How to get shit done when nobody is getting paid – Part 1

Most of us don’t join roller derby leagues to brush up on our bout production, ticket taking, or administrative skills. We came to fucking skate.  But a couple months into joining a league, it becomes abundantly clear – one does not simply skate in roller derby, and that we sometimes feel at odds with how much freakin’ work it takes to run a league.

The magic and empowerment of our sport is directly related to the DIY aspect of it. As the sport grows, production values escalate, and training needs become more demanding, we need to train up our ranks to be able to handle business so that we can continue to run our sport in our interests. It’s a fine balance – we don’t want Roller Derby to turn into an insufferable bureaucratic nightmare that feels like our dreaded day jobs, but on the other hand, a little professionalism can go a long, long way.

Here are some things that I have learned in the past several years about how to make things work with donated time.

Respect Peoples Time

If you only have room for one piece of advice, make it this one.  In order to gain the trust of your league mates and volunteers, they need to know that they will not become an indentured servant with heaps of endless disorganized work cutting into their skating (and sanity).  Think of your volunteer project like asking your league mates to help you move.  If you make it easy on them by being fully packed, ready to start when they arrive, and staffed enough to keep the move down to 2-3 hours, your friends are likely to be happy to help next time you need a favor.

Now, we all know that being fully packed and ready to go is easier said than done.  The challenge is determining how much time it will take to do something, accounting for bumps in the road, and knowing how many volunteers you will need to do the job.  As the committee or project leader, putting in an extra 30 minutes to work out the time aspect of a project, whether its putting on a bout, an event to promote your league, or holding a meeting will save everyone time and encourage people to work efficiently. I believe this is the absolute KEY to keeping a loyal volunteer force without accidentally enslaving yourself in the process, either. Without that pre-planning, you are at risk of being that person whose house looks like a landfill on moving day, and no amount of pizza and beer (or promises of a derby revolution) is going to make it seem worth anyone’s time to participate.

Plan the entire year with the league, too. You have your games, but what about training camps, parties, or open scrimmages? How many larger scale league promoting events do you think you’ll need to keep your league rolling? Decide what your big events are, commit to them, and start the planning earlier than you think you need to. Resist the temptation to take on last minute large scale events or projects, unless you are positive that your league mates and volunteers have the capacity to work them. It’s worth mentioning that people often think they have capacity, when they really don’t.

Clearly defined tasks make time management easier

So… how DO you plan the time out?  Make a list of everything that needs to be done.  Don’t lump things together into mega tasks – break it down the same way you would a skating skill.  For example, if you need to go out and promote an upcoming game:

– Find some places to go pass out fliers (festivals, bars, farmers markets, etc.) (45 min)

– Recruit skaters to pass out the fliers (1 hour)

– Find someone who is good at talking to people to head up the “chatting up” and ask them to help (30 min)

– Make sure we have enough fliers (30 min)

– See if someone has an iPad to show derby clips to show people who are unfamiliar with the sport (or do on the spot ticket sales) (1 hour)

– Find awesome clips (they don’t have to be from your own league) to show new people (1.5 hours)

– Obtain tickets to sell on the spot (1 hour)

– Event will last 2.5 hours

Making this list took me less than 5 minutes, and I spent 2 minutes guessing how long it would take to do each item.  Next, I would call a 10 minute meeting after practice to divvy up these tasks. Sell them on the short amount of time it takes to do something. Follow up with everyone after a couple days or a week to ensure that it’s been handled or see if someone needs more time or some help. Don’t let the overachievers agree to take on the whole list. Give them a couple of things, and they can take something new on once they are finished with the first task.  If someone can’t finish and needs to pass it along, they are more likely to be forthcoming about it rather than hide from you because they feel they are letting you down.

Deadline is not a dirty word.

Don’t be afraid to use deadlines. Be realistic when setting them, and make sure they are actual dates and/or times.  “As soon as possible” is not a real deadline. Set soft and hard deadlines so that you have time to troubleshoot or re-assign something if things aren’t progressing as needed by the soft deadline.

Don’t load up on toppings.

If you work in design of any kind, this may sound familiar. The client says they want a certain number of things, you agree to do those things, and halfway through the project, all of the things have now changed, and suddenly there are new things piled on top of the existing things, and all of the things have become an unmanageable mess that has eaten away your budgeted time and there is probably now a mutual distrust and distaste between you and your client.

Because running and growing a league is such a mammoth undertaking, it’s possible to slip in to “client from hell” habits and run down your best volunteers (many of them overachievers), especially when things change mid-stream. If someone agrees to research a place to hold a fundraiser, their job is done once they have given you a list of places. It’s not implied that they will also make arrangements with the venue, negotiate the cost, be the main point of contact, or anything else. Once they have the list, you can ask if they can to do the next thing. Otherwise, delegate to the next person.

Things tend to get overwhelming when good volunteers get more and more tasks piled on them because we know that they will get the job done. As someone who has been in this position, I’ve learned it’s a two-way street. On one hand, it’s up to the overachiever to get better at saying no and knowing her limits. The flip side is that often the overachiever tries to turn down extra work, and while crickets chirp as the task goes undone or unclaimed, s/he ends up having to bust it out last minute, which I’m sure isn’t stressful at all.

This is how you burn people out, shortening their career as a loyal league member.  As such, I’ve learned….

Don’t ever fucking do anything on your own.

League work is like derby in this sense. You have better odds at winning if you’re working together. It may seem more cumbersome at first, but if you recruit newbies in your league to help you out, they’ll come out of it knowing how to do something for the league, and will likely feel more empowered to volunteer for things as they come up. Even if their initial role is to be copied on e-mails, do a simple research task, or even tag along for a larger job and observe or brainstorming ideas over beer, it’s still better than leaving them in the dark while you do everything yourself.

I hope this post was helpful!  Stay tuned for the next post, which is probably going to be my class notes for my Spit It Out! Rollercon class on communication.




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