunteering I've done, the more I've come to enjoy it.

On Saturday we held our annual Junior & Youth Regatta, with the best part of 40 kids on the water, and I found the day immensely rewarding. Knowing that I'm playing a small part in their enjoyment of the water, and hopefully becoming sailors for life, is probably one of the most worthwhile and fulfilling things that I do. We need to make it as easy as possible for all potential volunteers to get through the initial steps so that they can experience this.

Having bemoaned how digital communication has become so prevalent for day-to-day social interaction earlier in this editorial, it can be our greatest ally when providing the resources to give volunteers the confidence to step forwards for a role. Clear, succinct, and friendly instructions for procedures, including 'how to' guides for any tools they need to use, can make all the difference to someone who wants to help, but may not have the confidence to ask the questions face-to-face. There are some great online tools out there for managing volunteering, such as Dutyman and Sailing Club Manager. Neither are perfect, but they do help with the process and new features are being added all the time.

There is a real danger of flooding new volunteers with information, and also the ever-present disclaimers and waivers, so starting roles as assistants, or shadowing an experienced volunteer, can really help, as long as the role is made accessible for an inexperienced person. Confidence can also be gained as a group, so having new volunteer evenings, in a similar way to new member events at clubs, can bring people together.

The biggest reward of all is watching non-sailing volunteers become sailors themselves. Going back to my experience at my local club, it has been fascinating watching parents, who initially just wanted to get their kids into sailing, go from shoreside helpers, to RIB assistants, getting qualifications such as the RYA Powerboat Level 2 and Safety Boat course, seeing how much fun it is while learning more and more about the local sailing area, and then either doing a sailing course of taking part in our club's hugely successful Get Sailing Group.

The irony is that putting all these processes and resources into place takes time for the very same volunteers who are committing so much time already, but the long-term benefits for sailing are so huge that it is time that is definitely well spent. The future can be so bright for sailing, and once it's done, the pool of volunteers will be greater, and the participation will steadily increase. This is a truly virtuous circle, with good people doing good things to allow more people to enjoy a great pastime.

Echoing the closing sentence of my editorial back in May last year, keep an eye out for all those who do the less-visible volunteer roles at your club and give them a thank you. Then, look at that role and see if it'll suit you!

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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