Non-Profit Challenge: Building a Strong Volunteer Support Community

The Colts Drum and Bugle Corps, based in Dubuque, Iowa, is one of 22 World Class drum corps within Drum Corps International (DCI). DCI describes drum corps as "an intense, choreographed musical experience staged on football stadium fields by students achieving high levels of excellence in performance."

Young men and women between the ages of 13 to 22 can participate in drum corps. They join a corps through an audition process; the Colts hold their auditions in November and December. World Class corps can have up to 150 members divided into brass, percussion and color guard. Once a member joins they participate in monthly camps where they learn the choreography and music they will perform on the tour. The tour runs 70 days, from late May to early August and travels 13,000 miles.

The Challenge
The Colts need a strong volunteer base to keep it running smoothly. Volunteers help on a monthly basis with the camps. Once tour starts, nothing is more important than the Colts food program -- feeding the corps members.

Since this is an auditioned activity, members change every year. Additionally, members must retire at 22. This means the base for volunteers changes each year. How do we best communicate to this changing set of potential workers?

The Solution
It is hard work to be a volunteer for the Colts (actually, for any corps). While it is hard it is also fun, rewarding, overwhelming, exhausting and exhilarating. At least that’s how I found it.

With a wife that marched, I knew what I was getting into. But there were some parents that had no idea what it was all about. There was no place where potential volunteers could go to get information on what to expect. And there were plenty of horror stories about problems that occurred because volunteers had no idea of what it was going to be like.

During camps, I talked with the volunteer leads about the major problems they found with “the newbies.” I also talked with many of the volunteers from “my year” about the things they bumped into.

With this information in-hand I wrote Rules of the Road, the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps Volunteer Handbook, a conversational style orientation on what it was really like to volunteer and how to make the experience as fun and rewarding as possible.

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