Regional events are dying due to a declining volunteer workforce.
I read this ABC News article with a great fear that we will continue to lose many of the great regional and rural events that drive visitation into their communities - rural communities that don’t often have any other tourism attractions or leisure-based experiences to create this economic and social impact.
What happens when the reason that visitors come and the very thing that creates brand awareness is gone?
Competition and financial sustainability are certainly key factors for regional events, however the pressing issue facing regional events and their sustainability right now is volunteer fatigue and burnout, which is highlighted in the article.
Farewell to Tasmania’s Derby River Derby and Devonport Show, …and the others that are dying a silent death!
After working with so many events I have no doubt that these are the universal challenges for regional and rural events today:
- Event sustainability – Do you have a succession plan? Do you have good reserve funds for your event? Are you on a growth trajectory or have you hit a wall?
- Volunteer recruitment & retention – Do you have a strong team? Do you have enough volunteers? Is it a struggle to attract volunteers each year?
- Innovation – Do you consider each year how your event can become innovative or are you just too busy making the event happen to think beyond operational logistics?
- Event competitiveness – How many new events have you noticed starting? Destination NSW even has an event start up funding program to support new events…
- Capacity of volunteer committees – Does your committee have the time and skills required to successfully deliver on your event?
This is the very reason that rEVENTS Academy was established:
- to address the success and sustainability of regional and rural events.
- to provide the organising team with the knowledge and tools they need to ensure longevity and efficiencies (and reduced stress!).
The number one challenge that every regional event I speak to believes that they are having is volunteer retention and attraction. Common concerns are volunteer burnout, inability to attract a younger volunteer base and the growing workload.
A recent survey conducted by rEVENTS Academy found that over 85% of surveyed events agreed that attracting and retaining volunteers was a key priority to ensure event sustainability.
(The survey is still open: tell us about your experience.)
My response is never how to attract more volunteers.
It is always how can you better manage your team and workload to make everyone’s life easier, and ensure you are attractive to potential new volunteers.
There is no doubt that having more volunteers will help but having sound systems and efficiencies in place can achieve so much more.
As Volunteering Tasmania’s acting CEO Veney Hiller states in this article ‘…the challenges that some of these events are facing are probably a lot more complex than just the volunteering component of the event’.
When you consider that locals in Tasmania volunteer more than seven million hours of their time each year and 80% of Tasmanian adults volunteered in some capacity in the last 12 months, it makes you wonder why some events are struggling with volunteers. It is time for these events to take a long hard look at how they are managing their event and volunteers.
At rEVENTS Academy we strongly believe that the challenge is more about how volunteers are managed and retained, than it is about not having enough volunteers. Events need to become more efficient and effective on less volunteers.
Events need to take the time to set up a structure and checklists so that volunteers are excited by the idea of working with the event – You need to sell working on the event to them!
Once volunteers are on board events need to keep them engaged and invested in the event.
- Make their job as easy as possible with good communication and clear direction.
- Provide them opportunities to build relationships – research has proven that when people build relationships in a team/community they are more committed, and productivity increases drastically
- Allow for some fun – field trips/R&D, social times.
- Do not overwhelm them with unnecessary meetings and time pressures.
So, it’s not always about how do we attract more volunteers….it’s often about how we create a team environment that is welcoming and makes people want to join..
Let’s take a classic example…
When I ask people why they don’t volunteer on their event committee the answer is more often than not, 'I get frustrated by the meetings', or 'I don’t have time to go to their meetings.'
Why are we so focused on meetings and not output? Why are we turning amazing people away because of meetings…especially when we live in a society that is so connected? (even when we don’t want to be!)
Meetings are essential, but they can also be VERY BIG time wasters.
It’s time to think differently. It’s time to empower. It’s time to decentralise our event committees and support a new way of volunteering.
Click here to learn more about rEVENTS Academy and to download resources for volunteers.