Lessons From Sochi: What a Difference Volunteers Make

Some 25,000 volunteers helped put on a successful Winter Olympics in Sochi, despite the Games’ rocky start. You may not have (or need) that many at your event, but volunteers can bring local flavor and extra hands on deck to your next meeting.

There’s no denying the impact volunteers can make.

At the start of the Winter Olympics, for example, much was made of the less-than-stellar living conditions in the Olympic Village. But the briefly viral images of #SochiProblems gave way to a more lasting picture of these Games that stole the headlines: the “relentlessly cheerful army of volunteers,” as The New Yorker put it.

An estimated 25,000 people showed up throughout the 17-day sporting spectacle to help athletes, officials, and spectators navigate Sochi.

“Anytime you have an event of that caliber, you have to rely on volunteers to help you get the job done,” said Deana Ivey, chief marketing officer at the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation.

For associations, extra sets of hands can come from staff members who are onsite at a meeting or attendees interested in playing a behind-the-scenes role. However, Ivey said, destinations can be a great resource for providing local volunteers for a meeting from start to finish.

“Here in Nashville, as with many other destinations, locals understand the importance of the hospitality, meetings, and tourism industries, and they are so proud of their city that they want to help, and they want to showcase the city in its best light,” she said. “These are people who are familiar with the city and everything that’s going on, so they can give out the correct information, and they can assist an attendee with whatever they need.”

Volunteers in Nashville have been used in various ways, including at airports and hotels to greet attendees with local flare, to help with transportation and on the tradeshow floor, and even to book dinner reservations.

“These are people who recognize the importance of southern hospitality,” Ivey said.

While it’s not the Olympics, Nashville is preparing for a major sporting event in its own right: the NCAA Division I Women’s Final Four in April.

“We’re in the process of recruiting volunteers for that event,” Ivey said. “Anytime you have an event of any of these magnitudes, you cannot do it with just your staff. You have to rely on volunteers, and you need good ones that are excited about it and who want to be there and will be dependable and responsible. It’s just impossible for a meeting or event to be a success without the help of a good, strong volunteer base.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, shown with a number of Sochi volunteers. (photo via the official Sochi Olympics Flickr page)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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