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Supporting Your Event Volunteers

This month we’ve been focusing on events – offering posts to help you strive for a new normal in event planning and get your events promotion message out. But since your event’s success is likely dependent on a network of volunteers, perhaps it’s also time to set the bar a little higher for how you manage and support your event volunteers. 

So many tasks and so little time

Every event involves a seemingly endless “to do” list and it’s likely that focusing on volunteer management doesn’t rank up there as a high priority. Even with the best intentions, your organization probably assembles your long-standing team along with some new recruits and then you delegate away.  

But if that is the case, ask yourself:

  • Do you think your volunteers are enjoying themselves?
  • Do you think they feel valued?
  • Do you face a high turnover rate for event volunteers each year? 

Add volunteer management to your “to do” list 

Having had experience on both the staff and volunteer sides of this equation, I recognize the challenges involved, including lack of time and resources. In the event planning melee, it’s easy to forget that your event volunteers are just that – volunteers, giving their time and effort to support your organization.  But they are also likely members or donors – the very folks your organization is trying to engage and retain. In addition, these individuals are about to become the face of your organization at the event – helping and mingling with your audience, VIPs, potential supporters or members, speakers, etc. So it is important that they understand their role and feel part of a team working towards a common goal.  In a nutshell – they are your organization’s goodwill ambassadors (at least during the event).

Here are 5 steps you can take to ensure your event volunteers feel valued, and have a fulfilling volunteer experience.

Whether these are one-time event helpers or long-term volunteers, as we noted in a recent post, Getting Volunteers Off To A Good Start,  there are some steps you can take to ensure volunteers start on the right footing and keep coming back:

  1. Make volunteers feel welcome: Whether it is the first event meeting of many or the actual day of the event – someone needs to take time to say welcome, offer a brief orientation to the organization, the event and the venue. Ensure all of the volunteers are properly introduced and know who they can turn to with questions or concerns.
  2. Offer clear role descriptions and training: Offering a clear description of the job they are tasked with, and training to ensure their success, benefits everyone involved. New volunteers can feel overwhelmed or isolated if they aren’t sure what to do and it can also get tiresome trying to figure things out without any support. This kind of frustration can lead volunteers to feeling they are wasting their time. If possible, pair people up with more experienced volunteers who can answer questions and make them feel part of a team.
  3. Help volunteers understand how their work makes a difference: If a volunteer is new to your organization it might be difficult to fit into or feel a part of the machinations of an annual or ongoing event. It can also be hard for them to understand how the tasks they are assigned fit into or make a difference in the big scheme of things.  So, whether they are staffing a registration table, handing out programs or setting up for a silent auction, try to ensure they understand how important their job is to the event's success.
  4. Motivate and challenge volunteers and make it fun: Find out what they are interested in and what skills they have to offer, and try to fit the volunteer with the available tasks to keep them motivated. Also listen and be open to their ideas and suggestions. Even though there's lots of work to do, try to make this a fun and rewarding experience too.
  5. Say thanks and reward volunteers: Thank your volunteers for signing up; thank them for attending meetings; thank them for their efforts and ideas; and then thank them again when it’s over for helping make your event a success! Rewards can take the form of recognition – e.g., listing their names on a slide, in a program, on your website. It could also involve hosting a post-event meeting and celebration. Sometimes ensuring there is a place at a table for a dinner, or an introduction to a speaker or VIP is all the reward a volunteer needs.    

For additional inspiration for supporting your event volunteers, check out this Nonprofit Blog Carnival Round-up of posts that offer insight into Improving the Volunteer Experience.

Image source: Portrait of happy...volunteer group, courtesy of Bigstockphoto.com

 

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]
Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]
Published Monday, 18 February 2013 at 8:30 AM
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