How do you get enough volunteers to show up to your race?

This is the age old question that every single race promoter asks.

Why is it an age old question?

Because most race promoters suck at it!

And those that don’t suck at it, rarely like to tell others how they get their volunteers to show up on race day.

Let’s face it, races are successful when you have a healthy cadre of volunteers to help out.

Not having enough to cover aid stations, course marshals, and parking, can take you and your staff (if you have a staff) away from running the race.

This is why many race promoters claim to have volunteer recruitment secrets, but don’t ever share them.

I’m here to tell you that those secrets are an illusion.

After you get done reading this, you will think those secrets are an illusion too.

The key to recruiting volunteers has everything to do with motivations.


That is what we’re going to learn today! How to motivate volunteers to help you with your race.

It begins by trying to understand why most race promoters struggle with recruiting volunteers.

Ultimately, it comes down to management.

Race promoters simply do not put enough time and effort into recruiting volunteers, as they do trying to get racers to pre-register and show up on race day.

They leave the volunteer recruitment to the last minute.

This leads them to scramble to recruit most of their volunteer help from race day attendees, long after the course needed to be marked, and the venue needed to be set up.

The end result is a race promoter putting on an orange vest and doing traffic control themselves, when they should be monitoring the race.

Volunteer recruitment is the same as racer registration

Do yourself a favor during your next race planning meeting.

Sit down and think about the reasons behind why volunteers volunteer.

Why DO volunteers volunteer?

Ironically, it is the SAME reasons that racers race.


Racers race your event to get something out of it. Exercise, competition, bragging rights, accomplishment, community, medals — the list of why racers are motivated to race is endless.

The same is true with volunteers.

Volunteers are motivated by similar motivations.

However, with regards to recruiting them to help you run a race, you need to only tap into three (3) specific motivations to be successful:

  • Sense of Family
  • Sense of Belonging
  • Sense of Reward

Each one of these three reasons is fundamental to the getting them to show up to your race.

What if you could harness these motivations and get enough volunteers to show up on race day?

What if you could get so many that you could actually spend more time directing, and less time worrying about how many volunteers you need?

You can if you simply appeal to each of your volunteer’s sense of family, belonging, or reward.

The following recruitment tactics help explain how to benefit from understanding each volunteer’s motivational needs:

Tactic #1 – Sense of family

Most family members come to the race to be spectators.

However, you can convert those family spectators into volunteers before race day.

On race day, family member spectators often realized that they probably won’t get to see much of the person (or people) they came to see.

Even with a good spot picked out, a race from a spectators point of view can be quite boring.

Your goal is to transform those family members into volunteers by recruiting them onto your athletic support team.

You can give them a chance at front-row tickets to a prime location that their racer is sure to visit during the race.

It could even be a location that the family controls in it’s entirety. Complete with decorations, signs, and cowbells.

They get to see the racer they are rooting for, and be part of the action on their own right.

You get a full manned and exciting location right on the race course.

This will not only combat spectator boredom, but will provide all racers with the added experience of having a group of happy volunteers cheering them on.

To leverage this tactic, all you need to do is recruit family member volunteers from your own pre-registered racers.

You already have their email.

Why wouldn’t you reach out to them for volunteer help?

You could even have your Volunteer Director reach out to these potential volunteers just a few weeks before the race to see what they are planning.

If only one or two get back to you, that is one or two more volunteers you didn’t have before.

Tactic #2 – Sense of belonging

Some people are very new to the sport and want to see what it is all about.

Others understand the sport, but have never raced before.

Most of these potential racers want to know the right thing to buy, wear, and say is, so as not to look foolish during their first race.

These are the newbies that desire the connection they see other racers have at events, and are exploring their new found interest in the racing community.

Pounce on these potential volunteers by using volunteering as a safe way to connect.

You can reach these people by creating 1-page brochures and/or flyers that can easily be placed in shop windows, on coffee shop cork boards, on gym announcement boards, on college campus centers, on car windows, and at recreation center entrances.

These drop-offs and leave behinds should use positive imagery positive to elicit emotion and capture the eye.

People are a good visual to use on these flyers, with faces with smiles providing good responses.

You can also use social media as a passive means of getting the word out.

Facebook event shares and announcements can connect you to plenty of friends and friends of friends to produce a few more volunteers.

However, you should aim to post your volunteer need on the Facebook and Meetup pages of local sporting clubs, teams, and groups that may have an interest in your event.

And not just once, but hit them 1-month out, 2-weeks out, 1-week out, and then 1-2 day before you race.

Some might advise you to not be annoying, but social media has a very, very short attention span.

One post has a lifespan of between a few hours and a few days. Then you’re post is yesterdays news, if it was seen at all.

If you want those volunteers who are looking to belong to your sport, you need to be constantly bringing your need back to the top of their list until you get enough of these volunteers to commit.

Tactic #3 – Sense of Reward

Give a volunteer a reason to volunteer their time and effort, and you will win them over.

Nothing gets an avid racer a reason to volunteer like a discount on their next race, a free race, or some kind of swag.

There are a dozen reasons why some people cannot race on race day.

Injury, family commitments, lack of training, broken gear, or financial woes, can hinder them.

For others, their original plans fall through, situations change, and they find a reason to want to come hang out with the their friends at the race.

Encourage these volunteers with incentives that will convince them to pitch in and help.

Often, 20-percent (or $15.00) off their next race registration is a good start.

So is giving them a free t-shirt, free pizza and/or beverages, or even a free beer glass — just for volunteering.

You will be surprised at what little you need to give your fellow racing volunteers to get them to work your event.

But nothing gets those that love racing to volunteer than a way to pay for their next race.

Community is a real thing, and every race discipline has a full assortment of fans, groupies, enthusiasts, and zealots who talk, walk, and bleed racing.

They will be even more devoted to you and your next race if you show them a little appreciation, and give them something to thank them for their help.

Be very up front about what you plan on giving them and make sure you follow through with it.

Discounts should last until after next season, and their family helping out should count for their race too.

You can even advertise these benefits, put it on your flyers, website, and registration pages, and see if it brings out those volunteers looking for a free race.

Knowing is half the battle

Now for a bonus tactic!

The bonus tactic to recruiting volunteers is to make sure you know what you need BEFORE you start any heavy recruiting.

If your event only needs nine volunteers, and you have three family members helping out, three friends from your club coming to support, and three fellow racers wanting to know what you need, then you don’t really need to find that many volunteers.

But how do you know you need nine volunteers in the first place?

What positions do you have?

What positions will need backup or shift changes?

What positions cannot be filled by volunteers?

Chances are you will have to move trusted staff away from aid stations or marshal positions at the last minute.

Can any of your volunteers fill in for them if that happens?

Do you have any floaters to handles those situations?

What about any of those nine volunteers not showing up on race day?

Volunteers get sick and have family emergencies too. The average no-show rate is something like 5- to 10-percent.

This includes volunteers that sleep-in or forget they volunteered in the first place.

Are you padding your volunteer numbers to deal with those likelihoods?

Volunteer staffing is difficult, which is why you need to know your real need before you can realistically use any of these tactics.

Check out my article 7 venue areas that ever race needs to help you make a list of potential volunteer positions.

Once you know what you need, the rest is a matter of putting each tactic to work.

Good luck with your recruiting!

Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle started Reckoneer with the simple mission of helping those who want to become race directors and learn the mechanics of outdoor recreation engineering. Kyle demystifies outdoor racing with over 20 years of endurance and outdoor industry business knowledge. Combined with his top-rated podcast Merchants of Dirt, dozens of articles, lessons, and infographics, Kyle has made Reckoneer the premier educator in outdoor event management. Build better races today!