Girls on the Run, founded in 1996, is a youth development nonprofit. Each year, its chapters present over 200 running events for girls ages eight to 13. The Bay Area chapter of Girls on the Run in San Francisco sees a combined 2,000 participants through its semi-annual 10-week seasons, each of which culminates in a 5K race.
For Jo Thomas, the chapter's event and outreach director, every day provides a chance to use her passion for running to inspire healthy living and boost young girls’ self-esteem.
Thomas’ goal is to increase the number of participants in her chapter’s program by 20 percent each year through 2020. To achieve this requires engaging many more volunteers, as well as having an efficient process for managing them. However, the methods Thomas’ team was previously using were anything but efficient.
Hours of manual volunteer scheduling eliminated
Automated reminders reduce volunteer no-show rate
Status reports guide targeted recruitment
Girls on the Run—Bay Area relies on the generosity of about 800 volunteers, who contribute a combined 30,000 hours of time annually to coach and train participating youth. Over 100 of these volunteers are recruited to assist on race days with pre-race setup, post-race breakdown, food and beverage distribution, registration assistance, face painting and passing out medals at the finish line.
Prior to 2011, four full-time staff members devoted half their work week to recruiting and scheduling volunteers in the five weeks preceding a race, which strained their limited resources. People who were interested in volunteering signed up through an online form that Girls on the Run staff had created themselves, but volunteers weren’t able to choose which tasks they wanted to undertake.
“All of our race-day volunteers signed up for the same four-hour time slot, and we assigned them tasks as they checked in on race day,” says Thomas. “This created a bit of a mob scene in the check-in tent. We'd end up with too many people in one area and not enough in another, or some volunteers wouldn’t like the job we assigned them. Others were distressed when we had to split up their group to fill the available jobs.”
The disorganized sign-up and check-in process began to jeopardize the volunteer experience—so staff decided it was time to find a better solution.
The team began searching for a system that could streamline race-day volunteer coordination and allow volunteers to accomplish three things:
Fortunately, the search for a better system didn’t take long. One of the organization’s committee members recommended VolunteerSpot—an online volunteer scheduling and management system—because he had previous experience using it.
“We couldn’t believe our luck when we learned VolunteerSpot would allow volunteers to pre-select their tasks, then automatically send them reminder emails prior to race day,” says Thomas.
Since VolunteerSpot could solve the organization’s scheduling problems and fit its budget, Girls on the Run began using it in 2011. In terms of implementation, Thomas says VolunteerSpot was very simple to set up and use.
“No formal training was necessary, because it’s very user-friendly,” she says. “We have one employee and four volunteer coordinators who use the system to make updates and keep tabs on recruitment numbers.”
The system immediately proved itself to be valuable for Girls on the Run staff by dramatically cutting the time spent scheduling and coordinating race-day volunteers.
As explained, the volunteer scheduling process before the implementation of VolunteerSpot required a lot of manual processing. Thomas says that in the weeks leading up to race day, each staff member involved in recruitment and scheduling spent a minimum of 16 hours per week on volunteer coordination tasks.
Now, the sign-up process is fully automated. For each 5K race, Thomas creates an event in VolunteerSpot in a few easy steps. Then, coordinators advertise available volunteer opportunities through social media posts, newsletters, emails and personal invitations.
Screenshot of the first step of the event creation page
When prospective volunteers click on a link through one of Girls on the Run’s social media ads or email, they’re directed to a page on VolunteerSpot where they can review details about available tasks. When someone finds a task they’re interested in handling, they can select it and register for a time slot that’s most convenient for them.
Screenshot of task selection page in the volunteer sign-up process
Once the spot is filled, the task and time slot become unavailable to other volunteers—which eliminates the problem of multiple people signing up for the same role.
Thomas says Girls on the Run still manages large volunteer groups offline, but even that is easier to handle.
“Our volunteer coordinators email local community groups, businesses, universities and clubs calling for race-day volunteers. Those communications occur outside of VolunteerSpot, but once a coordinator confirms the total number of volunteers in the group and the roles they’ll be responsible for, their information is entered in the system, and the group is tracked there,” she says.
The previous process for reminding volunteers about their commitment was as tedious as the scheduling process, and was also handled manually: Volunteer coordinators compiled an email list of registered volunteers, then sent a reminder to each about one week prior to the race. For staff, this task took a good chunk of time away from taking care of other important race-planning duties.
With VolunteerSpot, when volunteers sign up online, they receive a registration confirmation email, then a reminder email one week before the race. Both emails are automatically generated and delivered to volunteers. This has completely eliminated the need for staff to manually send reminder messages.
Reminder emails include information about the task and time slot the volunteer registered for, as well as a phone number for the Girls on the Run contact person they can call on race day, should they have any questions or have trouble getting to the event.
Screenshot of reminder email that is automatically sent to volunteers
“The automatic reminder process is so important, because volunteers get the information they need when they need it most,” says Thomas. “Our old process was clunky, and we had a lot more volunteers drop out at the last minute because they wouldn’t get timely reminders.”
Before setting up a race event in VolunteerSpot, Girls on the Run staff determine how many volunteers will be needed and which roles they’ll need to fill.
Because the volunteer scheduling system automatically tracks sign-ups, Thomas can check the volunteer recruitment status at any time by clicking the “View Status” button in the MyActivities Calendar dashboard. This report lists event tasks and shifts, which volunteers have signed up for them and which tasks and shifts are still available. The information can then be used to guide recruiting and outreach efforts.
“I frequently check and report the overall recruitment rate to our race planning committee. Doing this helps us determine which roles we need to recruit more volunteers for,” says Thomas.
For example, if she notices several days before the race that 15 more volunteers are needed to help with post-race breakdown, volunteer coordinators can reach out to a large organization, such as a school, and ask their group to volunteer for post-race tasks.
“The more specific we are in what we ask for, the greater the impact of our call to action,” says Thomas.
Screenshot of a report showing number of open volunteers spots and which volunteers signed up for specific event tasks and shifts
The adoption of VolunteerSpot has changed the way Girls on the Run operates. The volunteer scheduling process is now run from a self-service application, which has freed up many valuable hours in the weeks leading up to a race. This allows staff to focus on handling other race details and building relationships that support the organization’s growth.
Moreover, Girls on the Run volunteers now have a much more positive experience. What’s expected of them is clear, the process is convenient and communications are timely. As a result, Thomas reports, there are more sign-ups for a greater variety of roles.
“We have more volunteers committing to the less-glamorous jobs now. I think this is because we’re able to detail the expectations for every person who participates, so we’re more likely to find someone who wants to empty the garbage, or stay late for cleanup, which was difficult to do before,” she says.
Thomas appreciates that VolunteerSpot has streamlined volunteer management and therefore created a more enjoyable race-day experience for both staff and volunteers.
“The Girls on the Run 5K is a time for our community to come together to celebrate the achievements of girls and to cheer them on,” says Thomas. “I want to continue using my experience, knowledge and personal drive to promote the sport to even more girls.”
With volunteer scheduling running efficiently, Thomas and the Girls on the Run staff can continue working toward this goal—because now, they have more time to focus on making other high-impact changes to support the organization’s growth.