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Volunteering for All OUT Swim 2013 Was Awesome!

Chim Kan's picture

It was a cold Sunday. At the end of my swimming training with the Downtown Swimming Club, Phillip and Lucy approached me to see if I was interested to be the volunteer coordinator for All OUT Swim 2013. Naively, I accepted the position. It seemed to be fun. I did not have any idea about the scope and the amount of work needed. Nonetheless, I was very happy that I would be able to meet a lot of people, especially because I am new in Toronto and I do not know a lot of people.

After a couple of weeks, I realized that the workload was huge. Phillip, the meet manager, and I expected to have 210 swimmers initially and based on past data, I estimated that we would need 70 volunteers for all different roles. I had no idea if it was possible to recruit that many people in less then two months. Even though I had previous experience with recruiting and dealing with people, 70 was an uncharted territory for me. Where can I recruit that many people? How can I motivate people to donate their time for the swim meet? What kind of things I have to do to make the meet run smoothly from the volunteers’ perspective?

I had to have an action plan.

With Phillip's help, I organized all potential contacts that we had. Then, my first roadblock: should I send my email to hundreds of people and upset some of them? How is my email looking? Is the email giving the right tone and signal? I could not let the analysis by paralysis to stop me.

I review the email a couple of times and I pressed send. Normally, my writing style is no-nonsense, just because English is not my native language. I usually write brief messages because I have less chance to make mistake. It also pressures me to be clear and direct. But I made a twist; the tone would be too dry to be no-nonsense in the volunteer environment. Instead, I used a more personal approach by illustrating how the swim meet affects me positively. It was a gamble. I was afraid of my grammar mistakes.

Surprisingly enough, the email was well received. It was a positive feedback that boosted my self-confidence. It motivated me to send even more emails with that style. With a combination of emails, social media, blog posts and in-person meeting, we recruited over 70 volunteers throughout the months of February and March.

My job wasn't done yet. A lot of volunteers were anxious to know what they would be doing. People seemed to be desperate to know what was going on. So I sent a survey to all volunteers and based on their replies I allocated them to each role. Because we are in the volunteering world, not everyone will reply to my requests. I had to constantly remind people and motivate them to reply to the survey. Then, I had to send a custom email to each of them about they would be doing. I thought that would not take time but it took me hours to prepare and send them. Because some people didn't check their emails, so I sent text messages to all volunteers. Then, almost all volunteers knew by then, what they had to do.

I thought that my work was finally over with that, but not yet. In my previous experience, I was treated badly by volunteer coordinators or whoever was in charge of these events. They either did not communicate with me enough, leaving things up in the air or during the volunteer day, they just treated me like a second-class citizen. "Hey you, go to that little corner over there, I will call you when we need you (dramatization)." I could not bear to have any of my volunteers to have that kind of opinion about me. I knew that some volunteers would not be able to show up during the day because of different reasons that is why planning well and asking volunteers to be flexible was important. First, I had a mental map of all the roles; it was clear that we would have a shortage of timers. Second, I asked our volunteers to be flexible so in case we needed more timers, I would have people from other roles to switch to become timers. As an additional trick, I asked some of the swimmers to be volunteers just in case we needed.

During the meet, I was asking every volunteer if they were fine and if they needed any assistance. Also, I asked all volunteers to talk to me before leaving. That allowed me to know which team needed immediate help to have more people. Also, it allowed me to meet everyone personally. It was great to talk to each of them and know if they were enjoying the swim meet or not. If I noticed a bit of dissatisfaction, I would try to switch them to do something else. It was important for me to know that the volunteers were enjoying the event and not treating them like free labor.

The whole event went really well. I sent an anonymous survey for the volunteers and they are extremely satisfied with the meet even though it was a bit longer than normal.

The whole experience for me was amazing. As we were getting closer to the swim meet, I was getting more and more excited. I wanted to know if all things were going to be well. Also, I was going to swim and manage the volunteers. I did them both. I swam the 800m and finished it. It was very satisfying to see everybody engaging in his or her task. I was observing some of the timers and they were so eager to time the swimmers.

After the swim meet, I felt a bit withdrawn because the excitement from the swim meet was really high. I like the experience so much that I’m competing in the Canadian Masters Swimming Championships on May 17th in Ottawa! To keep up with the sport spirit that I acquired in Toronto, I'm also joining the Toronto Gay Hockey Association this year. Playing hockey is fun. Meanwhile, I'm still swimming every week with the Downtown Swimming Club.