I found out this week that I was honoured with the Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club‘s (EBTC) volunteer of the year for 2016. I would have found out eight weeks sooner had I read the email from the club president a bit more carefully. Setting aside the dangerous of skimming emails, I thought I would take a moment to think about the bike club and how it has master the art of promoting its volunteers and also its mandate of hope.
A Club Sans Drama
It may be that I am blissfully shielded from such matters as a worker-bee-volunteer, but the EBTC is blessed with a lack of petty-drama. That is small people making big deals out of inconsequential matters of little interest to anyone but themselves. I have been in enough volunteer organizations to know how much of a blessing this is. Nothing kills the volunteer spirit faster than inconsequential bickering.
Purpose, Affiliation and Experience – the Currencies of a Volunteer Experience
Next the club has nailed the three critical ways to pay volunteers: Purpose, Affiliation and Experience. I described these in an earlier blog on volunteering – which funny enough was inspired by going to an EBTC brunch in 2013.
- Purpose: This may seem easy but even for a club seemingly focused on one thing, cycling, it has its perils. Does cycling mean racing, touring (supported or unsupported), the Tour de l’Alberta, training, mentoring, etc. While never perfect, the club has reasonably been as many things to as many cyclists as possible without diluting or killing itself.
- Affiliation: This is sense of belonging that starts with a purpose but requires people who fundamentally like each other enough to hang out. Having a low-drama-quotient helps but implicit and explicit cultural rules are also is critical. The club has managed to gently nudge would-be-drama-queens out the door while guiding others toward correct behaviour.
- Experience: Finally the easiest one, experience. hundreds of individual rides over a wide span of abilities is the foundation for the success of the club. As important, members have opportunities to improve their riding skills through these events.
Hope – the Clubs Main Product
The merits described above are because of strong cultural traditions and an even stronger executive and a good ‘product‘:
The Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club (EBTC) is a recreational not-for-profit volunteer-run group dedicated to facilitate its members to cooperatively run bicycling trips during the spring, summer and fall, cross-country skiing trips in the winter, and social events all year round.
However, these are all based on a more profound product which is also germane to most volunteer organizations: HOPE. Hope is when a strong rider wants to maintain or improve their skills. It may be an out of shape rider hoping to find her activity or a family seeking an activity sans phones and distractions.
EBTC and Spreading Hope to a Larger Community
The club is doing a great job at its core functions and with its current members. Nevertheless, the following is a list of possible challenges for EBTC to take on to become not only a better club but also contribute to a better member of the YEG-community. The risk, of course, of taking these on is that the club may drift from its core mandate. The benefit of considering these (or other ideas) is that the club improves the purpose, affiliation and/or experiences EBTC can provide to its members.
- Family Centric Riding: Currently the club focuses on adult ridership. While this makes sense from a logistical, risk and legal perspective – it does mean that the club relies of chance to cultivate new memberships rather than a pipeline that promotes from within. Children are dangerous creatures for volunteer organizations but this may be where partnership with existing organizations (learn to ride, Scouting, etc.) may be easier than building EBTC’s own program.
- Lower-income Riding: how can the club help families and solo riders who can ill forward groceries let alone a good bike? One method would be to encourage low cost bike maintainance or facilitating the sale or loan of bikes from members.
- Sharing the Land Riding: how can the club attract members of the first nation communities? Rolling across a quiet road has some parallels to what a person may have experienced in times past.
Good Intentions and Execution
The above are food for thought and the only good idea is the executed idea. This is where the club volunteers come in and once again I was honoured to be selected by my peers. Hopefully time, energy, circumstances and good fortune will continue to allow me to volunteer.