It was recently reported that the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Locog customer database has been handed over to Sport England. This means that, almost six months after the games finished and for the first time in the modern Olympic history, the complete list of Games Makers and people who expressed an interest in volunteering – among many others, 5.3 million in total – will be used to continue communication with people who choose to remain opted in to email newsletters and the like.
This is rightly being hailed as an achievement that will help secure the Games’ legacy, providing an unparalleled opportunity for Sport England and its partners to keep people informed about future sporting events, cultural activities and volunteering. However, on the volunteering front, I think some significant hurdles will have to be overcome.
Firstly, the Games Makers. Many were already volunteering before they got involved in the Games and have surely returned to that volunteer work subsequently. For those that caught the volunteering bug for the first time, they’ve been waiting a long time for a follow-up. With all the recent snow we couldn’t be further from last summer and I do worry that the moment to capitalise on their enthusiasm has passed. Yes, some will have gone and found volunteering opportunities in their communities for themselves, and I hope those have been as enjoyable and rewarding as those few weeks in 2012. For the rest, as any volunteer manager will tell you, going back to people six months after they first got involved is not the best way to try and keep volunteers engaged.
Secondly, what about those who wanted to volunteer but weren’t selected? These people may have applied to be volunteers in 2009 or 2010. They may have expressed an interest in volunteering at the Games as long ago as 2005. From what I have heard, some never heard back after their application was submitted – not even a “thanks but no thanks”. For others it may be years since they heard anything. Their experience of trying to volunteer for the Games has at best been rejection; at worst they feel ignored. Trying to enthuse and inspire that group could be a huge challenge.
Thirdly, integration with other databases of volunteers. Already work is under way to recruit volunteers for next year’s Commonwealth Games, Rugby World Cup, the forthcoming Tour De France and, more immediately, the World Police and Fire Games in Northern Ireland this year. To what extent can the Locog database ‘talk’ to the systems these other events are using? Can the communication and recruitment efforts be integrated? Is there a risk of people ending up on multiple databases with risk of resulting frustration at communication overload? Do we risk putting people off by the very efforts to try and keep them engaged?
As anyone with even the smallest amount of volunteer management experience knows, keeping people interested and engaged over time is not an easy job. It requires consistent effort, not an occasional communications blitz followed by months of silence. This is what Volunteering England and others have been telling Locog for years. I’m sure Sport England will make the most of this great opportunity but wonder how many potential volunteers will have been lost and legacy opportunities missed because of the radio silence of recent months, a lack of joined-up thinking and a perception of poor customer care.