Volunteerism, Then and Now

This is not, I hope, a holier than thou diatribe, the good old days versus now. But rather, I think, a reflection of times and circumstances.

In 1961, when I discovered eventing, there weren`t many events. Groton House, GMHA, maybe a couple of others. There were few USCTA members. I was the 63rd person to join in 1962, and I had that number for 40 years, until they changed the system. So we were either volunteer workers or we didn`t event. It wasn`t a case of, “If you build it, they will come.” It was, rather, “If I build it, I will come.” So that`s what we did. We built our sport from nearly nothing. We were volunteers by necessity, perhaps more than out of the goodness of our hearts!

Then, gradually, eventing got more prosperous. The USEA grew from a few hundred members to a few thousand, and, slowly to 13,000. We were a small big business. Our events still needed volunteers, but not for survival, so very gradually, that volunteer ethic that was built into early eventing through sheer necessity began to wane. It wasn`t anybody`s “fault.” Nobody suddenly said,” hey, don`t bother to help your local organizers”, but rather the perception of extreme need wasn`t so apparent.

So what happened? Prices started to rise. Just a month ago, General Burton said, “We`re pricing ourselves out of the market.” If organizers have to pay non volunteers, then that money has to come from somewhere, and entry fees go up.

So maybe it`s time to reinvent the idea that we all need to go back to a different volunteer ethic. And that means upper level riders, lower level riders, parents horse owners, even those who think of themselves, perhaps as “customers” If we can`t change this, Gen Burton`s prediction is far more likely to happen, probably first to the little events, where we all start out.

Can we change from customers to providers? We did it once, why not again?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Volunteerism, Then and Now

  1. Our alpine ski club requires all parents to volunteer for 3 races a year, and extracts a check for $800 against good performance (torn up if obligations are met). I think the combination of carrot and stick is needed! And it turns into a party if the organizers are smart enough to give the volunteers food (lunch), then everyone bonds and it is way better than fending for your self in the lodge.

    Basic principles of volunteer orgainizing seem to be beyond the understanding of many. BUT it can be taught!

  2. My local dressage organization, Southwest Virginia Dressage Association, requires a certain number of volunteer hours for anyone wishing to qualify for year end awards. It seems to work very well (and the last event of the season is usually quite well staffed ;-).

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