By Abby Whiteley
Editor’s Note: Abby Whiteley is Vice-President of QuidditchUK and Captain of Oxford Mammoths
- Volunteering in European NGBs
3.1. Survey results
3.2. Club vs NGB volunteering
- The free-rider problem
4.1. Group size and free-riding
4.2. The need for change
Volunteering is a perennial issue in quidditch, and it is one with deep and complicated roots. This article will not discuss all issues in quidditch volunteering, as that would be an enormous project. It is, instead, a health-check on the administration of European National Governing Bodies (NGBs). A survey was sent out to all 19 European NGBs; their responses revealed deep and widespread problems in NGB-level volunteering, even in countries where quidditch is thriving overall. This first half of a two-part article will give the survey results and a discussion of underpinning issues. The second half, to be released on Wednesday 25th September, will discuss how the relationship between NGBs and their player bases can be improved, thereby – hopefully! – resulting in more community volunteering.
Running an NGB is complicated. To do it well, you need to recruit skilled people with motivation, time and energy, promising little payoff except a CV boost and a sense of achievement, the latter of which may be completely undermined by stretched resources, overwork and community scrutiny. Last season, QuidditchUK advertised for 26 tournament committee roles. They received 11 public applications over the entire season, with no tournament receiving more than three applications. This means that 11 people, plus a couple of incredibly hardworking people on the Events team, ran five tournaments in seven months for over 980 players. There is great work going on behind the scenes, but, particularly in tournament organisation, an immense amount of work falls on the shoulders of just a few.
Inspired by the start of a new season in the UK, but also daunted by the challenge, I decided to investigate if other European NGBs encounter the same issues with recruitment, especially in leadership and tournament committees. Although discussion of refereeing and snitching would be welcome, this was beyond the scope of this article. I sent a short survey (see Appendix A) to all European NGBs, using publicly available email addresses on the Quidditch Europe website. They were given a week to respond, with a follow-up after five days, and I received responses from 11 NGBs. The finished article was sent back to respondents and they had two days to give comments or corrections. One representative responded saying that the article was very long to read in one sitting, which we hope is addressed by presenting it in two parts. I will present the responses first, then give an overview of the health of volunteering in European NGBs. Then, a sociological theory will be applied to help explain why certain problems have emerged. Solutions and recommendations for NGBs will be given in Part Two.
- Volunteering in European NGBs
3.1. Survey results
I received responses from representatives of the following NGBs:
- Quidditch Austria
- Associació de Quidditch de Catalunya (Catalonia)
- Česká asociace famfrpálu (Czech Republic)
- Quidditch Denmark
- Fédération du Quidditch Français (France)
- Polska Liga Quidditcha (Poland)
- Norges Rumpeldunkforbund (Norway)
- Asociación Quidditch España (Spain)
- Svenska Quidditchförbundet (Sweden)
- Schweizerischer Quidditchverband (Switzerland)
This represents a good mix of large NGBs (such as the UK), mid-sized NGBs (such as Spain) and NGBs with fewer teams (such as Denmark and Switzerland).
The table below gives key figures for volunteering in the respondents’ NGBs. Executive Management Team (EMT) refers to those at the highest level of administration: the president, the chief executive and operating officers, department heads, and others who steer the direction of the organisation. For the purposes of this discussion, “permanent” volunteers includes all volunteers whose role is not contingent on the completion of a certain milestone, therefore excluding tournament committees. It is acknowledged that ratios between NGB volunteers and players would be a more sensitive measure than absolute numbers, but gathering player numbers would have complicated the research process.
Table 1: Self-reported volunteering numbers in European NGBs (September 2019)
|EMT permanent volunteers||Other permanent volunteers||Temporary volunteers recruited 18-19||Total|
All NGBs except Norway and Sweden reported concerns of varying severity about recruitment, and all NGBs except Norway, Sweden and Denmark stated that it was difficult filling executive positions (although Denmark struggled to find a head coach for the national team). Almost every NGB named projects they would like to launch with more volunteers. The projects mentioned are listed below, with the countries whose representatives mentioned them:
- Better or more tournaments (Catalonia, Sweden, Spain, UK and Poland);
- Sponsorship (France, UK and Switzerland);
- Translating the rulebook (Sweden);
- Referee development (France and Austria);
- Improving visibility of the sport (France and Czech Republic);
- Hosting international tournaments (Catalonia);
- Better media (Poland and Czech Republic);
- Improving financial management (Czech Republic);
- More playing opportunities (UK and Denmark);
- Kidditch (Switzerland).
Smaller NGBs did not have the same concerns as others; representatives from both Denmark (self-identified as a “small” NGB) and Switzerland (five teams) noted that small teams with few resources made it difficult to hold events, and Denmark in particular stated that this was the main limitation in holding events rather than volunteer numbers. The Swedish representative explicitly stated that “Since we’re such a small community, there aren’t a lot of positions to fill”; this volunteering distinction between small and large groups will be discussed further in Section 4.
Difficulties interacting with the player base and encouraging volunteering were observed by multiple NGBs. One NGB representative stated that players “protest” volunteering requirements, and another noted that “the main problem is time, and many people want more, but don’t give time for more”. Another respondent said they only had a full EMT due to legal requirements for non-profits, and that in reality most work was done by only three or four people as players are not willing to volunteer. A representative for another NGB ventured reasons for low engagement from the player base, stating: “Some are afraid they won’t be good enough, many don’t have the time, and others just don’t care much”.
Although the overall picture was worrying, there were a couple of positive points. The representative for Switzerland stated that the situation was “complicated but getting better”, and that players were generally willing to help if asked directly even though official applications were low. The Norwegian representative described the situation as “mostly positive”, and added that “someone has until now always picked up and volunteered when needed”. It is clear that good practice is happening in Norway and that the Swiss NGB is developing solutions in volunteering, and more research with these NGBs to explore good practice would be welcome.
On the whole, however, it is clear that there are deep concerns in NGB volunteering, especially among mid-sized and large NGBs. The fact that 9 out of 11 respondents from European NGBs state they struggle to fill roles, and 10 could list projects they could not do due to lack of volunteers, should worry you for the future of our sport. However, the low levels of volunteering at within NGB is not reflected at every level of the sport; there are much higher numbers of people volunteering within their clubs. This contrast is worth examining.
3.2. Club vs NGB volunteering
This is a contradiction in quidditch volunteering which I find quite compelling. While many NGBs and tournament committees run on overstretched skeleton crews, despite the obvious need for their existence, there are dozens of people volunteering in most countries – hundreds across the world – running their clubs. Systematic data is not yet available on club volunteering, although an upcoming project within QuidditchUK will supply this for the UK, but this sense was corroborated by the Czech Republic, whose representative observed that “if there is someone willing to volunteer, they often stay at local (team) level”. It is probably fair to say that most clubs will have at least a president or treasurer, a captain and a coach. Assuming one team of 21 players and an executive of three, which is likely low-balling, clubs have a proportion of one executive member to six non-volunteering members. QuidditchUK, however, operated in the 2018-19 season with a proportion of one permanent volunteer to 19 players.
Now, some clubs are run by very limited executives, with varying levels of success and workload, and astonishing work is being done across the world in club management; this is not to be dismissed. Clubs deal with the vast majority of interpersonal issues arising in the sport, and this is exhausting work which the NGB rarely needs to handle. Further, national-level administration and tournaments are working with economies of scale which clubs do not benefit from. However, even accounting for this, most clubs are not running multiple tournaments a season, taking thousands of individual payments in fees, working with external media, and doing other work which NGBs perform. The step up in work that NGBs do, against the number of people doing it, is not simply a scaled-up version of the situation in clubs. On the whole, clubs do less with proportionally more resources. Some clubs do huge amounts of work with few resources, and this is not to discredit that work. However, the fact remains that five European NGBs (45% of survey respondents and 26% of all European NGBs) run with seven or fewer people, while many clubs have executive teams of five or six people.
There is a push and pull between NGB and club volunteering: better-organised clubs are easier to manage, and if there were no clubs the NGBs would have no job to do. People who spend most of their spare time managing their club also do not have time to give to their NGB as well, which is completely understandable. That said, there persists a general enthusiasm for club volunteering which is not felt at the NGB level, which hinders the work they can do. How can we explain this difference in volunteering enthusiasm?
4. The free-rider problem
I believe the volunteering distribution between NGBs and clubs can be explained by borrowing a concept from economics and sociology. This will not address every issue in NGB volunteering, but it does help to explain player engagement and emotional attachment to the NGB, which are important factors.
A reasonably well-established principle in economics, which has also been applied to other fields, is the free-rider problem. It was introduced by Olson (1965), used to describe people who benefit from public goods but do not contribute to them. A good definition is as follows: “a member of a group who obtains benefits from group membership but does not bear a proportional share of the costs of providing the benefits” (Albanese and Fleet, 1985, emphasis added).
An important detail of the free-rider problem is that it affects medium and large groups much worse than smaller groups (Albanese and Fleet, 1985; Abásolo and Tsuchiya, 2014). Stigler (1974, in Albanese and Fleet, 1985) describes how people often act in large groups: “individuals will fail to participate in collectively profitable activities in the absence of coercion or […] inducements”. This may sound familiar to anyone who has tried to recruit for a role in quidditch.
The experimental evidence for free-riding is mixed, showing that in some cases the problem is minimal or does not emerge (Smith, 1980; Scherr and Babb, 1975), but there are also many cases where it is apparent (Kim and Walker, 1984; Abásolo and Tsuchiya, 2014). The numbers from volunteering in European NGBs clearly show evidence of free-riding. There are many people in quidditch who benefit from the public good (tournaments, organisation funding, and so on) who do not contribute in terms of work. Yes, they pay fees and attend tournaments, which is participation in its own way, but they benefit from work they do not directly contribute back to, especially at an NGB level. As a European NGB leader noted, volunteer time and effort is the main thing quidditch requires to survive.
4.1. Group size and free-riding
There are various explanations for why free-riding emerges, but Albanese and Fleet (1985) break it down into three probable reasons:
- Monitoring of free-riding decreases: “As group size increases, noticeability of a member’s contribution decreases, making free-riding more probable. In addition, with increasing group size the motivation to monitor free-riding decreases because the effect of free-riding is distributed over the larger number of group members” (p.246);
- People think their contribution won’t make a difference: “As group size increases, it is easier for a group member to conclude that contributing will make no perceptible difference in the group’s provision of its public good” (p.246);
- In large groups, each individual receives a lower share of the total public good: “In a five-member group in which the public good is to be divided equally, each member receives one-fifth of the public good… However, in a 50-member group, each receives one-fiftieth of the public good, perhaps a relative share too small to elicit public good contributions from group members, even though the total amount of public good received is greater than the five-person group” (p.247).
This provides a useful explanation for the differences between club and NGB level volunteering. Point (2) is particularly helpful; it captures that people can see the difference between having a club treasurer and not, while their concept of having a tournament committee with one less person is probably not as clear. The public good of putting effort into running a club is obvious to its members. People can also see the direct effects of volunteering with their clubs because they interact with their teammates on a weekly basis, and they have deep emotional attachments to their club and its members.
The public good of running an NGB, however, is less well-defined and the individual’s contribution is less clear. This means NGBs need to resort to “coercion and special incentives” (Albanese and Fleet, 1985: 247), such as volunteer requirements (coercion) or perks (incentives), because individuals will not respond to the public good alone. When he introduced discussion on free-riding, Olson (1965) was talking about industrial action and not giving up your time to run a quidditch team, and the limitations of taking this principle out of its context are acknowledged. However, this approach explains a major contributing factor of how quidditch operates in terms of volunteer motivation, especially the difference between clubs and NGBs.
The free-riding concept does not explain distinctions between smaller and larger NGBs as effectively. The UK, the largest reporting NGB, noted difficulties in finding volunteers, as did mid-sized NGBs France and Spain. However, there was great variation in how easily smaller NGBs found volunteers. Representatives from Sweden, Norway and Denmark reported fewer problems, while Switzerland had a mixed response and there were more difficulties reported for Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland. This may not fit the free-riding analysis as well because free-riding is often discussed by number of total people, and not number of smaller groups (such as teams). Even a six-team NGB such as Austria, assuming around 15 players per team, will have 90 people, which by some estimates is enough for free-riding to emerge (Purves, 2008). However, this does not explain the divergent behaviour among small NGBs, and there is not a consensus on the exact size of groups which encourage voluntary contribution (Dunbar, 1992; McCarty et al, 2001). This means that number of players is not an entirely satisfactory explanation for differences among NGBs, although it remains a plausible reason for differences between club- and NGB-level volunteering. Further research here, including deeper discussion with NGBs about their volunteering policies and culture, would be valuable.
4.2. The need for change
None of this discussion is presented to vilify those who have not yet volunteered with their NGBs, or to downplay the role of snitching, refereeing, club volunteering or other contributions. All contributions are immensely valuable, and even the smallest roles help to build this whole sport that we are creating together. Playing, too, is its own contribution, and it also requires time commitment. The useful thing about using a sociological principle here is that it moves away from blaming individuals, and allows us to understand that this is simply how humans relate to organisation in larger groups: “Universal free-riding […] eventually emerges, despite the fact that most people are not selfish” (Fischbacher and Gachter, 2010). It isn’t a matter of personal failing; it’s a matter of sociology.
The issue of free-riding is central to volunteering in quidditch. NGBs and tournament committees which run on the goodwill and energy of a handful of people suffer when those people step away from the role, and a more sustainable system needs to be found. The representative for Austria emphasised that they have high turnover due to burnout, and this is an issue in NGBs across the continent. Social structures can be changed, and we need to change the culture if we are to survive. There is no getting around the fact that more people need to participate to avoid volunteer burnout, and this means we need to address the fact that many people never feel compelled to volunteer with their NGB, even if they would consider volunteering with their club or refereeing at a tournament.
There are many causes underpinning free-riding in terms of NGB volunteering, such as concerns about heavy workload, contributions elsewhere in the sport, and low intrinsic motivation; these could all be discussed individually. However, I would like to focus on what NGBs can actually do to address the situation. The prevalence of free-riding implies that it is fundamentally a cultural issue, where volunteering with many NGBs is not normalised and players do not feel a strong motivation to step up, and this is what I’d like to address.
Part Two will be published on Wednesday 25th September, where I will propose some approaches for NGBs to improve their relationship with their players and break the vicious cycle.
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Questions in the survey distributed to European NGB volunteers on 11/09/2019 and closed on 18/09/2019. The original survey can be provided on request.
- Which NGB are you responding for?
- How many permanent volunteers at an executive level does your NGB have?
- Description: For example: president, events director, league manager, etc.
- How many permanent volunteers at non-executive level does your NGB have?
- . Description: Non-executive volunteers are not in the Executive Management Team of your organisation. They may be assistants or lower managers.
- How many temporary volunteers (such as tournament committee members) would you estimate your NGB recruited last season?
- . Description: This is specifically about administration: it includes people who run tournaments or specific events, but not referees, snitches, etc.
- Please describe the volunteering situation in your NGB.
- . Description: Is it mostly positive or negative? Do you have enough volunteers? Are the community enthusiastic to apply for positions?
- What would you do if you had more volunteers?
- . Description: Are there any projects you cannot run because you don’t have enough volunteers?