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A girl vaults over a box towards the camera and her waiting coach

Volunteers are the heart and soul of community sport

Walk into any sports club, community centre, or event and practically everyone you meet will be a volunteer. Whether it's the person who welcomes you when you arrive, who encourages you to get involved, or who is 'behind the scenes' to keep everything going. 

We know how important their time is to others, but what’s in it for them? Research shows that people who volunteer have higher self-esteem and emotional wellbeing, and it can be a great way to acquire new skills or to meet new people.

These outcomes are described by the Government in its strategy for sport, Sporting Future, as mental wellbeing, individual development and social and community development.

To achieve these benefits, organisations must provide meaningful volunteering opportunities that offer individuals engaging, rewarding and enjoyable experiences. Individual needs and aspirations must be considered to ensure volunteers have the right support to get the most from the experience.

We are prioritising volunteers and want to support others to create amazing volunteer experiences within sport and activity. This guide will help you start a volunteer programme or refresh how you work with volunteers.

Start a volunteer programme

Volunteering must be fun and make a difference.

What are the different ways to achieve your purpose? Think about inclusivity and diversity at this early stage. Be imaginative about roles, skills and commitment levels.

What are you offering prospective volunteers? How does this opportunity meet their motivations, overcome barriers and show the impact they will have?

Write role descriptions to help clarify this. Use group and community noticeboards, websites and social media to make it easier to get involved.
Getting the logistics, resources and facilities right is time well spent. Everything from your email system or your volunteer policies, to calendar of social events.

Think back to the barriers that stop people volunteering; what can you do to address these? Think inclusivity.

How you run your club day-to-day makes a difference to the success of your volunteers.
Make a genuine connection with your volunteers. Definitely make it fun and social.

Having an induction plan, the boss saying hello, a named contact person, regular emails, social events and up-to-date data all count towards your team making the right impression.

Never forget to take time to thank and recognise the impact of your volunteers.
A great volunteer experience must be supported and developed over time. To do this, volunteers need recognition and support from your organisation.

Having a volunteer plan with a variety of options mapped out is useful. Talk about other roles, projects, leadership opportunities, or qualifications with your volunteers to support their development.
A great volunteer programme must be clear in its purpose and its impact for individuals, your organisation and the community. Say what your organisation's ambitions are and what success looks like.

Be clear before you start about why you want volunteers, what they will achieve and what they will get out of it. How will your organisation recognise their impact?
Successful volunteering needs everyone in the organisation, whether paid or voluntary, newcomer or stalwart, to understand and appreciate what you are achieving together.

Take time in your programme to bring in your existing team members and involve them in volunteer development.

All of your team should become ‘friend-raisers’, supporting and growing your network.
Know your volunteers.

What do they want? What are the motivations, barriers and expectations of current and prospective volunteers? With this knowledge, create an experience where both the volunteer and organisation thrive.

Keep improving your understanding and tailoring your offer through feedback and conversations.