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Volunteers in Sport

Influencing and engaging volunteers

Factors influencing volunteer participation

Barriers
  • Personal: time constraints/other commitments; overload; interpersonal issues; not knowing what opportunities exist/match skills.
  • Organisational: bureaucratic procedures; poor communication and/or guidance; club politics; increasing expectations (players, members, parents, etc.).
  • Social: community size (small-medium communities tend to have higher participation rates), gender (men are more likely to volunteer, or volunteer in certain roles); socio-economic status; having a disability; self-reported health problems.
Motivators
  • Personal: connecting with community; developing skills; enhancing career prospects; to feel good (self-esteem), participating in the sport.
  • Organisational: clear communication of expectations and guidelines; recognition, training, and mentoring opportunities; positive community/club culture.
  • Social: strengthening social relationships; contributing to community; ‘making a difference’.

Engaging volunteers

In 2014, the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) conducted research on volunteer involvement in the sport sector to gain insights and help sports organisations develop targeted and effective volunteer recruitment and retention strategies. The primary purpose of the Market Segmentation for Volunteers study was to identify the core set of attitudes, motivators, needs and barriers that underpin the decision to volunteer in sport, rather than other (non-sport) activities. The information was used to develop a needs-based market segmentation model of Australian sports volunteers.

This research identified segments of the Australian community with the greatest potential to be recruited as sports volunteers and the best strategies and practices for recruiting and retaining current volunteers. Attitudinal segmentation is a useful means of grouping people within the broader population into segments with similar dispositions towards volunteering. Ten segments were identified, based on characteristics related to attitudes to volunteering and current volunteering behaviour.

Happy Helpers

Volunteers who support their family in their activities by volunteering in club sport. These volunteers are likely to be involved in multiple activities.

Community Committed

Motivated by the social interaction and enjoyment that volunteering offers. They have a feeling of identity and commitment to a community organisation and its future.

Opportunists

Volunteer to gain a personal benefit, such as practical skills or work experience. They also enjoy being part of the atmosphere of a sporting environment, or having the chance to meet elite athletes or sporting personalities.

Altruists

Have a desire to help others, to give back to the community, and to help the disadvantaged.

Overcommitted

Volunteer because they feel it is expected of them. They often feel they could use their time elsewhere.

Occupied Observers

Is not averse to volunteering for club sport, but they simply have other priorities and are most likely to volunteer if their own child is directly involved.

Sidelined

Persons who are open minded about volunteering, but injury, lack of time, or some other personal reason becomes a barrier.

Self Servers

Is yet to find a cause they feel passionate about. They may be motivated if they perceive a personal benefit.

Well Intentioned

Has no real reason to volunteer within the sport sector. They are unlikely to be sports participants themselves.

Uninvolved

Little interest in either sport or volunteering in general.

Each segment has its own set of challenges and opportunities that sports organisations must recognise and address if they are to recruit and retain volunteers with a particular mindset. For example, both Happy Helpers and Overcommitted people are likely to volunteer, but the challenge for club sport is to retain them as a volunteer across different life-stages, particularly once their children have moved-on from being sport participants. Likewise, Community Committed individuals are easily recruited, but the challenge for the club is to manage their enthusiasm and ensure their loyalty and commitment to the organisation does not intimidate new volunteers.

Clubs can also attract Self Servers, Sidelined and Occupied Observers to volunteer. Clubs can increase their chances of attracting Self Servers if they offer volunteer experiences that are tangible and provide personal benefit of some kind, such as learning useful skills or gaining work experience.

The Sidelined segment likes sport, so try offering a role that fits within their capabilities and other commitments. The Occupied Observer can also be encouraged to volunteer by shaping roles to accommodate their other time commitments.

Access to resources
Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.

Additional resources

  • The changing face of volunteerism, Steggles A, Higher Logic, (2014). This paper details some of the challenges facing volunteerism. Associations are embracing a hybrid approach to incorporate alternative engagement opportunities for their membership, allowing a much broader audience and greater level of engagement, satisfaction and ultimately, a higher retention rate.
  • Active Lives: Adult Survey, November 2018/19 Report, Sport England, (April 2020). Based on people having volunteered at least twice in the last 12 months Sport England found that men continue to be much more likely to volunteer in sport and activity (58% male; 42% female). This is in contrast to more general volunteering where men and women were equally represented. Additionally, male volunteers in sport more often held positions of influence as coaches, officials, and committee members. The report also found that people from lower socio-economic groups were less likely to volunteer (making up only 11% of volunteers although they make up 31% of the population), and people with a disability, who make up 21% of the population, account for only 13% of volunteers.
  • Givers: Recruit, manage and retain your volunteers more effectively, Join in, Sport + Recreation Alliance, Simetrica, (April 2017). For the first time, groundbreaking behavioural science research, has given us new evidence and insight into what drives people to volunteer, and what keeps them from doing so. We’ve distilled these insights into a simple framework to help grassroots clubs and organisations recruit, retain and realise the potential of volunteers. We call this GIVERS. It stands for: Growth; Impact: Voice: Ease and Experience; Recognition; Social.
  • Market Segmentation Study for Volunteers, Australian Sports Commission, (2014). The key findings of this research help identify the motivations of volunteers in the sport sector. This study identified ten segments among the Australian adult population, five are considered to be likely sources for the recruitment and retention of volunteers to the sport sector: Happy Helpers, Community Committed, Overcommitted, Opportunists, and Altruists. There are also five segments of the population less likely to become volunteers: Self Servers, Sidelined, Occupied Observers, Well Intentioned, and Uninvolved. This research confirms that the sport sector is doing some things really well, with nearly all club volunteers reporting they were satisfied with their experience. The study also provides key insights for the sport sector to better understand their volunteer workforce and how they might need to manage them into the future.
  • Participatory arts, sport, physical activity and loneliness: the role of volunteering, what works wellbeing, (December 2020). There is promising evidence that volunteering can improve wellbeing and alleviate loneliness in participatory arts, sport and physical activity. This review shows that volunteering can enhance wellbeing and/or reduce loneliness when taking part in participatory arts, sport and physical activity. However, the volunteering role can sometimes be challenging if the helper-helped relationship is not well-matched; resources for long-term volunteering are lacking; and if volunteers feel undervalued and without preparation and guidance. We recommend providing volunteer training and support and adequate resourcing to mitigate these effects.:
  • Sport and Physical Recreation: a statistical overview, Australia 2012, Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2012) Final report (ceased). This report provides information on the demographics and motivations of sport volunteers. Volunteers in sports organisations reported a variety of reasons for volunteering, with the three main reasons being: (1) to help others in the community (53% of volunteers); (2) personal satisfaction (46%); and, (3) personal or family involvement (46%). Other key points from the report include:
    • 93% of sport and recreation volunteers participated in organised sport as a child. The ethos of volunteerism is ‘putting something back’ into the sport system that made an impact upon that person’s overall development.
    • Sport and recreation volunteers are involved in a range of activities, about half of all sports volunteers also volunteered in another type of organisation outside of sport.
    • There was a positive correlation between higher volunteering rates and being born in Australia, employed, and in couple families with children aged under 15 years.
    • 88% of volunteers are persons who are employed, working 41-48 hours per week.
    • Travel time did not appear to impact upon participation in sport and recreation volunteering.
    • There appears to be an association between rates of volunteering and socio-economic status – lower rates of volunteering being associated with socio-economic disadvantage.
    • Lower rates of volunteering are also associated with self-reported health problems.
  • State of Volunteering in Australia report, Volunteering Australia/PWC, (April 2016). Details the trends, demographics, challenges and successes in the volunteering sector in Australia. Results from the survey conducted indicate that volunteers are mostly motivated to be involved as volunteering allows them to give something back to the community (41 per cent of respondents chose this as their top reason). Volunteers are least motivated by a desire to make professional connections (0.4 per cent of respondents). The most commonly improved skill by volunteers is patience (60 per cent), followed by teamwork (55 per cent). Problem solving abilities have been highlighted as the most commonly improved professional skill (40 per cent). Of the respondents who indicated they were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, over half identified improvement in learning a new language, followed by resourcefulness, attention to detail, and confidence. Volunteers with a non-English speaking background found similar benefits in volunteering. Most commonly, 59 per cent of the respondents with a non-English speaking background felt that they had become more patient as a result of volunteering, followed by increased confidence (56 per cent), and learning a new language (54 per cent). These findings align with the skills that volunteers desired to acquire from volunteering, with patience, confidence and cooperation identified as key areas for improvement of personal traits and professional skills. Similar to those not interested in engaging in volunteering in the future, respondents who will continue to engage in volunteering have highlighted that work commitments and family commitments are the main barriers (36 per cent and 34 per cent respectively). Others listed reasons including excessive red tape requirements, mandatory training, and studying among several other reasons. Those who identified areas for improvement reiterated concerns raised in previous reports, such as the inflexibility of some volunteer roles and the burden of out of pocket expenses. Onerous administrative requirements were also identified as a key issue.
  • Volunteering Insights Report, Gemba for Sport New Zealand, (2015). This report was commissioned to better inform the New Zealand sport sector; having three objectives: (1) understanding the underlying drivers and the level of engagement; (2) viewing sport as seen by its consumers; and (3) providing detailed analysis of key measures. Data was weighted by age, gender and location according to the latest New Zealand Census. Key insights provided in this report follow:
    • The recruitment of volunteers at an early age is critical. Volunteers begin their service at an early age (16-24 years old) and are likely to serve for a significant period of time.
    • Sport volunteers are also participants of their respective sports. On average, 54% of sports volunteers have participated in that sport in the last 12 months. Those participating in the sport will be most effective and will help to drive sustainable levels of volunteers.
    • The motivations of volunteers are selfless. They serve for the enjoyment achieved from giving back to their community and/or sport, and care little about the rewards they receive in return. The majority of participants intend to continue volunteering, and could be incentivised by more training and development, and better support from clubs and parents.
    • The intrinsic rewards (doing something worthwhile and contributing to their community) that motivate volunteers mean that their rationale for giving up volunteering are due to time restraints or other commitments, rather than a lack of appreciation.
    • Older (45 to 64 year old) volunteer coaches are the most qualified and engaged coaches. When compared with younger coaches, older coaches are the most likely to have received coaching development or to have achieved a coaching qualification.
    • Older coaches have more experience and are likely to be working at all levels of sport; 60% have coached for six years or more. Older coaches are also the most likely to coach at a diverse range of coaching locations.
  • Volunteering is catching: A study into young people's volunteering in Victoria, Wynne C, Youth Affairs Council of Victoria, (2011). This report is based on the findings of an online survey of four hundred young people aged 12 to 25 across Victoria. The survey explored the experiences, motivations, barriers and perceived impact of volunteering. Some of the key findings include: Young people were volunteering in ‘youth specific’ areas, alongside peers, identifying volunteering areas that overlap with the activities of youth participation; Young people volunteer because they want to be involved in something that is meaningful, of benefit to the community, fun and will improve their employment opportunities; a ‘community of volunteering’, characterised by a community in which people volunteer, talk about
    volunteering and invite young people to volunteer, had a key role in young people taking on volunteer roles. Young people were unlikely to be exposed to volunteering in their school community (language schools, secondary schools or tertiary institutions).
  • Youth volunteering in Australia: An evidence review, Walsh L and Black R, Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), (2015). The literature shows that young people in Australia do engage in volunteering, both in formal and informal contexts. The drivers of young people’s volunteering activity are varied. The benefits of volunteering for young people are both personal and social and include strengthening social relationships, developing skills, enhancing career prospects, contributing to community and ‘making a difference’. While not specific to the sport sector, the review of literature highlights many of the barriers and facilitators of youth volunteering and the characteristics of volunteers in general. Sport and recreation is identified as the single largest sector for youth engagement as volunteers.
  • A multi-level framework for investigating the engagement of sport volunteers, Wicker P and Hallmann K, European Sports Management Quarterly, Volume 13(1), pp.110-139, (2013). Previous research has extensively investigated the drivers of the decision to volunteer on an individual level. As volunteering usually occurs within an institutional context (e.g., sport club and sport event), the characteristics of the institution must also be considered; however, they have been largely neglected in previous research. A review of the literature on both levels reveals both theoretical and methodological shortcomings which this paper attempts to address.
  • A systematic review of motivation of sport event volunteers, Kim, Eunjung, World Leisure Journal, Volume 60(4), pp.306-329, (2018). The aims of this paper are to summarize the current status of the literature on motivation of sport event volunteers and identify research gaps in order to suggest a research agenda for the future research. It develops a better understanding of approach to sport event volunteers’ motivation and how it could be applied to volunteer management in sport events. Through a systematic review method, this study searched and categorized 33 original peer reviewed research papers published in English language academic journals. From the review, this paper updates new database and suggests that a wide range of motivation represented by sport event volunteers may be considered to apply an effective volunteer management for successful sport events.
  • Assessing volunteer satisfaction at the London Olympic Games and its impact on future volunteer behaviour, Minhong Kim, Steven Suk-Kyu Kim, May Kim, et.al., Sport in Society , Volume 22(11), pp.1864-1881, (2019). The findings of this study shed light on the identification of volunteer satisfaction factors in the mega sporting event setting, particularly for a unique type of volunteer (i.e. media worker) assigned to a special set of tasks. Unlike Galindo-Kuhn and Guzley’s results that revealed participation efficacy and group integration to be strong predictors of volunteer satisfaction, organizational support was the primary predictor for media centre volunteers’ re-participation intention towards future volunteering programmes.
  • Beyond the glamour: resident perceptions of Olympic legacies and volunteering intentions, Richard Shipway, Brent W Ritchie, P. Monica Chien, Leisure Studies, Volume 39(2), pp.181-194, (2020). This study examines factors that influence residents’ volunteering behaviours post-completion of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It posits that residents’ interactions with the event over time and their perceptions of event legacies are likely to exert influence on volunteering. Data were collected in two phases between January 2013 and April 2016 amongst residents living in the borough of Weymouth and Portland. The borough is in the county of Dorset in the South West of England and was the host destination for the sailing events of the 2012 Games. Our findings revealed that residents’ intention to volunteer post-Games declined between 2013 and 2016. Actual volunteering experience, perceived event legacy, commitment to the community, age and length of residence were found to contribute significantly to future volunteering intentions. While the results provide insights for those seeking to develop event legacy strategies to both recruit volunteers and to better leverage volunteering opportunities, it also cautions the claim of positive volunteering legacy made by the 2012 Games.
  • Determinants and Outcomes of Volunteer Satisfaction in Mega Sports Events, Daehwan Kim, Chanmin Park, Hany Kim, et.al., Sustainability, Volume 11(7), (2019). The role of volunteers is an important factor for the sustainability of mega sports events. Key issues in the literature on sports event volunteers are volunteer satisfaction and its determinants and outcomes. Therefore, the purpose of the current study was to investigate the effects of the fulfillment of volunteers’ psychological needs and Volunteer Management Practices (VMP) on overall volunteer satisfaction, and to test their conditional effects depending on volunteer involvement. Overall volunteer satisfaction was found to positively affect future volunteering intention, spreading positive words regarding sports event volunteering and intention to visit the host city as tourists. In conclusion, sports event managers need to design an optimal work environment that can fulfill volunteers’ psychological needs and improve VMP to enhance the sustainability of mega sports events.
  • The determinants of the intention to continue voluntary football refereeing, Thomas Giel, Christoph Breuer, Sport Management Review, Volume 23(2), pp.242-255, (April 2020). The purpose of this research is to identify the factors that determine the intention to continue voluntary refereeing in the context of football in Germany. Analysis reveals the motive of self-orientation, respect shown by athletes, coaches, and spectators towards referees, compatibility of refereeing with one’s occupational and private life, perceived organisational support, and referees’ satisfaction to predict referees’ positive intention to continue with their activity. Simultaneously, experiences of offences during refereeing negatively influence this intention, and younger referees show higher intentions to continue their activity than do older referees. Because volunteer recruitment and retention are expensive, the findings of this study facilitate the improvement of effective retention strategies for the federations responsible for referees.
  • Gender and Volunteering at the Special Olympics: Interrelationships Among Motivations, Commitment, and Social Capital, Kirstin Hallmann, Anita Zehrer, Sheranne Fairley, et.al., Journal of Sport Management, Volume 34(1), pp.77-90, (2020). This research uses social role theory to investigate gender differences in volunteers at the Special Olympics and interrelationships among motivations, commitment, and social capital. Volunteers at the 2014 National Summer Special Olympics in Germany were surveyed (n = 891). Multigroup structural equation modeling has revealed gender differences among motivations, commitment, and social capital. Volunteers primarily volunteered for personal growth. Further, motivations had a significant association with commitment and social capital. The impact of motivation on social capital was significantly mediated by commitment. Event organizers should market opportunities to volunteer by emphasizing opportunities for personal growth and appealing to specific values.
  • The impact of volunteer experience at sport mega‐events on intention to continue volunteering: Multigroup path analysis, Hyejin Bang, Gonzalo A. Bravo, Katiuscia Mello, et.al., Journal of Community Psychology , Volume 47(4), pp.727-742, (2019). This study examined the impacts of volunteers’ motivation and satisfaction through Olympic/Paralympic volunteering experiences on their intention to volunteer for future community events and the moderating role of previous volunteering experience in the relationships among motivations, satisfaction, and intention to continue volunteering. Path analysis revealed that among the total sample, motivations had direct and indirect (through satisfaction) effects on intention to volunteer. Results of multigroup path analysis showed that the relationships among motivations, satisfaction, and intention vary by returning and first‐time volunteers, supporting the moderating role of prior volunteering experience in the path model.
  • Individual and contextual determinants of stable volunteering in sport clubs, Torsten Schlesinger and Siegfried Nagel, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, Volume 53(1), pp.101-121, (2018). This article addresses factors that influence voluntary sport club (VSC) members’ loyalty to voluntary engagement. The question asked is an issue of VSC volunteers’ commitment whether they decide to quit or continue their engagement. A multilevel approach was used that considered both individual characteristics of volunteers and corresponding contextual features of VSCs to analyse members’ voluntary commitment. Different multilevel models were estimated in a sample of 477 volunteers in 26 Swiss and German VSCs. Results indicated that members’ stable voluntary activity is not just an outcome of individual characteristics such as having children belonging to the club, strong identification with their club, positively perceived (collective) solidarity and job satisfaction. In addition to these factors, the findings confirm the significance of the contextual level. Stable volunteering appears to be more probable in rural VSCs and clubs that value conviviality. Surprisingly, the results reveal that specific measures to promote volunteering have no significant effect on voluntary commitment in VSCs
  • Modelling the decision to volunteer in organised sports, Hallmann K, Sport Management Review, Volume 18(3), pp.448-463, (2015). The decision to volunteer can be considered a form of private consumption choice. Individuals have time at their disposal which they can be devoted to work or leisure; volunteering is only one of many choices. Considering both the decline in voluntary service and the necessity for most non-profit sporting clubs to recruit volunteers, it becomes essential to understand the drivers of volunteering. The theoretical model presented by the author contains factors from four domains: (1) demographics (age, gender, cultural background); (2) economic indicators (employment status, income, human capital); (3) sociological indicators (community engagement); and, (4) psychological indicators (preferences and experiences). The strength of each factor is estimated using a mathematical model.
  • Volunteering in sport is more prevalent in small (but not tiny) communities: Insights from 19 countries, Balish S, Rainham D and Blanchard C, International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Volume 16(2), pp.203-213, (2018). Research suggests members of smaller communities are more likely to play sport. This study looked at whether members of smaller communities are also more likely to volunteer in sport. Data were acquired from the World Value Survey and analysis involved 22,461 participants from 19 countries. After controlling for country-level demographic variables (including sport participation), participants from communities with between 2,000-20,000 residents were more likely to report volunteering in sport, compared to participants from larger communities (> 500,000 population). The effect of community size occurred for all measured forms of volunteering. These findings provide novel evidence that participants from smaller communities are more likely to volunteer, even when controlling for sport participation. Future research will be needed to reveal the specific determinants and consequences of sport volunteering in smaller communities.
  • We can do it: Community, resistance, social solidarity, and long-term volunteering at a sport event, Kristiansen E, Skirstad B, Parent M, et.al., Sport Management Review, Volume 18(2), pp.256-267, (2015). This study aimed to contextualise the long-term commitment found in a whole community of volunteers and to explain this pattern of ‘collective volunteering’ not in terms of individual motivations, but in terms of broader social processes. Data was collected from interviews with volunteers in Norway who took part in events during the years leading up to the 2013 World Cup in ski flying. This research suggests that long-term volunteering can be understood in terms of: (1) a high level of social integration; (2) the creation of a collective identity focused around the sport, and (3) the maintenance and reinforcement of strong community identity and social solidarity.

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