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How to Recruit Volunteers: Choose the Busiest People

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Volunteer Race Director handing out awards How to Recruit Volunteers: Choose the Busiest People www.runnerclick.com
Turkey Trot Awards Handout

Volunteer – “a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.”  If that is the extent of the types of volunteers you get to help at your race, I draw two possible conclusions:  One, you won’t get many of them, and; two, those who show up won’t do as good a job as you need them to.

Someone once told me that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person.  Why is that true?  Because truly busy people get things done.  The best places I know to find busy people is at local volunteer organizations.  Here are some tips from a seasoned race director to help you find the best volunteers for your next race.

Early Packet Pick Up and Race Day Registration and Pick Up

About 30% of our runners do not pre-register.  That means for a 1000-runner race, 300 show up during the one-hour window we give them to register.  To keep the madhouse to a minimum, we have an army of National Honor Society and local running club volunteers take care of the paperwork, payment, packet pick-up, and giving out the all-important t-shirt.  NHS provides a group of kids motivated not just by scholarship, but also the need to earn community service hours in order to maintain their Society membership.  While it looks good on their transcript, we also provide them with on-the-job training on the merits of local citizenship, leadership, and public service.  Patricia A. McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C says that NHS kids actively demonstrate “a concern for and personal commitment to a community.”  As for the local running club members, they already get it.

Volunteers at Pre-Registration just before the wave
Pre-registration organization
Volunteers can Process 300 runners per hour

For early packet pick-up, we use either a local running store like Fleet Feet, or our boro office.  Our race timer comes in daily to the boro office to process the latest registrations and pick-ups.  After all, that’s part of his full-time job.  Fleet Feet on the other hand gets the added benefit of customer exposure.  They usually throw in some coupons as race awards too.  Busy businesses help one another.

Directing race participants to correct areas (already registered – race day registration)

That mad rush of latecomers to the race I mentioned?  We manage them with a bunch of local Boy Scouts.  The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared” so these guys know exactly what direction to point runners to take care of their business and get to the course as quickly as possible.


I live in a 1.6 square mile boro with its own police department.  While they shut down roads, detour traffic, and help runners cross intersections, at pre-race, my parking lot volunteers are already guiding vehicles to the five lots we have available.  My NHS kids take care of helping runners find a parking spot and get to the starting line with a certain Disney-like touch.  When we cram over a thousand runners into five lots that hold maybe 250 cars, the volunteers do a little magic to keep the runners smiling.

Setting up food and or water at the finish Water stop

We usually tap the Girl Scouts for this job.  They hand out race packets, t-shirts, and finisher medals.  The Girl Scouts, when not busy selling cookies, instinctively know how to hand out the food at the finish line too.  Both the Boys and Girls set up water stations and pick up trash.  Scouts are great at this stuff and they come pre-trained.  As an Eagle Scout, I know the #1 rule in camping for Scouts is “Leave no trace.”  So our race site is always cleaner at the end of the day than how we found it that morning.

Scout volunteers know a thing or two about food.

Master of Ceremonies, DJ, and National Anthem Singer

Occasionally our Scouts also sing the National Anthem and conduct a flag ceremony at our Memorial Day race.  Other times, we recruit a local high school chorus member to sing.  You don’t want to botch the National Anthem.

Our local Lion’s Club lends their sound system while a local party DJ handles the motivation tunes.  My wife the race director likes to hand out the awards personally however.

Emcee DeeJay
Our Emcee is a local sports broadcaster. The DJ likes to get in the mood for a Turkey Trot.

Local businesses are by definition busy.  But don’t overlook them when it comes to helping out your race.  Yes, they can help you with donations of food, water, and facilities.  You get the sponsorship.  They get the writeoff.  But also make it something more.  Take advantage of a cause.  Direct some of your profits to charity.  Then you get the strength, influence, and volunteer cache from the charitable organization.  Our races support the David Nimmer Memorial Fund.  The entire boro benefits by this fund that provides ADA-compliant access to our buildings, beaches, and other boro facilities like our brand new Craft Pavilion.

What do you do with your race leftovers?  While it would be nice to end up with all the water and bananas handed out, this is not always the case.  There’s another set of volunteers who can help with that.  Our local volunteer fire department is happy to take the bottled water.  The Lion’s Club will take non-perishable food for its Food Bank.  Oranges and bananas won’t go to waste if you hand them off to local organizations who can quickly consume them.  Talk to your churches and camps like YMCA and JCC.

Volunteering is a full-circle activity.  Some provide active service to your race while others are recipients of the race profits and leftovers.  The secret is to spread a wide net across your local community to get these organizations involved at the right place and time.  Doing so ensures the most critical thing you need as a race director – repeat customers.  Chances are, if your volunteers are happy and doing a great job, your runners will notice too and spread the word.

NHS volunteers like to hand out t-shirts

Useful Links

Medford Lakes Turkey Trot 5k (18:30)







Service Planning


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