Recruiting and Keeping Volunteers
Mountain bike organizations are only as strong as their members. The most effective clubs include not only hard-core bikers, but also weekend warriors, beginners, and even non-riding members of the community. These groups attract members—and keep them coming back—by diversifying their mission and their events, combining trailwork with social occasions, and keeping volunteers enthusiastic.
Here are 10 more tips for recruiting—and keeping—volunteers:
1. Just Ask: Simply asking new people to join, attend, or get involved is often all it takes to bring them into the fold. We all want to be part of something big and have a sense of community—you can offer that.
2. Publicize, Publicize, Publicize: It is impossible to over-promote your activities. Publicize events early and in appropriate venues—a flier advertising trail maintenance days might be better placed in a local bike shop than in the local newspaper. But also think beyond the bike shop to other outdoor gear stores, breweries, coffee shops, gyms, etc. After events, update your website with pictures and a summary of what was accomplished. Send an account to the local paper to brag about the public service your group is providing.
3. Take it to the People: Host a pancake breakfast or bratwurst cookout at the most popular trailhead in town. Fix flats, do basic tuneups or pass out stuff like trail maps, handlebar bells, patch kits or energy bars (which you can request for free from IMBA). Highly visible efforts to find new club members and volunteers will bring results.
4. Look Beyond the Usual Suspects: Ask Chamber of Commerce committees, youth groups, conservation corps, scout troops, environmental groups, and other do-gooders to pitch in with your projects. In the U.S., check out www.volunteermatch.org and The Corps Network at www.corpsnetwork.org to find other partners.
5. Host Regular Group Rides: Isn’t riding the reason bikers advocate for trails in the first place? Host regular rides that are purely social and you’ll likely see the same riders coming out for workdays. Consider breaking rides up not just by ability or gender (beginner, intermediate, women, etc.) but by experience (hammer ride, enjoy-the-scenery casual ride, practice technical skills ride, etc.). Try to facilitate an after-ride hangout for ALL of the ride groups, whether you host a parking lot BBQ or have everyone meet at a local watering hole. You want to bring people together, make all feel welcome, and not create artificial divisions based on skill level.
6. Celebrate Good Times!: Make your meetings and trailwork events something volunteers look forward to with raffles, food, fizzy beverages, live music, mountain bike movies, bike demos, etc. Be creative with location, themed days, even costumes—volunteers will be plentiful if your events are dynamic. Think about putting on an event that your existing members will want to bring their friends to, which may help expand your volunteer base.
7. Chunk it Down: Divide volunteer projects into bite-sized chunks and make it easy for people to volunteer a little of their time. One IMBA chapter posts volunteer projects based on time commitment: “If you can donate half a day, help us with this project; if you only have a few hours, try this one,” and so on. Also, if someone can't give money or build during a trail work day, don't write them off! Find out what they do for a living or for a hobby. Is someone a professional graphic designer? Maybe they can donate a logo, poster or T-shirt design. Does someone have the machinery to sharpen large tools? Ask if they're willing to help maintain your trailbuilding tool fleet. And if you're a 501(c)3 non-profit, they can get a tax-deduction for donated services.
8. Swag it Up: Kindly ask shops for raffle items and giveaways, including stuff like brand-new, old-model clearance items they maybe can't get rid of. Also, look to your local businesses for support, such as getting restaurant gift certificates or a free, one-year passes to a local park with great trails. Track volunteer hours and work quality, give prizes and say thank you. Prizes don’t have to be expensive. Volunteers appreciate something that is creative and personal, and often just want to be acknowledged for their hard work.
9. Nurture Newcomers: Look at a planned event from a new volunteer’s perspective. Whether they join a group ride, a trailwork day, or a movie premiere, new volunteers need and appreciate more guidance, even if it’s just to let them know they are doing a good job. Chapter/club leaders should make an effort to welcome unfamiliar faces and let them know about upcoming events, the group's website/email newsletter/Facebook page and say "thanks" for showing up.
10. Stay Regular: Pick a schedule and stick to it. Mapping out events well in advance lets participants plan ahead. Think about setting reoccurring events on the same day each month (i.e. second Saturday of every month). It takes the work out of scheduling, and riders always know when your meeting, trailwork, or group ride takes place.