Volunteers are the backbone of eventing, and a new nationwide program being rolled out this week aims to make volunteering at events easier for both volunteers and organizers alike — in addition to recognizing the selfless people who make our beloved sport possible.
The Volunteer Incentive Program (VIP), presented by Sunsprite Warmbloods, offers a new online management portal to streamline the volunteer process. VIP centers around the website eventingvolunteers.com, which serves as a connection point between volunteers and organizers. A smartphone app, available for both iOS and Android devices, is available as well.
Prospective volunteers can use eventingvolunteers.com to sign up for open shifts and duties, check in with organizers and track their hours. After a simple sign-up process, volunteers can select a specific event …
… and easily see which assignments and shifts are the most needed and which are already filled. A quick description of the job currently accompanies the sign-up widget.
Organizers can submit a request to host an event and use the website to track the status of filled or open volunteer positions with at-a-glance visualization of which assignments still need to be filled — they will be able to tell very quickly if they are short a dressage scribe for the day, or perhaps three more fence judges are needed. They can also more easily get in touch with a specific group of volunteers, rather than sorting through individual emails.
The program was piloted in Area II last year with success, thanks in large part to the hard work and vision of a small group of … you guessed it, volunteers!
The original seed was planted by the late Seema Sonnad, a USEF ‘r’ Eventing Technical Delegate and super volunteer in Area II. In 2014 she shared with EN some of her ideas for how to make it easier for volunteer coordinators to do their job and for volunteers to be a part of the sport — with the end goal being to encourage more people to get involved. (See “Seema Sonnad on a Mission to Make it Easier to Volunteer.”)
After Seema’s loss in May 2015, members of the eventing community began thinking hard about ways they could honor volunteers as part of a tribute to the legacy of their friend.
Two competitor/volunteers Seema had discussed the issue with over the years, Dr. Bonnie Kibbie and Holly Covey, took action, raising funds for the Seema Sonnad Above & Beyond Event Personnel Award, an annual honor dedicated to volunteers and officials who go above and beyond the call of duty to make competitors’ experience at events truly outstanding.
They began to lobby for the USEA to pay more attention to the volunteer issue, and former USEA President Diane Pitts responded by granting Bonnie and Holly a session at the 2015 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention in Washington, DC. They presented a powerpoint presentation to a packed room outlining the four major points of Seema’s plan …
- Create a national volunteer database
- Provide comprehensive educational resources and networking opportunities for volunteers, organizers, etc. in an online format
- Implement an incentive program to encourage volunteerism
- Recognize veterans to keep them coming back and the legacy going forward
… and were met with applause and support. Organizers in particular were excited and wanted the online tracking system to be implemented as soon as possible — because they really needed the help.
The USEA Board of Directors was in full support and authorized a Volunteer Committee to be chaired. Holly notes the early involvement of current USEA President Carol Kozlowski. “We had the great good fortune of Carol Kozlowski believing in us,” Holly says. “She also joined us to advocate as a then-Board member for this plan. As you know, Carol is a strong volunteer supporter and feels that everyone in eventing should volunteer.”
Meanwhile some organizers began implementing the idea themselves. Carolyn McIntosh of The Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy, Nancy Jones of Seneca Valley Pony Club Horse Trials and Gretchen Butts of Waredaca fleshed out a proposal that was brought before the Area II Council in February. With some additional input and blessing of the Council, along with Carol’s recruitment of website developer Nicolas Hinze, they worked together to develop the VIP pilot program and its framework.
The pilot program was rolled out last year, and the rest was history.
Creating VIP has truly been a community effort, and special thanks goes to the USEA Volunteer Committee for its effort toward that end:
Dr. Bonnie Kibbie
“I am so incredibly proud … Seema would be so happy!” Holly Covey says. “It was her dream to have this. I think she would approve.”
Events who have signed up to participate in 2017 include The Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy Farm, Waredaca Horse Trials, Seneca Valley Pony Club Horse Trials, The Virginia Horse Trials and Winona Horse Trials. We’re sure that list will expand as word spreads about this fantastic and much-needed program.
The USEA Volunteer Committee is still seeking ways to further build out the program. “We are not leaving it at that,” Holly says. “We are in the process currently of adding educational things to this — complete and thumbnail job descriptions, checklists for the jobs, educational videos which were done by Pine Hill Horse Trials in Texas, and working on more support for volunteer coordinators.
“We will probably have more to come later in the year as we are able to define new things and we’ve asked for a bit of a volunteer page overhaul at useventing.com. All coming. One thing at a time — the big thing is done so the rest is going to be easy now!”
To all those who helped make VIP possible, thank you. Go Eventing.