Tips from USA Triathlon’s Caroline Robinson on Filling Volunteer Shifts

Here at VolunteerLocal, we get asked pretty frequently for advice about how to recruit volunteers more effectively. Especially in the case of triathlons and other endurance events using our platform, those tough-to-fill volunteer positions can sometimes start as early as 5am, and they often span through the early to mid-afternoon.

So we decided to ask the experts: our friends, customers and partners at USA Triathlon.

Meet Caroline Robinson, Event Services Coordinator at USA Triathlon. She helps USAT produce events that range from 900 to over 5,000 athletes – and she works with thousands of volunteers throughout this process in cities across the country.

“Our four National Championships are all very different,” says Robinson. “The smallest event only needs 200 volunteers, but the largest needs nearly 1,000.” Along the way, she’s learned some valuable lessons about volunteer recruitment, retention and communication.

On getting creative.

When it comes to filling volunteer shifts, Robinson is anything but shy.

“We say, reach out to high school kids, collegiate clubs, sports management programs at local colleges and universities, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, local community volunteer databases (online), and tap into those corporations that offer Volunteer Time Off,” she laughs as she adds, “I don’t ever think there’s a group you can’t ask. The worst they can say is no.”

Robinson recommended flexibility and creativity as a part of a comprehensive approach to fill volunteer positions. “If you need to set-up a booth at a local festival, go out and do that. Have the face-to-face contact, speak to a college class for ten minutes.” She cautioned, “Don’t be afraid to go out into the community to speak with these people.”

We think she has a point. It’s a lot tougher to turn down a volunteer ask in-person.

Keep it simple.

Robinson explained that because one of the Championship events will be produced in Cleveland this year, she has to rely heavily on outside groups to provide volunteers. “There’s only so much we can do from Colorado Springs,” she says. “So we try not to overburden our groups with a complicated sign-up process.”

For Robinson, it’s as simple as saying, ‘we’re looking for volunteers, here’s the date, here’s the link’ – and she likes to begin her outreach with certified Coaches, Race Directors and other officials who aren’t working the event.

In this regard, Robinson strongly recommends leveraging the USA Triathlon Race Director database to find expertise, mentors and (of course) volunteers in your area.

Read the room.

“It’s about knowing your audience,” says Robinson. “That means knowing your participants, and adjusting accordingly.” She explains that for her larger events, athletes usually bring family members along with them – and these auxiliary attendees can be a great resource for volunteer shifts. Alternatively, when community members understand (and support) the impact that an event like this can have, they are more easily incentivized to get involved as a way to be a part of the magic.

“That’s what’s exciting to me about getting volunteers for these events we have going on,” explains Robinson. “It’s being able to adjust as needed, and supporting these communities every step of the way.”

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Field Expert: Anne Summers

Anne Summers

West Des Moines, Iowa

“Volunteering is important to me because it’s where I learn most about myself, about other people, and about our world. I love being a part of something bigger than myself, and I enjoy working with others on a shared goal.”

What do you love about your hometown?

I love the big-little town vibe of our city. It’s such a treat to have access to city amenities and events while also enjoying tastes of small town familiarity. More specifically, I love our trees. It may sound nostalgic and cliche, but when we were looking for a home, I was looking for trees. Our neighborhood delivered!

Tell us about your unique perspective when it comes to volunteer coordination.

I’ve worked in the non-profit sector for seven years, and I’ve met some of the best volunteers! I’ve managed volunteers in a variety of roles including one-time events, annual conferences, and weekly tasks.

What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work:

Reading and riding bikes with my little family. We just got a Yuba that fits both kids on the back and has an electric assist to give me a boost up the hills!

Who is your favorite musical artist?

The Avett Brothers

Where would your friends find you on a typical Friday night?

As the parent of a toddler, most Friday nights are spent relaxing on the couch with my husband.

 

 

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VolunteerLocal Field Expert: Samantha Gratton

Samantha Gratton

Raleigh, North CarolinaSamantha Gratton

“Volunteering helps you step outside of yourself. Perhaps you’ll join a cause you’re passionate about, or you’ll positively impact your community. Regardless, volunteering broadens your perspective and helps you connect with others in a very real way.”

What do you love about your hometown?

I’m in a city that’s just the right size, has relatively mild weather, and only a day trip away from the beach or mountains! But mostly, it’s the every day life that I love most–whether that’s taking a walk downtown to a festival/event or having a friend over for coffee.

Tell us about your unique perspective when it comes to volunteer coordination.

I’ve done a little bit of everything in my career, which includes coordinating big and small events with numerous volunteers, working at nonprofits and colleges, and simply volunteering myself.

What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work:

A lot of my time goes toward raising my kiddo, but past that I enjoy traveling, rock climbing, reading, writing, and supporting the people around me.

Who is your favorite musical artist?

Rosie Thomas

Where would your friends find you on a typical Friday night?

Maybe out to eat at a local restaurant, on a walk downtown with my family, or at a friend’s house. Otherwise, I’m most likely at home…eating chocolate, catching up on some of my favorite shows, or writing ridiculously long emails.

 

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VolunteerLocal Field Expert: Rebekah Coenen

Rebekah Coenen

Des Moines, IowaBekah

“Honestly, volunteering seems like such a common sense requirement as a human on the earth taking part in activities that others run. I can’t think of a single reason you shouldn’t. The world runs on passion.”

What do you love about your hometown?

Our neighbor Harry. He bring treats out to our dogs almost every day. And if he hasn’t been able to in a while he leaves them on the ground in our yard.

Tell us about your unique perspective when it comes to volunteer coordination.

I have experience on an Ultimate Frisbee non-profit board and trying to organize leagues and volunteers to help.

What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work:

I have a lot of favorites.. but my 3 top hobbies are Ultimate Frisbee, crafting, and brewing beer.

Who is your favorite musical artist?

Florence and the Machine.

Where would your friends find you on a typical Friday night?

On my couch, snuggling with my husband and dogs!

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VolunteerLocal Field Expert: Brianne Sanchez

Brianne Sanchez

Des Moines, Iowa

“Civic engagement is at the core of a functioning society. Volunteering is putting yourself in service of something bigger. It’s saying ‘yes’ to community and building up organizations and turning ideas into action.”

What do you love about your hometown?

I love the accessibility of Des Moines. You can be the person to make things happen. You can meet CEOs and college kids. We’re such a fun festival town, and we have great trails and library systems.

Tell us about your unique perspective when it comes to volunteer coordination.

I have worked in the nonprofit sector for more than five years, and currently manage volunteers as a huge part of my day job working at a medical school in community outreach.

What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work:

Reading and riding bikes with my little family. We just got a Yuba that fits both kids on the back and has an electric assist to give me a boost up the hills!

Who is your favorite musical artist?

Blind Pilot

Where would your friends find you on a typical Friday night?

I live for my book club! Wine, pizza, books and conversation. But 5/6 Friday nights I’m popping popcorn on the stove and watching a movie with my kids. The Sandlot, anyone?!

 

“I like connecting people and entertaining a crowd – I consider myself a ‘pollinator – but I’m also really happy baking banana bread and listening to a podcast at home or going on a hike or bike ride with my family.”

 

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VolunteerLocal Field Expert: Linh Ta

Linh Ta

Des Moines, IowaLinh

“Time is the most valuable thing someone can give.”

What do you love about your hometown?

I came for the food and stayed for the people.

friends find you on a typical Friday night?

Carl’s Place is where it’s at.

What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work:

Biking!

What types of events do you especially love?

Downtown festivals and parades.

Who is your favorite musical artist?

Shania Twain

Where would your friends find you on a typical Friday night?

Carl’s Place is where it’s at.

 

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VolunteerLocal Field Expert: Julie Kent

Julie Kent

Denver, ColoradoJulieKent

“Volunteering makes the world a better place – and it can provide lots of personal fulfillment, too!”

What do you love about your hometown?

No humidity!

Tell us about your unique perspective when it comes to volunteer coordination.

I’ve been on the board of a couple of non-profits so I’ve done a reasonable amount of volunteer recruitment and management.

What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work:

Reading.

Who is your favorite musical artist?

Thomas Rhett

Where would your friends find you on a typical Friday night?

Out to dinner and then at home binging on Netflix.

 

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VolunteerLocal Field Expert: Jordan Maze

Jordan Maze

Chicago, IllinoisJordan Maze

“Volunteering allows you to connect with people who have similar interests – perhaps the most natural way to make friends, especially in a city. If you have spare time or money, recognizing your good fortune by offering it in the service of others feels great and is great for your community.”

What do you love about your hometown?

My neighbors’ friendliness, architectural diversity, and so much vegan food.

Tell us about your unique perspective when it comes to volunteer coordination.

I helped start a bike co-op in college, and now my best friend is a volunteer manager, so I can live a bit vicariously through her.

What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work:

Going on walks with my dog, reading, and biking.

Who is your favorite musical artist?

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

Where would your friends find you on a typical Friday night?

Probably in my backyard.

 

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VolunteerLocal Field Expert: Anna Elliot

Anna Elliot

Des Moines, IowaAnna Elliot

 “I always come back to this: volunteering provides a shared experience with a common goal. It brings people and communities together.”

What do you love about your hometown?

Des Moines has the friendliness and familiarity of a small town with some big city perks, like good food, shows, and parks.

Tell us about your unique perspective when it comes to volunteer coordination.

I write from the perspective of the volunteer and participant. I have been involved in many different projects of all kinds and have seen first-hand the need and difference volunteers make. I’ve also attended more events that rely on volunteers than I can count and have benefited from the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.

What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work:

I like staying active! I practice yoga, teach barre, and rock climb.

Who is your favorite musical artist?

If I must choose one, Bon Iver.

Where would your friends find you on a typical Friday night?

On Friday night you might find me at a show downtown or sitting on the porch with some friends.

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VolunteerLocal Field Expert: Josanna E. Berg-Hammond

Josanna E. Berg-HammondVersion 2

Brooklyn, New York

“I think volunteering is one of the best reminders that we’re all human. I just believe so strongly that we should all be good people and we should all help each other.”

What do you love about your hometown?

I can easily walk to anything and everything I could want.

Tell us about your unique perspective when it comes to volunteer coordination.

I began volunteering in elementary school and continued to keep it a main part of my life as I grew up. Volunteering has always been incredibly close to my heart, which is why I love writing for an organization like VolunteerLocal.

What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work:

Eating! I love finding new dishes to cook and trying out new restaurants around Brooklyn and NYC.

Who is your favorite musical artist?

Impossible to answer, but I’m currently listening to a lot of Pinegrove.

Where would your friends find you on a typical Friday night?

Early dinner followed by drinks, a movie and bed (love being rested for a Saturday morning).

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