With the Commonwealth Games about to begin in Queensland, Dr Liz Fredline has shared an interesting research project that is exploring the motives, expectations and satisfaction of the volunteers at Australia’s largest sporting event in 2018.

The Exploring Volunteers project is funded by Griffith University’s Department of Tourism, Sport & Hotel Management and involves DR Liz Fredline principal researcher (quantitative), Professor Graham Cuskelly Head of Department, Dr Shane Barry HR specialist (qualitative), and Dr Pam Kappelides sports management specialist from La Trobe University.

It’s all about volunteers at GC2018; what motivated them to volunteer, how satisfied they were with the training, their overall experiences and their likelihood of volunteering in other areas after the games. The team is also evaluating the volunteer management strategies used to see whether these can be improved upon in the future.

“Our main aim is to understand why people volunteer in an effort to promote future volunteering and to see how volunteer recruitment and management strategies can assist with this. We’re looking at it from two perspectives. How the managers manage the volunteers and how the volunteers like being managed,” said Dr Fredline.

“The project came about because Professor Graham Cuskelly was asked to be on the Games Volunteer Advisory Committee, and because we had both been involved in a similar project with our PhD student Eunjung Kim. Graham went to one of their meetings and asked if we could include a question on volunteer motivations on the application form.”

The research goal is to understand which types of volunteers are likely to go on to other types of volunteering after the games and how management can help to promote this to generate social capital in the community.

It has been a popular event with more than triple the volunteering applications being received than are required to run the Games. And if you missed out don’t be disappointed as over 50 percent of successful volunteers came from medical backgrounds, and were likely accepted due to their volunteering experience and ability to offer medical services.

“About 15,000 volunteers were selected for a position at the Games from more than 53,000 applicants. More than half of the volunteers are specialists, they’re medical people primarily. Over half of the positions are taken by doctors and paramedics. That brings it down to 7000 non-specialist volunteer positions available,” said Dr Fredline.

“A lot of people who have volunteered and been successful are people who had a long history of volunteering. I know that’s one of the important factors why they were selected.”

“A lot of events have to take anyone who will put their hand up, but for these kinds of mega events, where the demand to be a volunteer outstrips the places available, they can be in a position to discriminate and they want to pick the people who can do the best job.”

“Normally if you volunteer at an event you don’t get turned down. So it’s a different kind of scenario than you see to other events. Because there is a lot of people disappointed they weren’t selected. So that was one of the things we were quite interested in.”

Around 38,000 applicants missed out on a position in one of the largest volunteer recruitment campaigns in Australia. Dr Fredline explained that Games management had to employ strategies to deal with this level of unsuccessful applications.

“They didn’t have an offering, but they were always very polite to people and made it clear it was not a personal thing, it was just that their skills were not in demand or in the region that they required,” said Dr Fredline.

There were a few isolated cases of un-happy applicants with the long hours required of volunteers, and the research aims to outline effective ways to manage applicant expectations from the best practice recruitment strategies developed in the research.

“Managing expectations I think is really important because, if people have certain expectations that it is going to be easy and they are going to get nice uniforms and free tickets, then they don’t get the position that they want, it can lead to some dissatisfaction,” said Dr Fredline.

“There are different types of people who are volunteering for different reasons. There are older retired people who want the social interaction and want to feel like they are contributing to their community. There are young people, some of our students, who want to develop career skills and have experiences so they can put on their resumes and hopefully work in the events industry in the future.”

“There are different subgroups of volunteers who want different things out of it. So what we are looking to understand is which ones turn out to be the best kind of volunteers? Which ones have the highest compliance rates? And for the Gold Coast there could be valuable learnings for future events.”

The Exploring Volunteers project is midway with the initial applicant surveys and management interviews completed. The next stage will be writing a preliminary report for management after the Games ends on April 15, then collecting data afterwards to explore satisfaction with the volunteer experience and propensity to continue volunteering.

“We sampled 3000 applicants and we received 1677 responses to the first survey. Obviously there will be some drop off in the next two surveys, but we are hoping we will make it to 1000 or so people,” said Dr Fredline.

“We have the application database which we are analysing at the moment. We have done interviews with management and a pre-event survey of the volunteers. We will also have a post event survey of volunteers.”

“Our post event survey of volunteers will look at how satisfied they were and whether they intend to continue volunteering in other situations.”

“Six months afterwards we are hoping to follow-up, to see if they did follow through on that intention to continue volunteering. And there will be some post event focus groups to tease out some more detail about people’s experiences.”

“We are also hoping that we will have the resources to do some follow-up focus groups with people that were unsuccessful, to see whether they still enjoyed their games experiences, even though they didn’t get to volunteer.”

It’s generally accepted that volunteering attracts mature aged people and older demographics, however the applicant surveys have shown that GC2018 volunteering appeals mainly to people who are working aged 45-64, then followed by people who are aged over 65.

“There is definitely a larger proportion that is in the older age group. Only 7% of the volunteers who completed the survey were under 30, 12.8% were 30-44, 46.7% were 45-64 in the working age group, and 33% over 65,” said Dr Fredline.

“We have an aging population and the thing with the aging population is people stay healthier into their older age these days, and a lot of people work longer, so that area is still threatened by paid employment.”

While attracting volunteers to a mega sporting event like GC2018 is not difficult, for small sporting and community organisations it can be a challenge, due to the busy commitments of people in dual working families with rising living costs.

“Now there is a lot higher participation in the workforce by women. So the pool of volunteers is smaller than it was, so it means events have to work harder to pull people in. We are hoping to have some learnings about how other smaller scale events can maintain the focus on volunteering,” said Dr Fredline.

“We’re just at the point where we are exploring the different types of groups, so we’re doing cluster analysis on people’s motivation, to look at the different types of people who are motivated by different things.”

“The scale that we used was an existing scale and it was measuring concepts like, people’s values. Whether they wanted to have social interactions with other volunteers, whether they were looking for career development opportunities.”

“Whether they were motivated by intrinsic rewards, like the uniform and free tickets to see events. Whether they were motivated by the love of the sport, or the prestige of being associated with an event.”

“What we are interested in is what types of people have different types of motivation, and does one or more groups end up being better types of volunteers. Because that might help inform better recruitment of volunteers in the future.”

“We have already collected data on whether they were previous volunteers and where they volunteered in other areas beforehand. And those who weren’t volunteers beforehand, whether their involvement in the games encourages them to volunteer in other sectors, because that would be social capital development for the Gold Coast.”

“If we could get people volunteering with other types of organisations on a more regular basis, that would be a legacy of the Games.”

It is hoped that some of the key findings and best practices will continue to assist smaller event organisers and community organisations in Queensland who require volunteers in the future. To facilitate this the Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management is planning an industry day later in the year to present major learnings.

“Because we have a suite of research projects on the Games, we thought it would be a great opportunity to have a management day like a mini conference, where we will invite industry to hear about our projects and showcase the expertise the Department has in this area,” said Dr Fredline.

“And we plan to publish an industry report that has not just one project, but little snapshots of all the projects, so they can see we have an area of expertise here. There are many sporting organisations that require volunteer labour and they can learn from this research”.