How to Create a Sustainable Volunteer Program for Your Sports Club or League

Ruth Nicholson, June 17, 2021

Good volunteer program design decreases administrative costs, engages club members, increases program support, shares the workload, and improves support for coaches so they can devote more time to players.

Volunteers are not free. The average value of a volunteer hour in the United States in 2020 was $28.54 USD (see www.independentsector.org/volunteer_time). This figure – which is also available on a state-by-state basis – can be used in annual reports, grant proposals, and financial statements to support your organization’s work.

The five (5) steps to building a successful volunteer program are knowing what you need, inviting participation, preparation and training, doing the work, and volunteer appreciation.


1. Know What You Need

The first step in building an efficient and sustainable volunteer program is understanding how your organization is put together. From that foundation, you can identify what specific volunteer jobs need to be filled.

For example, there are three general categories of volunteers that may be needed to support an individual team (depending on the team’s level of play).

It is important to develop a written job description for all your volunteer jobs, regardless of size or complexity. The four (4) basic components of a job description answer these key questions:

  • 1.    What are the skills needed to do this job?
  • 2.    What are the job tasks?
  • 3.    With whom will the person work?
  • 4.    What supplies and equipment are needed to do the job?

Outline the skills needed for each job, both knowledge and physical abilities. Then, describe the responsibilities of the position, including the specific tasks and activities and the time it will take to complete them. Describe if the job is a one-time shift of work or if it requires working in bits of time over a few days, weeks, or months. The job description should also clarify who is the supervisor or coordinator for the work and who else is involved in the project. This clarifies expectations about who is on the team doing the work, how communications should flow, and who to go to when the volunteer has questions. Finally, identify what supplies and equipment are needed to do the work and who provides them.


2. If You Don’t Ask, They Can’t Say “YES!”

When you approach people to invite them to volunteer, be specific about the help you are requesting. Use the job description to both inform the potential volunteer and make yourself and your organization look good and well-organized. Describe both the benefit of the volunteer job to the organization and to the volunteer.

 Remember to make the volunteer job both meaningful and manageable. If a volunteer job requires more than an average of 10 hours a week, you are setting up a situation for volunteer burnout, turnover, and potential loss of institutional memory.


3. Preparation and Training

This step involves both ensuring that your volunteers have the knowledge to do the job, as well as the right supplies and equipment. Let your volunteers in on your organization’s institutional knowledge and “the way we do things here”. Make sure they have clear instructions about the job they will be doing, which may include written instructions with diagrams or pictures, oral explanations, or a physical demonstration of how to accomplish a task. Also let them know who to contact if they have questions or need help.


Your written job description should contain a list of supplies and equipment needed to do the work. Use this as your checklist. Let your volunteers know who is providing the supplies, including how they are acquired and delivered to the job site. In addition, clearly communicate what happens to any leftover supplies after the job is completed.


4. Get Stuff Done!

After all the planning, it is time to do the work! This step is all about supporting your volunteers doing their jobs. Know who is going to actively support and supervise the volunteers as the work progresses. Set the organizational priorities and have a back-up plan in the event something goes amiss, such as a volunteer no-show or a lack of supplies.

Also, incorporate volunteer feedback and suggestions into the job. Your volunteers may identify different ways to get things done and have ideas about how to improve the work in the future. Listening to recommendations and incorporating new approaches will more deeply engage your volunteers and build their loyalty to your organization. Volunteer engagement is often more important than job perfection.


5. Say “THANK YOU!”

A key component to retaining volunteers is remembering to thank them for their time and contributions. Express your gratitude in ways that align with how your volunteers see themselves and their talents. Those who see themselves as technically skilled will appreciate being recognized for their expertise. Others who are caregivers and peace makers will respond well to your gratitude for their looking out for everyone on the team. Those volunteers who are well-connected with people in the community will appreciate being thanked for their knowledge of who to call to engage resources and how to get things done.



How much time does your organization spend preparing for success in your volunteer programs?

The real secret to building a successful volunteer program is in the preparation. Consider how much time a coach spends preparing a team for competitions. There are considerably more hours of designing and conducting training sessions than there are hours in actual games.

The recipe for success for a successful volunteer program is three (3) parts preparation (knowing what you need, inviting participation, preparation and training) plus one (1) part doing the volunteer work plus one (1) part gratitude.


Ruth Nicholson is an internationally certified professional facilitator, mediator, and organizational alchemist helping sports organizations better support players and coaches. She is the founder of GO! offering proven governance, leadership, and administrative tools. 

 In 2020, Ruth was inducted into the International Association of Facilitators Hall of Fame. She was a co-creator of the international 2019 Think Tank to Improve Youth Sports which engaged over 60 speakers from two dozen sports. In 2018, Ruth was a finalist for the Hudl Innovator of the Year award for youth soccer. Her work has engaged sports enthusiasts in North America, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and South America.