Intrinsic. There are other intangible or intrinsic reasons why members may volunteer. Many like the team atmosphere that is engendered and see it as an opportunity to meet new people, improve their self-confidence and develop new skills. Some also have the altruistic motivation of helping other people achieve their health and fitness goals ‹ a very satisfying and worthy motivation. Volunteers can be motivated for all of these reasons, as well as because they are doing something they enjoy and have fun doing it. This is a very important motivation that employers often neglect to foster. Management must ensure it is a fun experience for all involved.

Management support

Each member of the management team, including the club owner, fitness director, aerobics director and club manager, should show his or her support and appreciation to the volunteers. Teaching is often a very daunting task. Volunteers should be given patience and help along the way to allay their fears.

One of the most difficult aspects of an instructor’s role is handling difficult customers and situations. The management team should train volunteers to deal with these problems. Volunteers should be aware that criticism, sometimes constructive, and at times very harsh, is part of the deal. You can hold yearly retreats and regular workshops to discuss issues such as this one.

Open communication is essential, either through group or individual meetings, email messages, memos, etc. The management team should be easily accessible and open to ideas and suggestions from the volunteers. Also, management, particularly the person ultimately responsible for the volunteer program, should be able to give open and honest feedback to the volunteers. Sometimes this will not be an easy task, especially in cases where a volunteer’s skills are lacking. Regular training and skill updates should be available, but if no improvement results, taking a volunteer out of the program is essential. Both management and volunteers must agree that member satisfaction is paramount.

Benefits of using volunteers

The most obvious benefit of using volunteers is the dollar savings a successful volunteer program can bring. In a large corporate program, such as the one at World Bank where volunteers provide more than half of the 60 classes per week, centers can save more than $60,000 per year in wages.

Many other benefits can be gained from using volunteers. In a corporate program, volunteers set a great example for coworkers to become involved in the fitness program. Their commitment to volunteering their time and following their own fitness program is a great example to other workers who may lack motivation to exercise.

Volunteers also help promote the fitness center’s classes and various promotional activities by word of mouth. This is often more effective than the regular newsletters, bulletins and promotional flyers that are sometimes overlooked by busy members. Volunteers who are supportive of the management’s policies and procedures can also help other members better understand why certain rules and regulations are followed (time restrictions on machines, limitations to class-size numbers, class time changes, etc.).

Careful and skilled recruitment of volunteers can help provide a diverse range of activities that capitalizes on a unique mix of skills and cultural backgrounds. In a culturally-diverse area or company, volunteers can provide unique formats such as Latin aerobics, African rhythm classes, classical ballet and Aussie boxing aerobics.

Potential problems

Working with volunteers is not all smooth sailing. In corporate programs there is often a clash between the instructor’s “real work” and his or her volunteer work.

If a last-minute meeting is called or a deadline is imminent, it is not easy for volunteers to suddenly leave work to teach an exercise class. No matter how well-planned a volunteer program is, “real world” crises do arise. Management should be aware of these pressures and have substitute procedures in place.

If problems consistently occur with a particular volunteer, management should approach this person. He or she should suggest that, “While we love having you involved and appreciate your efforts, maybe you should have a rest from teaching until your workload is less demanding.”