USEA Area II Rolls Out New Volunteer Incentive Program

Photo courtesy of Kaiti Saunders Photo courtesy of Kaiti Saunders

Volunteers are the backbone of eventing and without them our sport would not exist as we know it. That’s why a new program in USEA Area II, being rolled out this week, aims to make volunteering at events a whole lot easier for both volunteers and organizers alike, in addition to recognizing the selfless people who make our beloved sport possible.

The USEA Area II Volunteer Incentive Program (VIP) centers around the website, which serves as an online hub for organizing volunteer duties at horse trials. In addition to making streamlining volunteer organization, the program also seeks to provide incentives and recognition to the generous, hard-working volunteers of eventing.

After the passing of dear friend and Area II powerhouse Seema Sonad one year ago this week, members of Area II, including Area Chair Kaiti Saunders, began thinking hard about ways they could honor volunteers as part of a tribute to the legacy of their friend.

“Everyone has been talking about losing volunteers, and losing Seema crystallized that,” said Kaiti. “She was such a big presence in our Area and had been trying to build good resources for volunteers. We’re building off of the ideas that she had.”

“One of the things that was critical to all of us was to underscore the importance of volunteers to this sport. There’s just no way that we could participate without the efforts of our volunteers, and we wanted to make sure that we were reaching out to support them.”

Seema Sonnad in her element! Photo by Cynthia Gilbert/Gazworks Inc.

Seema Sonnad in her element. Photo by Cynthia Gilbert/Gazworks Inc.

Late last year, Carolyn McIntosh of The Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy came up with the seed of the idea that would eventually germinate into the VIP as it is today. Carolyn worked with Nancy Jones of Seneca Valley Pony Club Horse Trials and Gretchen Butts of Waredaca to flesh out a proposal that was brought before the Area II Council in February. With some additional input and blessing of the council, they and website developer Nicolas Hinze worked together to develop the program and its framework.

The program has been tested at a few unrecognized events already and has been received with excitement. The next step is to pilot it at three upcoming USEA recognized events over the next month: Waredaca Spring Horse Trials, Seneca Valley Pony Club Spring Horse Trials, and the Maryland Horse Trials. These three events are were chosen for their close proximity to each other on the calendar, as well as for the fact that they tend to share the same volunteer pool.

Prospective volunteers can use 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, and Kaiti says they hope to flesh out the website as an online resource for volunteers in the future with more information about common volunteer positions, tips on things to bring with you when you volunteer, and information about getting more involved with the sport.

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.

People who sign up for the VIP receive a neck wallet or lanyard (similar to the ones used at USEA convention) that will identify them as part of the program as well as give them a handy place to stash their keys, phone, or other small items while volunteering. As they rack up volunteer time, participants will eventually be able to collect incentive pins and other markers of recognition with which to decorate their lanyard.

VIP Program Volunteer

Note the lanyards! Photo courtesy of Kaiti Saunders.

The “incentive” part of the program comes into play with the leaderboard feature of the website. Hours are tracked as volunteers use the website to check in and out (or organizers can check volunteers in and out manually) and the leaderboard tracks total volunteer hours for individuals as well as individuals that have volunteered at multiple events over the season. Area II plans to use the hours tracked via the website to help recognize volunteers at their annual Area meeting and as the program expands, the hope is to recognize volunteers on a national level as well.

“We’d like to see volunteers be recognized on a nationwide basis, as part of the annual awards presentation,” said Kaiti. “We should be standing up and applauding these folks!”

After the pilot program is completed, the organizers of the participating events will get together to discuss what went well and what needs improvement. Another exciting facet currently in development is a smartphone app companion to the website which would enable the user to check in and out of events with even greater ease.

Development of the program has been done with the input of USEA CEO Rob Burk and other staff at the USEA throughout the process, and the plan is to roll out the program throughout Area II and eventually make it available nationwide.

Thanks to a group of dedicated and passionate eventers, volunteer coordination may finally be utilizing technology the way Seema once dreamed and a more streamlined volunteer experience may be coming to a smartphone near you.

Go eventing.