TD Tools: The Ultimate Volunteer

by | February 10, 2012, 8:00am 0

This article is part of Leaguevine’s “TD Tuesdays” series and are being re-posted on Skyd following release on Leaguevine.

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To organize a good Ultimate event you need teams and players, solid facilities, entertaining parties, good food, shiny merchandise, a nice format and maybe some contributing sponsors or good contacts with local government. The most important factor of them all, however, is a group of volunteers with which you can run your tournament seamlessly. Volunteers are the heart and soul of your event, and they are the first point of contact for the players and guests. A happy, skillful, creative, and durable workforce is a great thing to have and the number one factor for a successful tournament.

At the Windmill Windup in Amsterdam, we manage a staff of more than 130 people, and have done so successfully using a step-by-step routine that helps us get the job done. It’s not rocket science, and could help you find and manage the motivated crew you are looking for for your event.

1. The organizing crew

Definition: The people who help you tackle the larger elements of your tournament. These people start working on their areas months in advance and report on their progress to the TDs.

We classify our staff in 2 groups: The Organizing Crew and On-site Volunteers. It is the Organizing Crew that fills the “skill positions” of your team.

Someone to organize the food? That’s a big one. What about your tournament’s format and schedule? Good to have someone for that as well. These are major tasks best delegated to people with those skill sets. This will happen naturally, of course – the IT nerd that orders in every night is not likely to want to be your tournament’s food man – but it is important to manage closely. For instance, the organizer of your volunteers (are you confused yet?) should be a people person, the planner of your parties should be into music or nightlife, and the guy who runs your schedule should be some sort of masochistic recluse who is into that kind of thing.

On the other hand, it’s quite possible that you’re unaware of the talents of the people in your Ultimate community. When you ask for staff, it is wise to give room to share their experience and skills with you so you can take advantage of their diverse skill sets.


Be clear about expectations from both sides. To make it an enjoyable experience for all parties involved, it helps to clearly define the tasks and responsibilities as mentioned before. It helps to work on time lines together and stick to them once they are agreed on.

As a rule of thumb, the amount of time spent on a job by a crew member generally exceeds the anticipated amount by a factor of 3! This is especially true when it comes to people taking on a role for the first time. Spend the time up front making sure that expectations are clear on both sides, and you will save yourself a GREAT DEAL of time closer to the tournament. It’s one of those lessons that you don’t want to learn the hard way.


Meetings are essential for all crew members to coordinate their efforts. As most of your organizers have regular jobs and do not have much time, it pays to prepare these meetings with care to make the most of the time. Also, it is wise not to forget that no Ultimate meeting is successful without enough booze, eats, and a post-meeting social plan. The best ideas and collaborations between organizing crew members are born while drinking a couple of beers.

2. The volunteer corps

Definition: The people who get sh*t done. These are the people that show up anywhere from just before the tournament to the end, and are willing to do anything. They are given various tasks by the organizing crew or a volunteer coordinator.

The Windmill Windup’s workforce has grown from 15 in the first year to 130 volunteers in 2011.  Managing 100+ volunteers is a big task but if you have a good strategy and a great volunteer coordinator the numbers don’t matter that much.


It all starts with recruiting – 3 months before the start of your event is about right. You have a better chance that potential volunteers are still available and it gives you more room to set up schedules once you know who’s going to be there. Sending out an email is good, following up by asking in person is even better, and once someone agrees, make sure to confirm in the weeks before the event. About a third of yes-sayers will drop out if you don’t.

Ask everyone in your local Ultimate community. Ask your friends, and have them bring their friends. Ask parents, and maybe even apply for social projects at your local government. Once your tournament is more well-known you can recruit outside the borders of your city, state or nation on various disc mailing lists or on your website. When it comes to volunteers, the more the merrier! The more people you have at your disposal, the more time they can focus on a task at hand and more importantly, the more spare time they will have to actually enjoy the tournament they have been working for.

Payments and Appreciation

Regular Ultimate events would not be affordable if staff members or the working crew would need to get paid. But that doesn’t mean you can’t pay your volunteers in other ways! You can pay them with the currency you have at your disposal:

  • Party – Make the event itself a party for all volunteers. Make sure everyone has some time off to enjoy games and to party. Organize a thank-you social after the tournament and possibly a get-together in the weeks before so that volunteers can get to know each other.
  • Food and drinks – Make sure to provide food and drinks for your volunteers both during the tournament and in every other phase of tournament planning and production.
  • Tournament gifts – Take time to think of special volunteer and organizer gifts. A popular way to go is tournament merchandise, volunteer shirts, or special edition staff gear.
  • Appreciation – This is the most important currency of them all (sounds corny right? True nonetheless).  Make sure you let everyone know they are appreciated, even if someone didn’t do the best job. Someone put in their time and energy for the betterment of the event and the sport in general. A great way to do this is to share the positive feedback that you receive from players with ALL volunteers and crew.


In your day-to-day job, you probably enjoy clearly defined instruction: what is expected of you at what times? Who do I work with and what are my responsibilities? When do I get my lunch break? As volunteering is essentially a job like every other, you keep the workforce happy if you clearly define the volunteers’ tasks. This needs to be done even if it appears that a certain task seems simple and unimportant (there’s no such thing as an unimportant jobs – now PLEASE go re-stock the toilet paper!).

It helps a great deal to make use of schedules (managed by the volunteer coordinator) in which you put all tasks along a timeline. Brief stand-up meetings in the morning can be very functional. They make people aware of issues, challenges, and also serve as team-building moments. Work with time slots with a clear start and end and make sure you can reach all volunteers by phone (i.e. set up a contact details database).

3. A few pointers in general

  • There is a saying in Dutch that summarizes an important point: “Vrijwillig betekent niet vrijblijvend.” Unfortunately, it is hard to translate into a memorable and catchy phrase in English, so let’s go with “Voluntary does not mean amateur!” Make sure to get this message across in a friendly way. A volunteer that does half-assed work can create a negative vibe and you would be better off communicating your need for quality from the beginning.
  • As a TD you are working to create a certain identity for your event. How do the players, volunteers, and organizers experience the tournament itself and the months before. The more the staff members find the tournament identity appealing, the more dedicated they will be. It increases the likelihood of retaining your crew for the future.
  • Ask for feedback during but mainly after the tournament. With so many eyes around, you can gather a great deal of information about the things that went well and those that went wrong. Volunteers are your eyes and ears!
  • You know you are doing well when volunteers return year after year, smiling and working hard as ever. If they don’t return you might want to ask for feedback to make sure it’s not on your account.
  • Volunteers make up a giant pool of talent. Keep an eye on what their skills are, speak to them when you can and in the end, you could ask them to take on a larger role the next year and strengthen your organization over time. “Promotions” within your staff help motivate others as well!
  • Empower volunteers and crew by informing them at set times (meetings, newsletters, or just plain e-mails) and ask them for their opinions.
  • Keep on rocking!

Potential job openings you might want to fill for your event:

  • Production manager – takes care of all rentals, logistics, electricity, A/V and all technical related stuff (massive job, could be split)
  • Volunteer coordinator – recruits volunteers, schedules their work, motivates them, makes sure that they are well informed
  • Entertainment – overlooks all fun stuff that’s not Ultimate related like bands, day-time entertainment and other activities like the beer race
  • IT solutions – website design and everything else related to 0’s and 1’s
  • Food/Bar manager – thinks and organizes everything food related (and if you throw in the bar, they won’t be hard to find)
  • Marketing – finding and working with sponsors and working the social media (see the first and second TD Tuesdays articles on sponsorships)
  • Financial officer – budgeting, expenses, bill paying, receipts – you know, the fun stuff
  • Team liaison – someone who keeps contact with all teams during registration and in the weeks leading up to the tourney
  • Coordinator of photography and videography – makes sure pictures are taken, proper photographers are in place, database of pictures is available. Coordinates the production of promotional videos and recordings of games
  • PR manager – sends out press releases for national and local media, mainly to increase awareness for the sport
  • Format Master – someone who can handle your brackets (see the first and second TD Tuesdays articles on scheduling)
  • Webmaster – it’s a great thing when someone takes this on with a vengeance
  • Prizes – cool prizes are a nice asset
  • Waste – when you’re going for recycling and waste diversion
  • Others – First Aid / Security / Cleaning

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