How do you thank a volunteer?
If you are a rider (and you’re the reason they do spend the time and make the effort to show up), then there are lots of ways to thank a volunteer.
The first thing you can do is be on time. Then you can smile, and say “thank you.” That really means a lot! You can be courteous even when the volunteer may be wrong or mistaken. Make sure all the people with you — your trainer, your coach, your parents, your grooms or friends — are equally courteous, too.
Do your students or barn mates volunteer? Offer them free lessons or rides for volunteering time in your sport. Offer services to volunteer groups, like course walks or talks or even demonstrations on how to use studs or set up gymnastics.
Do you have sponsors? Suggest that they donate to volunteers who give to the sport by offering merchandise, a discount, coupons or promotional items to your local event volunteer coordinator. Give a volunteer a shout-out on your social media, or post a photo of one of your favorites doing their job. These sorts of gestures may take only a moment of time but can create a volunteer (and a fan) for life.
If you are a coach or trainer, be mindful that volunteers you encounter base their continued commitment to the sport on how you treat them.
Your attitude, your manners, your courtesy and your approach to them should be no less than impeccable. Treat a volunteer like the president of the company. And you would be surprised how many actually ARE high-ranking people in business, or medical or legal professionals, or even colonels and generals. And some are well-meaning kids, generous parents or non-horse people just wanting to get closer to horses.
Your business depends upon their generosity, literally. There is absolutely no excuse for an event professional to treat a volunteer any other way than correctly in all encounters no matter what: how late you are, how bad your student’s horse is behaving, how things are going in the warmup ring. Always!
No one is perfect and people make mistakes but any correction should always be brought to the event organizer or an official, not the volunteer. No volunteer should EVER be treated in a negative manner by any eventing professional. It’s simply unsporting and unacceptable.
Help a little. If you see a volunteer struggling with a tight schedule or someone who seems exhausted after running out to pick up rails in stadium all afternoon, offer to give them a 15-minute break and do their job for a while! Fifteen minutes of your day can make a volunteer for life. “Wow! Joe Trainer helped me today!”
And consider giving more than 15 minutes. Offer to do a job that might take half a day or more. Many times organizers need help before or after events. See if you can offer some support on a non-competition day. The organizer will remember your gesture!
Are you a parent or owner? Be mindful of the job that volunteers do so your horse or child can compete. While you concentrate on being a good supporter, they are concentrating on doing a vital job to the competition. Respect the work they do and offer to help if you can — it can keep your mind off things, too!
If you are an owner, consider sponsoring a prize that could be awarded to a volunteer. Fund lunches or a thank-you dinner, or think of something they need or could use and offer to help obtain it, like renting more golf carts, etc. These gestures do mean something and make a difference to volunteer coordinators and organizers — it’s easier to send out emails begging for help the next year if they remember that great party after cross country!
Most volunteers are riders. Most volunteers understand the sport. Most volunteers are experienced and familiar with the jobs they are doing. Don’t underestimate the value of their contribution. Because eventing requires many volunteers — even the smallest event needs many jump judges — the whole contribution of many people has a ripple effect across your area and the nation.
Volunteerism must be nurtured and protected in eventing. One cross word, one nasty comment could lose that person forever. This is a small sport. We can’t afford to lose volunteers!
Next up from Holly: “The Shared Experience,” the major reason people return to volunteer year after year, how this is created and how it can be destroyed.