The Pros and Cons of Different Volunteer Signup Systems
SwimTopia works with over 1100 swim teams around the country, so we’ve seen about 1000 different ways that teams can manage their volunteers. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration. 😁 But teams can, and do, use many different strategies to manage their volunteers! Here we’ll explore some pros and cons of different volunteer signup systems.
Self-Assigned or Team-Assigned?
One of the biggest differences in the way teams manage volunteers comes down to this first question – do you let your parents pick their own positions or do you have a head volunteer who assigns team members to particular jobs? While many teams allow parents to choose their jobs, there are a good number of teams where one person assigns all the jobs for the team.
First, we’ll address the various options available for allowing parents to sign themselves up for their jobs. Then, we’ll discuss how SwimTopia can help teams manage jobs when the team assigns them.
When it comes to parents choosing their own jobs throughout the season, SwimTopia offers many different options for managing volunteer signups. Here are some options we’ll discuss below:
- Offer signups during registration
- Open signups for the whole season on a specific date
- Open signups weekly as the season progresses
Note on Requiring Roles: If the volunteer coordinator would like to have more control over who can sign up for which job, they can mark jobs as “Requiring a specific Role” when they create the job in SwimTopia, and then only the parents who are assigned to that Role can sign up for that job. This is especially handy for jobs that require special skills or training, such as Stroke and Turn Judge or Meet Photographer. Requiring Roles for all jobs can be limiting for team members that want to jump in and fill any open spots, or for those who like variety. Most teams don’t use the Role assignment method for all jobs, as most volunteer coordinators want to let their team parents have free reign to sign up for any jobs that don’t require special skills.
Volunteer Signups During Registration
Some teams like to have parents sign up for all their volunteer positions for the season during registration. SwimTopia’s registration system allows you to set minimum points requirements that ensure every family is hitting their volunteer quota. Volunteer requirements can be set either per athlete (e.g. 10 points for first child, 7 points for second child etc.), or per family. Teams that do volunteer signups during registration need to have all the events, jobs, and shifts set up on their calendar in advance of registration.
- Everyone has made their commitments in advance of the season, as they couldn’t register without hitting the team’s minimum.
- Volunteer coordinators have a good idea of where the gaps are in their volunteering in advance of the season.
- People will need to switch or remove jobs during the season, because – stuff happens! Whatever they thought was possible on registration day may not be possible when they get closer to the date.
- The folks who register first get the best pick of jobs. This can be a problem when teams let returning families register first. When it comes time for new families to register all the ‘good’ jobs are gone, and the hardest jobs may be left for the newbies.
- New parents may not be very knowledgeable about swim meets and jobs during registration and may not understand the roles and responsibilities.
- Job signups cannot be limited by Roles in registration, because teams won’t have had a chance to assign people to Roles before they start picking jobs.
Job Signups Opened On a Specific Date
Some teams that also like to capture the majority of their season’s signups before the season gets underway wait until after registration to open volunteer signups. Often these teams will open job signups for all meets at a preannounced day and time after they’ve had a “New Parent Orientation” or a “Swim Meet 101” meeting with new parents, so everyone is more knowledgeable about the different jobs. To open all events at the same time, use the “Automatically open” jobs signup setting in each meet or event, under “Status.”
- When teams tell everyone an exact time and date they’re opening volunteering, it makes it fair for everyone to go in and sign up. People are not getting preferential treatment because they registered early, or because they are returning to the team.
- As with opening volunteering during registration, volunteer coordinators have advance notice of the gaps that need filling in their volunteer signups for the season.
- People still tend to pull out of things as the season progresses, and volunteer coordinators may still be left begging for volunteers by the end of the season.
Weekly Sign Up
Some teams find that getting commitments from team members too far in advance just leads to lots of last minute changes, and they prefer to open job signups for the upcoming meet or event, a week or two before.
- The people that sign up for jobs the week of the meet should be a “sure bet” that they are going to be there and do the job!
- The Volunteer Coordinator can make tweaks to the job needs from week to week as the season progresses.
- People have a chance to experience different jobs before signing up for the whole season.
- Volunteer coordinators don’t know until the last minute where they stand for the week’s volunteers and could have more cajoling and pleading to do because too many shifts have been left open.
- People have to remember to sign up each week, and be ready to go online when signups open.
- It can be hard for people to plan ahead for the season.
When teams assign jobs for their team parents, the volunteer coordinator still creates all the necessary jobs and shifts for each swim meet, but they disable those jobs for online signup. The volunteer coordinator then assigns team members to every job throughout the season.
Often when the volunteer coordinator assigns jobs for their team parents, they allow parents to indicate “Roles” that they are interested in during registration, for example Timer, Ready Bench, Stroke and Turn Judge, etc. Teams list a set of “Roles” in the registration form and parents can indicate up to 5 Role preferences per parent. The team’s volunteer coordinator can then allocate each team parent to one or more of their “preferred” Roles, and can cross reference a report on this data to directly fill the jobs and shifts for each meet.
Often teams that assign jobs for their parents need to track parent availability for each swim meet, as most families will miss at least one meet per season. To track availability teams can use SwimTopia’s “Meet Entry” function to capture whether swimmers are attending or not, and then run a report on “Meet Participants.”
If the volunteer coordinator wanted to get an idea of parents having early or late shift preferences they could create just one job that was open to online signup that had one “Early” shift and one “Late” shift (e.g. the job could be titled “Early or Late Volunteer Preference”). The volunteer coordinator could then use the early/late preference, plus the assigned Roles and the Meet Participants report, to allocate jobs.
- The volunteer coordinator knows that every job is covered – because they have allocated folks to every job!
- The volunteer coordinator has done their best to ensure well-qualified volunteers are doing the jobs that need more experience.
- The volunteer coordinator must assign folks to every job! It’s a huge workload for the volunteer coordinator when using this method, especially if it’s a big team with lots of jobs and shifts.
- A swimmer’s participation in a meet doesn’t always directly map to parent availability to volunteer, and volunteer coordinators may have to track parent availability separately.
- A lot of direct communication with team members is necessary to juggle last minute changes, to ensure backups are available.
Other Tips and Notes on Volunteering and SwimTopia:
We’ve covered a lot of ground about filling your volunteer positions for the season! But there are still more tips to share on the functionality available in SwimTopia to help teams manage volunteering:
- Prompt Job Signup: SwimTopia allows you to prompt parents to volunteer during meet signup (this setting can be found under “Team Preferences”).
- Why not “require” job signup?: SwimTopia cannot “require” parents to volunteer before they sign their kids up to swim. Some teams don’t have an equal number of volunteer positions and kids, so if SwimTopia enforced that rule some kids would not be able to sign up to swim once volunteer spots were full. SwimTopia actually attempted to offer this option to teams in our early years and we ran into the issue of kids not being able to sign up to swim. Teams also found that it encouraged bad behavior, some people would consistently wait until the last minute to sign up their kids, after the jobs were taken.
- Targeted email to those who haven’t volunteered: When you have a small number (hopefully) of volunteer positions to fill for the upcoming meet, SwimTopia has a report that allows you to email the subset of parents you know are going to be at the swim meet (because their kids are signed up) but who haven’t volunteered yet. Rather than bothering the whole team with an email begging for help, you can hit up these folks that should be able to help you out (example email text: “You’re receiving this email because I see your kids are swimming this weekend but you haven’t yet volunteered. We are still in need of two timers and a runner. Please help the team run a fabulous meet this weekend and signup to help! [include link to signup page]”). Go to Reports > Volunteering Assignments Summary > Select the Meet > Restrict to families with swimmer in this meet > Email to families “without” assignments > Compose.
- Leave signups open: Even if you take volunteer signups during registration, or on a specific date well in advance of the season, we suggest you leave your meets and events open for volunteer signup until 2 or 3 days in advance of the event. Although this does allow folks to go in and remove themselves from positions, it also allows others to go in and fill those open spots. If you close job signup too early, the volunteer coordinator is left manually trying to manage last minute changes via email and text.
- Encourage folks to find own replacement: Encourage team members to use a tool like Facebook to post that they are pulling out of a job and to try to find their own replacement. Volunteer coordinators should continue to monitor signup changes until the event closes for signup.
- Reminder emails: If you had your team members sign up for jobs early in the season, they will sometimes forget what they signed up for. Never fear, every team member’s “My Account” page lists the volunteer commitments made by the family. Team members can refer back to this throughout the season. Volunteer Coordinators can send a weekly email to only those families that have registered to volunteer for the upcoming meet and remind them they have signed up to volunteer and to check their My Account page to see where they need to be. Go to Reports > Volunteering Assignments Summary > Select the Meet > Restrict to families with swimmer in this meet > Email to families “with” assignments > Compose.
- Track progress with reports: Use SwimTopia’s volunteer reports to check on team members’ volunteer signups for the season. If you’ve allocated points to jobs and set a point minimum for your team, you can monitor families’ progress and offer support throughout the season by running the Volunteering Assignments Summary Report for “All” events. The report can be sorted by the points column to easily check your low and high point families.
We hope you’ve found this article helpful. We’d love to hear about your experience managing volunteers! Email [email protected] with any tips or stories. For more information on managing volunteers please see our companion piece, 5 Tips and Tools for Better Volunteer Management.