Steps to Building a Sustainable Volunteer Network

Steps to Building a Sustainable Volunteer Network

By Diana S. Cutaia

This summer we held a webinar on the recruitment and retention of volunteer coaches in sport-based youth development programs lead by Diana Cutaia of Coaching Peace. You can find a recording of the webinar here.

There were several steps that were described in the development of a strong volunteer network and the following highlight some of the key first steps.

1. Needs Assessment- Programs should identify ahead of looking for volunteers what they can provide what they can provide and what they require from volunteers this includes the following:

  • Opportunities – What opportunities are available within the organization. ( i.e. asst coaches, head coaches, etc..)
  • Skills – What skills do you require this volunteer to have and what do you think you can cultivate or introduce with training.
    • Hard and soft skills
  • Level of Commitment to Organization – What is the commitment that you will require from the volunteer? Think about it using the following criteria.
    • Length of time per session
    • Days per week
    • Season length
  • Level of Support from Organization – What will the organization provide in the area of training and evaluation for the volunteer?
    • Training – This is important to look at not just as a one time thing but something that is ongoing and delivered in multiple ways.
  • Diversity commitment

2.  Asset Inventory – An organization should take the time to look at what they are able to offer a volunteer coach as a member of their community. Some ideas are:

  • Social/networking Connections
    • Skill Development/Professional Development
    • Environment
    • Connection to outcomes
    • Gear/Equipment
    • Access to Play/Facilities
    • Events

3.  Develop a Strategic Plan  – Organizations that have built successful volunteer networks are the ones that have developed plans that lay out some of the following information:

  • Identify the volunteer needs for this season
    • Skills  (hard and soft)
    • Experience – Focus on the experience in the skills you desire not just coaching.
    • Diversity  (age, race, gender, sexual orientation etc…)
  • Identify recruitment sources
    • Corporations
    • Social Media
    • Adult sport leagues
    • Senior programs
  • Create the Marketing Materials
    • Market the experience, not a job description.  This means that you want to go back to the list of assets that you program can offer and be sure to include what you are looking for and what you can provide.
  • Develop the screening tools – When you plan ahead you have time to look at each candidate through multiple lenses. Make sure that you craft interview questions so that you can understand not just what experience they have but how they might react in common situations within your program.
    • Interviews, demonstrations, written survey etc..
  • Develop training and assistance plan – This will include looking at how you will orientate the volunteer but also what type of support and mentorship will provide for them throughout the year.
  • Develop evaluation metrics – Its important to know how you will evaluate someone before the season even begins so that you can share this information with them early on and provide the support they need as the season goes on.

4. Recruitment Process – Some commonly used methods of recruitment are as follows:

  • Organization’s Website (sometimes corporate partners will provide spaces as well)
  • A search-engine website (e.g.
  • Social media page – some helpful notes about social media:
    • Promote the experience (not the job description)
    • Tell the story of a volunteer
    • Create a hashtag – build an affinity group  (i.e #SISVOLS)
    • Ask current or past volunteers to promote opportunities
  • Visits to colleges and high schools – Be aware that although it seems logical for you to try to engage college athletes, they are often the hardest to retain. Their schedules are very tight in season and like all college students they leave in the summer. If your program is a school-based program that extends to the end of the school year, then you may run the risk of losing those students. Being u front with college students around the time commitment is central to their success in your program.
  • Networking events
  • Via other organizations
  • Newsletters
  • Word of mouth

5. Selection Process and Matching.

  • Collect all the information you need about the volunteer in the initial screening process.
  • Ensure that you match someone with the appropriate opportunity based on their skills, level of commitment, and experience.
  • Ask volunteers when you can do engage in a short activity demo or to provide you with a lesson sample.
  • Interview: Present with scenarios and/or ask about situations that show the skills you require.
    • Phone
    • Group
    • In-person