by Nikki Alvin-Smith
Volunteers and non-profit organizations go together like hugs and kisses. Whether it’s a horse or pet rescue, or an equine or equestrian association hosting events, volunteers are the backbone of the business.
The benefits of volunteer work are a two-way street. It can be challenging and onerous to keep the flow of volunteers coming in one direction, coming in, versus leaving and trotting off down the road never to be seen again. Especially given that administration of an event, association or rescue organization sucks up so much time and energy from the individuals running the operation that there often isn’t much of either left over for managers/business owners to apply to management and productivity of the volunteer brigade.
Leadership talent is key to providing the best experience for any volunteer. Folks volunteer to help for a variety of reasons and understanding why a particular individual applies to volunteer in the first place is a good start toward figuring out how to keep them participating in the program.
Volunteer work can help address issues of the human condition such as loneliness and feelings of low self-esteem, it can build camaraderie and engage folks to meet and make new friends with common interests. Volunteers often participate in the care and nurture of animals to address their mental illnesses or provide physical activity to keep them on the move while providing a worthwhile lending hand.
People also seek to spend time volunteering at organizations or at shows /events as a steppingstone to improving their own education. For example, scribing for a judge at a dressage show is a good way to learn more about the sport of dressage and competition. It is also an important method to learn the tasks and protocols of the job before applying (it is required for application) to become a judge.
Hapless circumstances sometimes create opportunities that commandeer the attention of a volunteer and provide an open door to their hearts and potentially their help in some form. Some examples: The loss of a beloved pet may leave behind an emotional void for an animal lover; forced retirement due to illness or injury or simple economics can leave free time for people used to active lives who seek to expand their horizons; students of an equestrian discipline may seek more knowledge of the care or training of horses to further their education especially where college credits may be awarded.
Whatever the reason people volunteer, everyone is grateful that they do. Keeping the volunteers in your sphere or arena of work will be much more likely to happen if you take the time to understand their motivation for doing so and acknowledge it in the tasks you set and how they are managed.
How To Attract Volunteers
Some folks offer their time and energy to help without seeking any reward at all, while others require more than just a quick Hello and off-hand pat on the back. A person may be great for one task but quite hopeless at another.
Regardless of who the volunteer is at hand, treat them with respect and kindness. We all have our life journey and not everyone reveals their trials and tribulations openly.
Actively seeking volunteer help can be tricky, but there are some tried and tested methods.
A key method to attract any volunteer is to provide a safe, secure, and well-organized environment that is clean and comfortable. Figuring out where an individual best fits jobwise can come later. The prime concern is to bring them to the facility or organization and establish a good working relationship from the beginning.
For example, a modern commercial style kennel with hot and cold running water, plenty of indoor storage space for food and supplies, that offers heat/AC and safe, well designed kennel boxes with runs will make the daily care chores of the space easier to complete than an old-fashioned concrete kennel with low ceilings that is dark and uninviting.
Similarly, a horse rescue with broken down pasture fencing and bent gates with muddy entrances to paddocks and rutted dirt stall floors in a poorly designed horse barn will not be either as safe or as enjoyable to work at daily as a facility with a well-maintained and well-built barn, matted stalls, and a tidy yard.
Event organizers have a myriad of different jobs that need taking in hand before, during and after a show or clinic has taken place. A well-organized event can only transpire if every party does their job on point and on time. It requires a true collaboration of a variety of personalities and fitting different characters with diverse talents into the right ‘box’ can be hard. Folks often ask for a specific task they honestly believe they are talented to accomplish when the reality is their efforts while appreciated fall short of completing it competently.
The manager of these human resource of volunteers will be required to exhibit tact and diplomacy at every turn so it is wise to choose a person for this job that demonstrates these talents.
Volunteers To The Rescue
Rescue organizations can attract volunteers at Open House Days and fundraising events. Broadcasting news of their good works by encouraging the local press and even national press via social media to attend such events is a must.
Invite school administrators to bring their students to attend on site events and lay on hands-on critter petting activities, and other interest features such as showcases of professionals that are part of your team such as a vet doing a check up on a resident animal to encourage a learning environment for all that attend. Make the day fun and as interactive as possible.
You can also advertise for volunteer help but try and offer some incentive such as a free riding lesson at a horse rescue, or a discounted adoption price for volunteer workers.
It is important to be open and honest upfront about your needs and requirements of the job you’d like the volunteer to do as well as the schedule and timeframe. Know which are the areas you have flexibility and which areas you cannot manage without a permanent solution.
For example: If you run a horse rescue and can take on volunteers that require training time to learn how to safely handle horses that is one thing, but if you need experienced horse folks then that is obviously different.
Volunteers For Horse Associations
Except for the actual hosting of events or monthly/annual meetings, much of the regular work of horse associations is done online rather than face to face. This can make attracting volunteers hard, because aside from the shows or events, there isn’t much opportunity to draw newcomers to the volunteer team.
Do your due diligence when it comes to entrusting individuals to work directly with your membership and give them whatever training is necessary to ensure mistakes are not made. For example: For breed registry staff a full understanding of all the rules of the registration process is essential.
A good resource from which to draw folks to lend a hand is from local colleges, 4-H or Pony Clubs, local horse barns, and the competitor or membership base through e-blasts/newsletters and social media posts.
Bear in mind that most competitors will bring other attendees with them to the showground to groom or offer other support for their activity. These attendees can be a valuable adjunct to help around the show on the day of the event, as they likely already have the skill sets needed to complete horse-oriented tasks and have some understanding of how the type of event usually operates.
How To Keep Volunteers
Whether the volunteers are working unsupervised or as part of a team to complete a task either manual or clerical in nature, training is as important a tool as the physical tools themselves.
In the case of the latter provision of appropriate and well-functioning tools, equipment, and supplies to complete the task at hand with the allowance of sufficient time to execute a chore or assignment are factors that empower folks to do a good job. When it comes to clerical duties or liaison with vendors, sponsors, show site operators or competitors, it is also essential that the individual knows the extent and boundaries of their authority and has the knowledge to execute the task correctly and the discipline to address everyone in a polite manner.
Keep the brief on the work to be completed clear and concise to avoid misunderstandings and mistakes.
Provide opportunities to expose volunteers to other aspects of the tasks of the organization to give them the full picture and appreciation of what is involved in the day to day running of the business and how their part plays an important role.
Many volunteers value not just handing out their nurturing skills and free hand to manual labor but also the education they can garner during the process. Teachable moments don’t just apply to children. Use opportunities that present themselves to help people learn skill sets they didn’t have before or know they possessed. This type of life enrichment and fulfillment may take more effort on your part to manage but will result in a loyal following.
Always set a good example with your own behavior. Show up on time, conduct yourself with grace and be calm and kind.
Is Managing A Volunteer Staff Really Different Than Running A Staff On Payroll?
Rewarding your volunteer team on a regular basis is a ‘must do’ but these rewards do not have to be expensive or fancy undertakings such as throwing big parties or dishing out gifts.
Being flexible and understanding of a volunteer’s schedule and showing respect for the efforts the individual makes to complete a task is a good start to keeping the volunteer happy. Unlike a paid staff member, a volunteer obviously does not have to show up or be there on point, and as with any staff member showing appreciation for their work without undue criticism is a good jumping off point to building a great relationship.
It should go without saying that you should never berate a staff member of either type, paid or volunteer. Anger has no place in personnel management, and certainly any ‘talks’ should be done one on one in private, never in front of other staff or other people.
Regardless of whether the person gets a paycheck or a pat on the back or just a pat on the back, the management skills to hire the right person for the job, engage them to reach their best potential and encourage loyalty to you and your business are much the same.
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About Horizon Structures: One horse or twenty, there’s one thing all horse owners have in common…the need to provide safe and secure shelter for their equine partners. At Horizon Structures, we combine expert craftsmanship, top-of-the-line materials and smart “horse-friendly” design to create a full line of sheds and barns that any horse owner can feel confident is the right choice for their horses’ stabling needs.
All wood. Amish Made. Most of our buildings are shipped 100% pre-built and ready for same-day use. Larger barns are a modular construction and can be ready for your horses in less than a week. All our barn packages include everything you need –
Horizon Structures also sells chicken coops, equine hay feeders, greenhouses, dog kennels, 1 and 2 car garages, storage sheds and outdoor living structures and playsets.
Headquartered in South-Central Pennsylvania, Horizon Structures, LLC is owned by Dave Zook. Dave was raised in the Amish tradition and grew up working in the family-owned shed business. He started Horizon Structures in 2001 in response to an ever-increasing customer demand for high quality, affordable horse barns.
For additional information about the company or their product line, please visit their website at https://www.horizonstructures.com
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About Nikki Alvin-Smith:
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Grand Prix Dressage
Please visit https://nikkialvinsmithstudio.com/ to learn more about her affordable services.