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Spotlight on RYA Volunteer Awards - taking 'thank you' further 

Volunteers - we all need 'em, most of us are them! But what do you do to say 'THANKS' to the people who keep your club not only running but helping to make it the best place it can be?

Entering those who really do go above and beyond for an RYA Volunteer Award is a brilliant way to say the biggest 'thank you' possible. And you know what happens when people feel truly valued and appreciated? It makes it easier to keep them motivated and to recruit others too.

South Staffs SC have become regulars at the RYA Volunteer Awards each November, with award-winning members enjoying a trip to London and the prestigious luncheon to be presented with an award by HRH The Princess Royal, after making the awards a key part of a volunteer recruitment and retainment strategy.

With the deadline for this year's awards looming on Monday 3 April, South Staffs have a clear message to any club thinking about nominating for the first time - 'Get on the case now!' Here's why...

How do you use the RYA Volunteer Award programme to incentivise your volunteers?

Neil Hawkins (former Commodore): It's easy to overlook, and sometimes difficult to reward and recognise all volunteers by constantly thanking them verbally or during events or courses they have contributed to, no matter how large or small their efforts. The work of coaches, maintenance teams, committee members and other key roles such as flag officers etc rarely gets the recognition it deserves. 

By actively having a process to consider and document the roles an individual has done, sometimes over many years, gives that individual every chance of their 15 minutes of fame at the fantastic RYA Volunteer Award event each year. The feeling of being valued is seen by the individual and all the other members as a way of inspiring future recipients to become involved in club activities.

How, why and when did this come about?

NH: I became aware of the RYA Volunteer Awards when I was Commodore in 2010-11. I thought it was a good idea and realised we had many many prospective recipients for a backlog of volunteering over several decades. It was relatively easy to nominate and compile the history of an individual’s contribution to the club with extensive evidence of involvement in many activities that make the club operate successfully. In the five years since we have had nine volunteers win awards. 


There must be so many worthy candidates. How do you actually choose who to select?

Annette Fitzpatrick (current Commodore): The Commodore circulates the awards criteria and benefits of nomination to the committee around January, and asks them to think about who they may like to put forward with a brief outline of the reason. This must be confidential.

On receipt of the nominations we have used the following criteria:

  • Has someone been nominated by more than one committee member?
  • Do they fit the RYA criteria for selection?
  • Who could we make the best case for each award?
  • Has the nominee done additional things for the sport of sailing outside of the club?
  • What positions have they held within the club and for how long?
  • Looked at length of membership and age of each of the nominees
  • How has the club benefited from the individuals contribution?

We typically find we are left with a shortlist of people and I then discussed this with Vice-Commodore and a long-term committee member, who had club history, to ensure we made decisions based on past and present work the nominee had done. Provided everyone knows the selection criteria was fair and open, it was difficult and there are many others we would like to consider in future years, members seemed to be happy with this. Remember you can nominate others in future years, as we have done.

Describe the process the club goes through to nominate

NH: We formed a very small group of 2-3 people to highlight potential nominations each year, and with only one submission allowed per category this makes the process relatively straightforward. The current Commodore then sources assistance to complete and submit the nomination, requesting supporting letters from relevant parties. It is not discussed at meetings due the confidential nature of the submission.

AF: Involving the Vice Commodore, or whoever is the Commodore-in-waiting, in the process is almost part of the Commodore handover. They can see the value of the awards and continue the process into the next year too. The fact this year our VC has also been Membership Secretary I found very useful as he was able to show me a list of when everyone first started and/or became a regular member, which helped us determine what Award categories would best suit which members. You can also spot husband and wife and/or families in this list to consider for joint nominations where appropriate.

What are the timescales for all this?

AF: Start thinking about it and asking people to give you their nomination suggestions privately now! The deadline is three months away and feels ages but to get the supporting evidence together, especially if you have to get supporting letters from people outside of the club, like a class association for example, can take a couple of weeks. Our new Commodore takes over at the start of March and it's one of their first jobs.


How do you recognise / celebrate an Award winners success within the club?

NH: You can't miss it! The story, before and after the presentation, goes into our Good News Friday newsletter, on the website and our social media. The RYA also send the story to the local press and it typically features in the paper with winners sometimes invited to be interviewed on the radio too. The winners also get mentioned as part of our whole volunteer 'thank you' at the Commodore's Dinner in the summer and reiterated at the AGM. It really is valued within the club; many people see the photos from the day and we have found it does inspire people to stay and get involved as it creates a real feel-good factor around volunteering.

Have you got any other advice for clubs thinking about nominating for the first time?

AF: It is amazing how many people volunteer for other sailing things outside of the club to benefit the wider sport, whether that's class associations, Scouts, the RYA, race officials, schools, anything. Don't just look internally at their work at the club, look at the person as a whole and bring that into the nomination. Go back over years too, not just recent activity as you may have some people within your club that have had such an impact in the past that was never rewarded at the time.

So how do you nominate for a 2017 RYA Volunteer Award?

Everything you need to know, including categories, criteria, nomination forms. contacts and deadlines can be found at the Related Articles at the top of this page. Nominations close on 03 April 2017 

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