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Looking after your volunteers

Portico Vine ARLFC, a Rugby League club in St Helens, Merseyside, offers local young people the opportunity to get active with teams ranging from under 8s to under 18s.  

As with many grassroots organisations, Portico Vine ARLFC relies on a volunteer workforce to provide activities, and creating a strong, positive volunteering culture is key to building this workforce.

In turn, a club’s volunteering culture is linked to its wider values and the need to recognise the vital contributions that volunteers make. 

Portico Vine ARLFC Chairman, Mark Hobin, shares his thoughts and the journey that the club has been on to create that strong culture and values, which foster a positive volunteering experience. 

Understanding their current volunteers 

The club has a volunteer workforce of between 40-50 volunteers, which has increased quite significantly in the last few years, with approximately 80% of the volunteer base made up of family members of current or previous players. 

A key focus for the club is understanding what individuals want to get out of their volunteering.

There are a number of reasons why people volunteer, so the club is keen to establish this from the outset.

Motivations can range from giving back to a community or organisation that may have supported them, their friends or family in the past, to socialising and interacting with others or gaining new skills to support personal development. 

Portico Vine ARLFC pride themselves on being a family club whose purpose is to serve its local community.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the club undertook lots of outreach work to support those in need, but it also exposed the club to a few challenges and opportunities around volunteers: 

  • It highlighted the fact that the club didn't have any contingency or succession planning in place to replace volunteers if they left their roles. 
  • The club’s growth has also added additional pressure and responsibility for all volunteers, and something needed to be done to support them and address the potential risk of burnout. 
  • Longer-serving volunteers who may feel as though they're the only person who can do that role and therefore can be reluctant to give up any responsibilities. 
  • The club needs to have plans in place to support or share responsibilities. 
  • The opportunity to break roles into tasks and offering bite-size volunteering opportunities. 
  • Make sure that volunteers feel appreciated for any time they can contribute, whether it's 30 minutes or 10 hours per week. 
  • Developing a volunteer sub-committee with input into the club’s management committee. 
  • Club volunteers have felt really valued and being empowered and given decision-making responsibilities. These occasions have enabled them to show leadership and take initiative. 

Engaging with new volunteers 

To help encourage new people into volunteering and identify skills amongst their members or parents/carers, the club undertook a mapping exercise.

This included an email around the club asking about skills people had from their professional or personal background, which they might be willing to use to support the club.

All responses were recorded on a spreadsheet and are, to this day, used as the main reference point for the club when specific skills are needed. 

The response rate to simply asking people how they could help the club when needed was very positive.

As a result, the club have built up a bank of people with skills ranging from landscape gardeners to help with pitch maintenance, plumbers, accountants and people with expertise in marketing and promotions.  

Helping to create a valuable volunteer experience 

The club tasked itself with developing a volunteering code of ethics to outline the values that all volunteers should follow.

Although these values had been present across the club’s volunteer workforce for a long time, the club found it helpful to formalise them, to help remind volunteers of the value they bring to the club.  

Developing the code of ethics wasn't solely the responsibility of those already tasked with the club’s management.

The management committee were keen to get buy-in from all volunteers, particularly those included on sub-committees.

They invited sub-committee members to send in their thoughts privately on what should be included.

Throughout the development of the code, the priority was to keep these simple so that the principles could be lived in practice and applicable to all.  

Code of ethics

The club wants to recognise the value offered by its volunteer force.

Its code of ethics states the following principles:

Keep it simple.
Family first. Work second. Portico Vine third.
Spread the workload and respect that we all have different skills.
Encourage, compliment and celebrate milestones and achievements.
Help each other when it’s called for or when you can offer it.
Understand people do their best for the benefit of the kids and the club.
Smile, laugh, have fun and enjoy - we aren't a professional club.
If we all do a little, no one needs to do a lot.
Your new friends are just a volunteering role away.
Get involved, ask questions, share ideas, talk, listen and inspire the next generation.

The club also developed taglines to help build a lasting legacy and inspire everyone at the club, like ‘One Club, One Dream’.

This was a tagline that everyone could buy into regardless of what they want to get out their involvement at the club.

For some young members it might be to play professionally, whilst for volunteers it might be to support the club to continue growing. 

Other ways volunteers can be recognised 

A key consideration for the club is recognising the efforts made by those that give up their time to volunteer.

This doesn’t necessarily need to have a cost attached - sometimes volunteers just want to be thanked.

The club recognise their volunteers in other ways including: 

  • The title 'Volunteer of the Month' is awarded with a framed certificate/photo added to the clubhouse wall, and the volunteer’s immediate family are invited along to a small celebration to recognise that person’s efforts. 
  • Every 12 months key volunteers, usually those who've served the longest, are rewarded with a life-time membership to the club.
  • Names are added to Honours Boards, displayed in the clubhouse. 
  • The bi-monthly newsletter includes recognition of volunteering efforts. 
  • New kit is given out to key volunteers and coaches. 
  • The chair, the vice chair and secretary check in with volunteers every four/five months. These discussions don’t focus on anything club-specific. Their aim, instead, is to checking in with the volunteers to see how they're doing and to show them that the club really values each and every one of them.

Find out more

Portico Vine ARLFC