4 Ways Volunteer Engagement is Exactly Like Professional Football

FootballI love football. More specifically, I love professional, American football, where huge men in tight uniforms slam into each other for fun and money. More than baseball, basketball, hockey, figure skating or curling, football is my sport.

There are a lot of reasons why I love football so much, and when the beginning of football season this week brought them all back to me, I realized how much football has in common with volunteer engagement:

1. Everyone Has a Role

On a football team, success depends on everyone performing clearly defined roles. If players tried to fill multiple positions, imagine the chaos when the offensive linemen started running after the ball, and the running backs pushed the quarterback aside to grab the snap!

Similarly, volunteers should each be given defined roles, with clear expectations and goals. They can then grow within these roles, becoming the best they can be and contributing their key piece of the whole.

2. There are Leaders on the Field and on the Sidelines

The owners, the coach and the coordinators train and guide the team up until the game, but on the field it’s up to the quarterback to lead his team and make sure they are set up to run the right plays and react to the defense.

As a manager of volunteers, it’s important for you to provide the training and guidance your volunteers need to do a great job. But it’s also essential that you cultivate leaders within your volunteer team to keep their peers motivated and working at the highest level possible.

3. Goals are Achieved with Plans and Persistence

Whenever a football team gets possession of the ball, they have one goal in mind: get to the endzone. They have dozens, if not hundreds, of ways to get there, following playbooks and the experience of their coaches. But one thing is certain: it won’t happen all at once. Play by play, down by down, they will cover the yards and reach their goal.

Chances are you will not achieve the goal of your volunteer program in one day, or even one month. There will be setbacks, challenges and frustrations. But if you stay focused on that end point, and on how you can get there, you will find your team making progress down that field.

4. Recognition for a Job Well Done

In football, numbers matter. The more yards, passes, touchdowns, sacks or fumbles a player has to his name impact his playing time, his salary, his fame and ultimately his job. Additionally, the best performing players are rewarded with trophies, rings and special MVP status.

I’m not saying you should be recording every little thing your volunteers do, but finding some ways to track and reward the good things is an important element of an engaged volunteer corps. It will keep them motivated to do their best, supportive of each other’s successes, and focused on how each thing they do has an impact on your organization.

What other commonalities are there between volunteer engagement and sports? Leave your expert analysis below.