One of the most common topics during the United States Eventing Association’s (USEA) Annual Meeting and Convention was Volunteer Initiatives. Volunteers are the unsung heroes of our sport, and Eventing could not survive without its many, many dedicated volunteers.
Holly Covey, Bonnie Kibbie and USEA President-Elect Carol Kozlowki lead the Volunteer Initiative Meeting on Saturday. Their core ideas are continued efforts of a Volunteer Program which Seema Sonnad had begun to spearhead last year. Sonnad, who was a selfless volunteer to the sport, passed away suddenly this Spring. These efforts to better recognize volunteerism and make it easier for volunteers to get involved will reflect Sonnad’s intentions for a Volunteer Program within the sport.
The meeting on Saturday focused on a comprehensive Volunteer Program consisting of four core components:
1. National Volunteer Database
Modeled after British Eventing Volunteers, the USEA Volunteer Program would allow volunteers to register online securely and free of charge. Registration would allow them to log in to a Volunteer Dashboard where they would then be able to access a full range or resources designed to improve the volunteer experience. These include but may not be limited to: a volunteer classifieds section where organizers can post volunteer positions they need filled; a volunteer leaderboard where volunteers can track their hours; event evaluations for volunteers; a multitude of proposed educational tools and much more! Organizers would also have access to this site as a way to reach out to volunteers, to learn more about how best to grow their volunteer base and improve their volunteers’ event experience, and to give and receive feedback with volunteers at their event.
2. Online Educational Resources
As part of an overhauled Volunteer Program web page, online resource material would be available to volunteers and organizers. This would include written descriptions of volunteer roles, clear instructional videos, and other online training modules to ensure that volunteers are as prepared as possible when they arrive at an event. This type of standardization would streamline the day-of-event volunteer training process that can be cumbersome to officials and organizers, as well as introduce volunteers to roles they may be interested in but were not previously aware of.
We hope to encourage volunteer retention by developing a tiered volunteer identification system. The proposed system calls for color coded ID badges and lanyards that identify volunteers based on their level of experience (i.e. volunteers who have earned the most hours would have a red lanyard, first time volunteers a blue lanyard, etc). These lanyards would easily identify volunteers to competitors and spectators, and acknowledge their role at the event. Ways for organizers to acknowledge their volunteers and encourage continued participation were also discussed: adequate food, weather preparedness, schooling vouchers, non-equine rewards programs (gas cards, third part points programs) for those volunteers who don’t ride, annual recognition dinners, and much more!
Maintaining a volunteer leaderboard through the database would allow the USEA to track volunteer contributions to the sport and recognize such contributions annually at their awards ceremony. Proposed awards for most hours served, outstanding achievement and “above and beyond” service were discussed, as were travel grants for volunteers, discounted USEA memberships, and much more.
A terrific conversation with contributions from organizers and volunteers from around the country followed this presentation. We had a multitude of fantastic ideas, all of which we hope will one day be incorporated into the program in some fashion. USEA CEO Rob Burk and Board of Governor’s member Mark Hart also attended the meeting and were actively involved with discussion following the presentation. They invited Kozlowski, Covey and Kibbie to present their ideas to the entire Board of Governors during their final Sunday meeting. The Board was incredibly receptive to the idea of the program, and voted unanimously to form a committee to generate a formal program proposal.
We would also like to publicly acknowledge Carolyn MacIntosh of Loch Moy Farm for her generous cash donation to the USEA specifically for the launching of the national volunteer program. Thank you for your support, Carolyn!
The USEA Volunteer Incentives Program (full membership TBA) will now move forward with generating a formal proposal to bring to the Board of Governors for approval. We will be consulting with the USEA’s in house IT department as well as outside resources to determine costs and potential concerns with implementing such a program. In the meantime, we would like to compile a “bank” of resource ideas to eventually be published on the Volunteer Dashboard. If you are involved in an event that you think does something well (or maybe does some things that should be avoided?), or if you have ideas for ways you think we as a sport can improve the volunteer experience, please let us know! Suggestions on this topic should be directed to committee member Holly Covey.
Please stay tuned for more information as we move forward. Holly Covey will be posting the information in this email as well as future updates on her website, eventhorse.net. Thank you all for your interest and willingness to participate in the establishment of this terrific program.