Volunteer rewards

Judge, scribe, and runner.
Judge, scribe, and runner.

One of the things many horse organizations seem to struggle with is recruiting volunteers to work at events. Whether those events are large multi-day horse trials or small unrecognized shows, groups always need someone to jump judge, reset rails, or run dressage tests from the scribe to the scorer.

In a perfect world, people would volunteer their time because they love the sport and are invested in its continued availability in their area. In real life, people don’t volunteer for a variety of reasons- they don’t feel like they know enough to be helpful, they don’t have time to stay after they ride, they dislike other members of the group- the list is endless.

Since joining the board of Green Country Dressage, I’ve been trying to come up with ideas to encourage more people to volunteer. I’d love to hear your feedback, fellow equestrians. Here are a few salient points:

  • GCD requires members to accumulate 6 volunteer hours to be eligible for year end awards
  • Once upon a time, a Volunteer of the Year Award was given. This was before my time, but it’s my impression that the award was quietly discontinued because people who felt they deserved it were upset when they didn’t receive it.
  • Small volunteer gifts were once given out at the year end awards party to everyone who had recorded any volunteer hours throughout the year; I think this was discontinued because of the cost.
  • I’m interested in developing a program that allows volunteers to earn show entries or discounts on clinics. Do any of you have experience in participating (or organizing) this type of program? How many hours do you contribute, and what do they earn you? How do you record your hours (e.g. sign-in sheet, an online thing)?
  • What kind of reward do you wish existed? What motivates you to help out at shows or events?

Tell me everything!

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

27 thoughts on “Volunteer rewards”

  1. Our eventing venues typically give out credits. So for example, one near me gives $8/hr for schooling shows or $10/hr for recognized. Those credits can be used toward open schooling fees or schooling show entry fees. Pretty easy to accumulate enough credit in one day to at least get a free open schooling! That makes it worth my time.

  2. The local GMO lets you volunteer for reduced schooling show entry fees. My problem is that volunteering AND riding just sort of blows my mind. I’ll go volunteer for a whole day if I’m not riding though!

    1. It’s difficult to show and volunteer, and I think that deters a lot of people from helping! I don’t like it when I can’t just go home after I ride because I’m stuck scoring until the end of the show or something; it makes for a very long day.

  3. A few of the big shows in my area have a volunteer form included in the prizelist package where you can indicate your willingness to volunteer for a specific position and submit it with your entry. They specify that for competitors they will schedule your volunteer shift around your ride time. I think putting it out there where everyone sees it will encourage at least a few more people to volunteer. Really, I think that the idea of volunteering just never crosses the mind for some people, so putting out any kind of call for volunteers is good.

    Another option that I have seen might not be as popular, but it is effective: Some shows I have been to make volunteering mandatory, and you have to submit an extra $50 with your entry fees as a volunteer deposit that you get back if you complete your volunteer shift (works like a stall cleaning deposit).

    Of course, both the above techniques are more aimed at competitors volunteering. This works great for jobs like test runner and gate person, but obviously a competitor can’t do a job like scribing at the show they are competing at. That’s a big reason why I volunteer as a scribe for these kinds of shows, because I know they have lots of volunteers for other jobs but they need someone not competing to scribe (plus I love scribing).

    One of the shows I scribed at last year gave a copy of a hardcover dressage book to each volunteer scribe. I thought that was a nice gesture. This was for a 4-day show so we had each devoted quite a bit of time, I wouldn’t expect anything that big for a one day show. I also had a couple shows feed me lunch for volunteering.

    I love the idea of volunteers earning credits towards show entry fees or clinics! I volunteer anyways, but I’d do even more if I had motivation like that.

    1. We do include an area on the entry form where people can indicate their willingness to volunteer, which some people do fill out. (And I always appreciate it!) It usually ends up being the same people over and over again. My hope with offering some kind of credit for volunteering is that more people would be motivated to help!

  4. The event around here lets you earn credits/coupons for entry fees for one of their three events, which is really great for people who event (but sort of useless for me). I never see dressage shows around here asking for volunteers, it’s kind of odd. I would totally volunteer at shows all the time (especially because I live right next to three of the facilities) if I could get credits, but I don’t think they offer that. Now that I have no horse to show, I should look more into it though.

    Our GMO doesn’t offer schooling shows. Individual chapters might but not any of the ones I’m around. Most schooling shows in the area are privately run and they provide their own volunteers, I’ve never seen any of them ask for them.

  5. One organization near me gives you a coupon for $10 off your entry for every half-day you volunteer at one of their events. The coupon is good for any entry at one of their events until a year after it was issued. I’ve always though that was enticing! They also put together snack/lunch bags for everyone.

    I think the volunteer of the year award is a good idea, but I can see how some might get bent out of shape about it (although cmon people, grow up). Maybe some award like “Outstanding Volunteers of the Year” could work, where anyone who volunteers at X number of shows or for X hours all get the award (which would have so be something smaller to defray the cost of multiple people being awarded)

    1. The coupon thing is kind of nice, because it puts the burden on the person who volunteers! They have to keep up with it, they have to bring it to redeem (or send it in with their entry), etc. That would make my life as a show organizer easier because I wouldn’t have to keep with who has entries to spend!

      I had a hard time believing that people really got upset at not winning an award, but it’s apparently true. :/

  6. i definitely love the idea of volunteering and want to do it way more often than i actually can… really it mostly comes down to everything happening at the same time. my biggest horsey activities are on the weekends at the same time as all the shows – so it’s a constant balancing act of when to sacrifice a lesson for a volunteer opportunity, etc etc. but the credits towards year end award eligibility and reduced show fees definitely helps force me to make time! (also i just like doing it)

    1. I totally get it- it’s hard to balance shows/lessons/volunteering/etc! Having volunteer hours as a year end award requirement definitely helps; I’m hoping to find a way to entice people who aren’t there for that kind of thing to help out, too!

  7. For CSHA I volunteered because i liked it and had the time! For our own barn schooling shows, I would volunteer at half the shows in order to get a reduced fee at the other shows. I also usually got a free lunch! Volunteer gifts would be great, they wouldn’t even need to be big, just something small to show your appreciation, if a local business could donate that small prize then they could write it off and the group wouldn’t need to incur the expense. I also like the idea of mandatory volunteering to qualify for a year end but you’d have to find something that everyone would be able to do, because not everyone can do the same jobs, and what about kids? could people have proxy volunteers in that situation?

    1. I may try to get volunteer awards donated; that’s a good idea!

      Kids in our GMO mostly serve as test runners and assist in set up/tear down of the arena. Some of the older kids (mostly the teenagers) can scribe, score, and run the warm up ring. We really encourage the young members to do the volunteering themselves instead of having a parent proxy for them, though we certainly don’t turn down help.

  8. I’ve received credits before but my favorite things are small fun gifts from the venue. I still use the insulated lunch bag that my lunch came at one place, the baseball cap from another, pens and t-shirts from another. Something I can use but be proud about.

    1. T-shirts are ALWAYS popular for volunteers at our big rated show! I would love to thank volunteers at schooling shows with some small gift, especially if they aren’t members of the GMO and wouldn’t attend the year end awards banquet to receive a gift. Pens are pretty affordable, or maybe something fun like a koozie or lip balm.

  9. I really enjoy volunteering. That said, as SarahO stated, some of the shows in our area are charging a non-volunteer fee and it really irritates me. I think offering a show credit is a fabulous idea but charging a fee (upwards of $50/ horse&rider combo) is outrageous. To me it makes my volunteer shift a bothersome obligation, rather than an exciting opportunity to see another side of the sport.

    1. I can’t imagine a fee would fly with the competitors here, and as you pointed out, would probably make people feel resentful about volunteering to begin with!

  10. My breed show organization I showed with as a youth required a certain # of hours to be eligible for year end awards, but you could have a proxy in your place so you could still show at every show. Our shows ran pretty lean labor-wise though – one computer person, one half-day office person (AM only), ring steward (we usually got away with a 2 judge:1 steward ratio) and a gate/paddock person. I did run the computer one year for an entire season when my horse was hurt. I haven’t volunteered in grad school, mostly due to time and scheduling, but I’ll hopefully find a way once I move as a way to get back into things.

    1. Our schooling shows are pretty lean, too- usually we’ve got one person scoring all day, two people splitting the scribing, and two people splitting the gate/warm up. Hopefully you’ll be able to find the time to volunteer when things aren’t so hectic!

  11. This is interesting to me. I’ve actually never really heard about volunteers working at shows. I’m pretty sure that all the people working H/J shows in my area are paid. I like the idea of working towards credits for show entries or clinics.

    1. The only person we pay at schooling shows is the judge; I think paying people to do the other stuff would end up eating into our show profits too much. (Currently, we make about ~$11/test ridden profit at shows and they serve as our club’s major source of income. The income goes toward things like year end awards and junior rider camp.) It would be nice to have it all handed off to some third party, though!

  12. Our GMO requires 8 hours of volunteer work to qualify for any year end awards, and quite frankly giant ribbons is more than enough motivation to get me out there!

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