THERE are a quarter of a million people across Ulster volunteering in their local GAA club, without volunteers the Association would simply not exist.
Many other voluntary organisations look on in envy of the GAA, wishing they could attract volunteers in such high volume and with such high levels of passion and commitment. Yet, the most commonly asked question from GAA clubs is how do we attract more volunteers? How do we get new people involved? How do we spread out the roles and tasks so it’s not always left to the same people?
Volunteers, attracting them and retaining them, is one of the biggest issues facing GAA clubs.
As part of Ulster’s Club Maith process, we encourage clubs to put in place a volunteer policy which puts a focus on the roles of volunteers and provides a plan for recruiting, retaining and recognising volunteers.
To start, you need to consider what jobs/tasks need to be done within your club. That way you will have an understanding of how many people you need and the profile/experience of people to target.
Many people volunteer for many different reasons: perhaps because their children are playing for the club and it gives them a chance to spend quality time with their children, others will volunteer because they are former players and they now want to give something back to the club, others will volunteer in different roles because they love the sport and love their local community and want to play a meaningful role in that community through the club. Others, and many others, will volunteer simply because they were asked!
A club volunteer policy should start with the roles available within the club, looking right across the entirety of the club from administration, coaching, culture and heritage, facilities, fundraising, match officiating, etc.
Once you have identified the roles then it’s about matching volunteers – where do you have existing volunteers and where you need additional help.
There are two main ways to recruit volunteers. The first is to do a public call – use your communications channels and appeal to people to volunteer within your club. The second way to recruit is to seek out suitable people, by identifying a certain skills or knowledge set that’s needed and then asking people with that to come on-board for the specific role.
Sometimes you may need to ask more than once, but sure there is no harm in that. Both recruitment processes are successful and should be done in tandem as it’s important that your club is open and welcoming to all who want to get involved.
Once you recruit your volunteers, make sure you give them a job to do that suits with what they want to get out of the experience and the level of time commitment that they can give. Talk to your volunteers and don’t turn people away if they can only offer an hour a week, everyone is valuable and it’s up to the club to make the most out of that time offered.
There is a lot of responsibility on GAA volunteers so it’s important the club encourages all its volunteers to undertake training or induction in their role.
There are plenty of training opportunities available through Ulster GAA including role specific officer training, child protection, health and wellbeing and accredited coaching courses.
Volunteers should undertake these training courses to prepare them for their roles and responsibilities but also to protect them as volunteers. By encouraging training you are also increasing the capacity of your club volunteers which will help to bring your club to a higher level of governance, it is also beneficial for the volunteers as the training courses provided may be useful in their working and personal lives as well.
One of the things that GAA clubs don’t do so well is to thank their volunteers and to recognise their commitment and effort. This is a crucial element of retaining volunteers in the longer term. It’s crucial that volunteers feel valued, whatever their role, that’s from the man that cuts the grass to the chairperson of the club – everyone is important and everyone’s roles should be recognised.
Some clubs are moving towards holding volunteer recognition events, such as coffee mornings or including volunteer recognition at dinner dances etc. It’s also good practice to regularly thank your volunteers through your communications networks.
And always remember a simply thanks at the end of a game or the end of a meeting is important. Encourage your players to recognise the people who work behind the scenes, because without them there would be a club to play for.
In terms of young volunteers, GAA clubs in Ulster are encouraged to register volunteers aged between 14-24 years for the Sports Inspire Awards Programme which provides official recognition for their efforts.
For more information on these awards, clubs are asked to contact Sharon Haughey-Grimley by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Managing volunteers will always be a challenge for GAA clubs as we totally rely on these individuals but getting it right will help get the most out of your volunteers and in turn hopefully your volunteers will get the most out of their experiences as well!