This is the last blog in our four-part series on how to plan a race around the Thanksgiving holiday. Read on or catch up on what you missed in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. You can download the full guide to plan a turkey trot here.
Volunteers: How to Find, Train, Manage & Make them want to Return
Volunteers are a vital component to any event. It’s highly unlikely that you (or any race director in the history of sport) have a big enough budget to fully staff your event with paid employees. So, you need to learn how to find, train, manage and especially retain, a significant number of volunteers.
How many volunteers exactly? Go to a race similar in size to what you expect of yours. Observe how many volunteers handle registration, packet pickup, race-day parking, on-course directions and safety, aid stations, the finish line, awards, etc. This will give you a ballpark starting point, but be sure to add volunteers for event setup and cleanup and any other behind the scenes responsibilities you anticipate.
Once you know how many volunteers you need, proceed with the following steps.
Create a Volunteer Handbook
Participants at your race will not know the difference between core event staff and volunteers. Thus, you need to arm your volunteers with as much info as possible to answer questions that arise, as well as do their job as efficiently and effectively as possible. Supplying your volunteers with a handbook will educate and empower them and help make your event a better experience for everyone.
The handbook should include:
• Critical event info, such as packet pickup location and hours, race date and start time, course map, parking map, porta-potty locations, medical tent location, emergency contact numbers, etc.
• A clear job description for each volunteer position, including responsibilities and expectations.
• Names and contact numbers for volunteer captains.
• Volunteer info, such as what to wear, what time to arrive, where to store personal items (car keys, purses, etc.) and what sort of food and beverages will be supplied to volunteers.
Choose Your Coordinators
And by choose, we mean beg your closest, most reliable friends and family members to serve as volunteer coordinators for each area of your race (think Aid Station Volunteer Coordinator, Registration Volunteer Coordinator, etc.). If you have the budget, hire these people as paid staff. Your experience as a race director will be infinitely less stressful if you can delegate volunteer recruitment, training and management to a handful of highly organized, motivated individuals.
Recruit Your Volunteers
Again, we’re using language a bit loosely: “recruit” is just a fancy way of saying beg, bribe or otherwise tempt people to work for free at your race. Whether it’s you or your volunteer coordinators doing the recruiting, your best bet is to beg in bulk. Targeting large groups with a relevant interest (think high school athletes, running or triathlon clubs, adult sport leagues, gym members and local charities) will deliver the best return. You can provide an incentive (read: bribe), such as swag, a discount on a future race or a donation to the club or charity, to encourage volunteering.
Once your volunteers are committed, add them to your online registration software (as a separate list from registrants) to keep everyone involved with the event in one system.
Train & Manage Your Volunteers
It’s important for your volunteers to feel prepared for their work. In addition to providing the aforementioned volunteer handbook, you’ll want to have each volunteer coordinator meet with his or her team, either virtually or in person, prior to the start of the shift. The coordinator should go over any pertinent details (which are included in the handbook, but bear repeating… and repeating again).
Note: The single most important piece of knowledge for any volunteer working on the race course on race day is the race course itself. Do not risk being in the situation where a volunteer sends an athlete down the wrong road at an intersection. Inform your volunteers, inform them again, and even quiz them on the course details. Equally important, be sure to inform your volunteers whom to ask when they’re stumped with a question or situation (such as registration troubleshooting or awards mix-ups).
Treat Your Volunteers
Treat your volunteers with kindness and respect, as well as actual treats to ensure that they return year after year. Not only is this loyalty nice, it’s a huge time- and stress-saver.
Volunteering at a race can be hot, hard and dirty work. Provide plenty of water and other cold drinks, plus yummy snacks, to keep your volunteers hydrated, fueled and happily humming along!
Above all else, be kind, considerate and exuberantly appreciative of your volunteers. Remember, Thanksgiving is all about giving thanks, and you are deeply indebted to your invaluable volunteers!
The Big Day: Maximize the Post-Race Moment
The big day has arrived and you’re eager to get everyone started and safely through to the finish. And then what? The race itself may stop at the finish line, but your event still has a lot of life left. Make the most of your race day management to maximize your participant engagement and leave them eager to return next year.
A post-race party or expo (or a pre-race expo combined with packet pickup) is also an ideal opportunity to showcase the products and services of your event sponsors. Granted, if your race is on Thanksgiving Day people won’t linger long (after all, there are birds to cook, football to watch and pies to eat). But most will stick around for a bit of mingling and fun (not to mention awards), so here are a few ideas to create a festive atmosphere.
Feed the Machine
First and foremost, following a race, participants will want something to eat and drink. Water is a must, and an electrolyte drink is always a wise idea (here’s a perfect opportunity to highlight a sports nutrition sponsor).
Most people won’t pile too much on their plates in advance of their Thanksgiving meal, so food-wise a selection of light offerings should suffice. Great options include yogurt, bagels and spreads, fruit, pumpkin bread cupcakes and fruit or protein smoothies.
Keep the Kids Happy
At any family event, the adults will only last as long as the kids are happy, so offer fun activities for all ages. A few quick rounds of Pin the Tail on the Turkey won’t cut too much into any family’s holiday time. If a Thanksgiving-themed bounce house or inflatable obstacle course exists, add that to your budget wish list. Face painting is always fun, plus who wouldn’t want a kids’ Thanksgiving table full of little lions, tigers and rainbow princesses?
Everyone is #WINNING
Beyond the awards, create some fun and fast opportunities for everyone — participants and spectators alike — to win stuff. People love winning stuff, arguably even more so than they love simply receiving stuff for free. And the family friendly community environment that your race has fostered is a perfect place to play (and win) silly games.
Tailor your games to fit the holiday. We don’t recommend hosting a pie-eating contest at a turkey trot, for example, but why not bob for apples to win a pie to take home for dinner? Or, have a “Shake Your Tailfeathers” dance-off on the awards stage, where the most enthusiastic dancers (as voted by crowd applause) win a post-Thanksgiving detox massage. (Tip: Insert these contests at intervals throughout the awards ceremony and make sure to announce them numerous times in order to guarantee the largest possible audience for the awards, as well as a large number of contest participants.)
Speaking of massage, you’ll have happier, healthier runners on your hands if you can provide complimentary post-race massage. Work with a local massage school or chiropractor to sponsor the service; the exposure to your healthy lifestyle participants will be well worth their time.
Cheers to YOU
Just as it’s important to provide activities that appeal to kids, the 21-and-over crowd also deserves a special treat. What better way to celebrate one’s accomplishment than toasting with a few hundred friends? Beer gardens are de rigueur at most races these days, but in light of the Thanksgiving holiday we suggest upping your alcohol game and offering a complimentary mimosa or Bloody Mary to every adult finisher — they’ll get an added Vitamin C boost, to boot!
No matter how much alcohol is involved, check with local authorities to make sure you have the proper permits, fence off the alcohol consumption area if necessary and prepare a protocol for handling anyone who might drink too much.
Keep it Lively
Everyone knows that when the music dies, the party is over and it’s time to go home, so keep those beats pumpin’! Look for a local band to play your post-race gig — they’re generally cooperative and cost-effective, plus they add to the community feel. Do make sure the music is family-friendly and not so loud that it drowns out the post-race “war story” conversations.
Fortify the Future
While you have your participants’ attention and they have the post-race (or mimosa-induced) runner’s high, secure their commitment to next year’s race. Consider offering onsite registration at a special early bird rate and set up a kiosk on site to enable quick and easy transactions.
Even with a shortened window of time due to holiday demands, with these tips in hand you’ll be sure to throw a post-race celebration to remember!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this piece of our larger guide on how to plan a turkey trot that you can download here.
Contact us to learn more about the features above, or for help with any aspect of your Turkey Trot planning. Gobble, gobble!