Inspiring Volunteers For Event Success

Volunteerism October 27, 2011

Tatiana Morand

By Tatiana Morand

In our Small Membership Insight Survey, we asked participants what they’d like to find out from their peers. After receiving a long list of topics, we are trying to offer some tips and ideas to address our survey respondents’ questions. So in this article, we’ll focus on the question: how do smaller organizations meet their volunteer requirements to plan and execute events?

Where do your event volunteers rank on your “to do” list?

For many organizations, an event’s success is dependent on a network of volunteers. Yet with so many event details to tackle, volunteer recruitment and management may not make it to the top of your endless “to do” list.  But if your organization is struggling to find or keep enough volunteers to stage an event, it might be time to focus some energy on recruiting, engaging and managing event volunteers.  And you might want to start by developing some strategies and practices for:

  • Recruiting the right team of volunteers
  • Welcoming and orienting your volunteers
  • Ensuring volunteers’ efforts are recognized 

Finding and recruiting enough of the “right” volunteers

For small organizations that may not have a volunteer manager, you might consider either striking a recruitment committee or establishing a volunteer coordinator role as part of your event volunteer leadership team. Alternately, if you have already identified individuals to manage the various event functions (e.g., venue, promotion, registration, etc.), you could have each of these folks take responsibility for recruiting their own team.

Once you have your recruitment team or leader in place, it makes sense to start by looking within your closest circle of influence and then widening the search field as necessary. Here are some recruitment ideas:

  1. Start with existing/previously identified volunteers:
    • Are there willing volunteers from a previous event? (Be sure to recognize their past efforts and ask them how they might like to participate this year – don’t assume their interests or abilities before you check in with the individuals.)
    • Do you have a volunteer database you can check for recruits?
    • Has your organization asked for volunteers in the past and neglected to follow-up?  If so, now is a good time to reach out.
  2. Look within your immediate “circle of influence”:
    • Friends
    • Family
    • Co-workers
    • Neighbors
    • Community members (at church; clubs; sporting teams, etc)
  3. Publicize within your network:
    • Ask your board or existing volunteers to recruit a friend
    • Write a newsletter article or a post on your organization’s blog or forum
    • Post a request on your Facebook page
    • Post a compelling video or photos of last year’s event on your Facebook page and ask for new recruits (follow-up with anyone that “Likes” your post
  4. Broaden your search:
    • Place an ad in your community newspaper
    • Post a request at a local high school, college or a student volunteer centre
    • Signup with one of the volunteer-matching sites

Getting volunteers off to a good start – to ensure they keep coming back

Once you’ve recruited your event volunteers, it’s time to focus on creating an environment that makes them feel welcomed and valued so they have an experience that is fun as well as rewarding for all involved.

Making the effort to get your volunteers off to a good start is important since these individuals will become the face of your organization at the event – helping and mingling with your audience, VIPs, potential supporters, speakers, etc. In addition, these volunteers who are giving their time and effort to support your organization, may also be members or donors – the very folks your organization is trying to engage and retain. 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).

There are some steps you can take to ensure volunteers start on the right footing and keep coming back:

  • 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.
  • 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. If there is a large network of volunteers and multiple tasks or groups, be sure to ask new recruits what they want to do and what they are good at to ensure their interests and skills match their volunteer job.

    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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

The effort should be well worthwhile

When volunteers are critical to your event success, undertaking effective recruitment, orientation, management and recognition is time and effort well spent. As one of the contributors to the Energize Recruitment Insights post suggests,

The first thing we must always do is "Ask.” The second thing is to "Explain" what positions are available and what would be the best fit for their talent and interest. The third thing is to encourage and help create a motivating environment even though we are asking them to work hard and to do it without pay. The fourth thing is to keep in touch, to call and let them know we appreciate their involvement and that we look forward to seeing them next year and to bring a friend, relative or anyone else that may be looking to contribute new ideas and energy toward a very worthy cause."

Recognizing volunteers’ efforts so they’ll keep coming back

Just as you thank, acknowledge and recognize your speakers, sponsors and partners, it’s also important to thank your volunteers. Since they are critical to your event’s success, thank volunteers often and recognize them well. 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!

Volunteer recognition or rewards can take many forms – 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 may be all the reward a volunteer needs.

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