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Creating workforce legacies from major events

Volunteer engagement, retention and empowerment is a global problem, traversing industries and often left to too few, with limited-to-no-resources for support.

In particular, in the area of large-scale event workforce legacies for host cities, retaining an engaged volunteer community consistently falls down the priority list among the many important focuses a city will hold onto post event. This is especially true when key metrics such as economic footprint and infrastructure investments are the key points that governments can relate to with respect to public information.

And it is with this mindset that we are now consistently seeing events come and go all around the world, putting time into recruiting, training and empowering thousands of community members, all for that database to simply be deleted post event and the months of positive engagement to finish with the closing ceremony fireworks.

The flow-on effect of this approach is not only a detriment to the host city that misses the social and economic benefits of an engaged community group, but also to the thousands of individuals who are now left to find their next opportunity on their own, without an understanding of where the next similar volunteering experience will come from.

One older gentleman stood up on stage for his ‘15 seconds of fame’ and said: “I am retired, I have time and energy to give - but I simply do not know how to get involved in all of these great events that our city hosts.”

Our team recently attended a Ted Talk on innovation where one older gentleman stood up on stage for his ‘15 seconds of fame’ and said: “I am retired, I have time and energy to give - but I simply do not know how to get involved in all of these great events that our city hosts.” He received a standing ovation from the audience of people who shared the same story.

It struck a chord with me that there are so many events around the world crying out for these exact people - passionate, motivated, wanting to be involved - yet we are consistently changing the formula for every single event on how they can get involved. Why can’t cities form a consistent and central platform for the events they host? And what are the social benefits we are missing out on by not engaging our community in regular volunteering opportunities?

Fortunately, in USA, engaging a legacy volunteer workforce is less of a ‘nice to have’ and it is now becoming a key priority for cities to execute a thorough workforce management plan as part of their bidding process for major events. 

With USA leading the charge on how to continue the legacy with your volunteer database, I have highlighted four organisations that I believe are becoming the shining light for volunteer legacies around the world. There are many more, of course, but each of those below sheds a different light on how we can tackle and own this problem in 2018.

Shining lights

  • Houston Sports Authority, which following the 2017 Super Bowl has created a workforce legacy of 20,000-plus volunteers to ‘Help make Houston shine’, providing opportunities for volunteers to assist with “youth sporting events to NCAA and World Championships.”
  • Miami Special Teams – Through its Special Teams programme, the Miami Dolphins NFL team was able to connect a 20,000-plus-strong database of volunteers to deliver some pretty impressive statistics in supporting its local community. This was not a major event legacy, but a sporting team legacy in their community. Why can’t all major sporting teams and sporting federations do this? It included: 1 million meals packed for the elderly in Miami; 20,000-plus volunteers engaged through the programme; providing $5 million in value to the South Florida community; now working with Miami Super Bowl 2020 in the lead-up to such a major event
  • LASEC (Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission) which has started to plan now in 2018 for its volunteer engagement for the Super Bowl in 2022 and National College Championship in 2023. It started small by running volunteer programmes for local events and sporting teams, and is building over the coming years with major sporting championships – all with the core focus of building a volunteering culture in LA and executing major-scale volunteer recruitment in four years’ time.
  • Team London, which is still in operation today following the London 2012 Olympic Games and last year supported the UK’s World Athletics Championships with over 4,000 volunteers. One of Team London’s core objectives is “to support young people into paid employment. Volunteering is a great way for our youth to acquire the soft skills they need. Indeed, 70 per cent of our young volunteers are assessed as work ready, compared to 20 per cent of a normal recruitment pipeline.” These guys set the standard, because they have been supported so strongly by the mayor of London.

The above-mentioned organisations all share a common goal of helping both their wider community and the individuals that volunteer for them. Below are three key learnings from these organisations that should help hosting cities take a step closer to engaging a volunteer community for event time and beyond to create a truly successful workforce legacy.

Three key learnings

  1. Don’t wait until your event to create the workforce legacy, but build up slowly, so the volunteer culture is engrained in your community and the transition to legacy is natural and not forced.
  2. Pre-plan what the legacy looks like, who your volunteer workforce will support in your community and what your volunteers want to get out of your programme. It is crucial to include your volunteers in this decision-making process. As any workforce manager knows, your volunteers will always let you know! As part of this planning it is important that your legacy programme encompasses other benefits, such as access to training and development opportunities.
  3. Work together with volunteering programmes in your city to create a common goal of ‘giving back’ to the community. Just like the Miami Special teams, give a centralized solution to your city, compared to minority groups all aiming for a similar outcome. Strength in numbers!