It’s Monday afternoon, 4:45 p.m. Your power-step instructor calls to tell you that her car broke down and she won’t be able to teach her 6 p.m. class. This gives you a little more than an hour to find a replacement instructor. If you can’t find anyone, you or one of your fitness specialists will have to substitute. But you are short-staffed, the fitness specialists are fully booked with appointments, and you have no idea how to teach power step.

Should you try to bluff your way through teaching a class or take a fitness specialist off the floor during peak hours? Maybe you should post flyers on doors and notice boards saying the class is cancelled. Then it will be your pleasure to face the wrath of 40 members who have made a special trip to take this class. Welcome to one of a club owner, manager or aerobics director’s worst nightmares.

If this scenario is an all-too-familiar one for your club, perhaps you should consider using volunteer instructors to teach some classes or to act as emergency substitutes. The World Bank Fitness Center in Washington, D.C., a 33,000-square-foot facility, provides extensive fitness facilities to World Bank staff. The center includes four aerobics studios with a group exercise program that includes more than 60 classes per week. Trained World Bank employees teach more than half of these classes. Managers, secretaries, economists, lawyers and accountants who work for the World Bank form a vital part of the group exercise instructor team. The result is a very extensive and diverse range of activities and huge savings on the center’s operating expenses.

“That’s all very well,” you may say, “but how do I find these people, and how can I ensure that they are qualified and service-oriented?” A good instructor is more than someone who looks good or is athletically gifted. He or she must be able to teach, motivate and provide a class other members will enjoy. It is not just a case of asking a regular participant to take over in an emergency. A good volunteer program must be in place, and that involves careful planning in the recruitment, training and regular evaluation of your instructors.

Recruiting volunteers

Volunteers at the World Bank Fitness Center undergo a formal recruitment process that includes in-house training from the aerobics director and an explanation of what the center expects from a volunteer. A formal advertisement is posted in various internal staff bulletins every 12 months. People interested in becoming part of the volunteer program attend an interview with the Fitness Center’s management team.

If you are going to use volunteers, discuss with them the time commitment required for training and teaching, substitution procedures, and what is expected of them in terms of evaluating and updating their skills. This will help avoid unnecessary training of people who may not be able to commit the time or who do not understand what is required. Potential volunteers should be given honest feedback on their skills and deficiencies, and be made aware of both the benefits and drawbacks of becoming a volunteer instructor. Being upfront from the beginning will help avoid misunderstandings.

Volunteer motivations

Volunteers have different motivations than paid employees. The management team must understand some of the major reasons and motivations people have for volunteering.

Extrinsic. The first question posed to a potential volunteer instructor should be, “Why do you want to become a volunteer?” Even though the term volunteer in its strictest sense excludes the notion of monetary or material gain, many people are motivated by benefits. The World Bank Health Services Department administers the Bank’s fitness program. It offers each volunteer instructor a free membership and locker, a yearly stipend of $200 for shoes and tapes, free CPR certification and financial assistance with advanced certifications.

However token or paltry these benefits may seem to an outsider, they can be an important motivation for people. They are a tangible sign of an organization’s thanks and commitment to its volunteers and the program itself.

If a person’s sole reason for volunteering is based on perceived benefits, this could be a danger sign. It may indicate that the person is volunteering for selfish reasons with little or no understanding of the service component.