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Organizers from Sac City, the overnight town July 25, also have put out a call for volunteers on Facebook and Twitter. We are looking for about 400 people total to get ready for Ragbrai, provide support during the day (July 25th), and clean up afterwards. And we have 400 of these cool shirts for the people who help! Contact Lance Wilhelm via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Other events finding help scarce
It’s not just RAGBRAI that’s begging for help. Stephen King, Des Moines Arts Festival executive director, said the June 25-27 festival at Western Gateway Park also had trouble recruiting volunteers, despite being the biggest event yet in the capital city since pandemic restrictions were dropped. Organizers also had problems with last-minute volunteer cancellations, King said. Though some might see that as a troubling indicator, “I was not concerned by this, as I believe that everyone has to resume participating in public events on their own time,” King said. “We were prepared and made it work.”
A November study from Fidelity Charitable, the charity of financial services firm Fidelity Investments, found that two-thirds of volunteers had reduced or stopped contributing their time because of the pandemic.
It was an acceleration of a trend events organizers like Hall have seen for years as service organizations like Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions club chapters have declined. Organizers now must make targeted solicitations for volunteers, not blanket calls, he said. “What’s filling people’s buckets now is less about commitment to an organization and more about completion of a goal,” he said.
Iowa Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Mark Wyatt said there was a 30% decrease in volunteers for the group’s Pigtails, Big Rove and BACooNfundraiser rides this year.
“There was so much going on,” Wyatt said. “Everybody had a wedding scheduled, a graduation, there were other bicycling events happening. So it was hard to pull from our usual people that are out volunteering.”
RAGBRAI Director Dieter Drake said he, too, had a hard time finding volunteers for the June 19 Tour of the Battenkill, a bike race he manages in upstate New York. Most events recruit volunteers ages 50-70 who may still be somewhat averse to crowds, Drake said. But like Hall, Drake said that during the pandemic, the events industry also lost the attention of people who usually volunteer. He said he believes there will be a rebound in 2022. “Once they see an event like RAGBRAI come across the state, maybe they’ll have a little bit of remorse about not volunteering this year because they see their friends and relatives out there volunteering,” he said. Like Pirie in Moorland, Hall said he thinks Waterloo will eventually fill its volunteer slots. After all, big festivals can only happen if volunteers lend their time, he said. But a lot of people will commit to those shifts only a few weeks in advance, he said, suggesting it could be a nail-biter. Ultimately, though, “I have no doubt that we’ll be in a safe spot,” he said. “Every town on RAGBRAI and every festival that we’ve got will be in a safe spot.”