It doesn’t matter if your event is large or small, chances are you’ll need help and you might not be able to pay for all of that help. That’s where volunteers come into the picture! With some effective planning, good leadership, and fantastic communications, you can build a team of volunteers who will help you make your event a success.
Of course, volunteers can be a phenomenal asset to your event or they can cause more problems than they’re worth. As an event organizer, it’s your job to recruit, train, and manage a team of volunteers who are willing and capable of being the positive assets you need them to be. Below are 10 key steps to build and manage an effective team of volunteers for your event to help you get started.
1. Define Your Needs
Why do you need volunteers? What do you need them to help you accomplish before, during, and after your event? Your first step to build a team of volunteers who can help you at your event is to determine what you need them to do for you. This includes creating a list of specific tasks as well as the skills they’ll need to be able to complete those tasks.
In addition, consider the types of personalities you need to recruit. If you need volunteers to sell merchandise, then you’ll want to find people with outgoing personalities. It’s likely that you might have needs that require volunteers with specific physical abilities. For example, if you need volunteers to lift heavy boxes or stand for long periods of time, then you’ll have to look for people who are capable of doing those things.
Action Item: Write a list of your needs.
2. Create Volunteer Roles and Responsibilities
With your list of needs created, it’s time to turn them into volunteer roles and responsibilities. Review your needs list and look for related items that can be grouped together. This creates a loose categorization system that typically translates into departments or sub-teams based on job functions such as ticketing, gate management, concessions, merchandise, traffic, crowd control, marketing, customer service, and so on.
From here, you can create roles within each sub-team or department and associate specific tasks from your list with each role. The volunteer who takes on one of these roles will be responsible for completing the tasks associated with them. Next, you can take this information and write job descriptions for each role. Be sure to include the responsibilities, skills or knowledge required to do the job, how much time the volunteer will need to commit to do the job, and the deadlines they’ll be responsible for hitting.
The goal is to set people’s expectations so they get the volunteer roles that are best suited to them. The more detailed you can get in your volunteer job descriptions, the better. It’s better to scare off a potential volunteer than it is to bring in a person who is the wrong match and could do more harm to your event than good.
Action Item: Categorize your needs, turn them into roles, and write detailed job descriptions for each role that you need to fill with volunteers. Also, determine how many people you’ll need to fill each volunteer role.
3. Give People a Reason to Volunteer
Few people volunteer at events unless they get something in return. Therefore, it’s up to you to give them a reason to volunteer by offering incentives that they can’t resist. For a music festival, the incentives could be free tickets or free backstage passes. For a business event, the incentives could be as simple as having something to add to a resume or getting a letter of recommendation from you after the event.
Don’t just offer incentives that you would like. Instead, you need to think about the type of people who might consider volunteering and identify the incentives that they would like. What freebie or experience can you offer to them that they would perceive as having an equal or greater value than the time they’d need to commit to volunteering at your event? When you think about incentives as a value trade – their time for whatever you give them in return – you’ll be much more successful at getting volunteers to help at your event.
Action Item: Create a list of things people would like to get from your event. Put a value to each item on the list as the audience would perceive them. Finally, select the incentives that are likely to motivate the right people to volunteer for your event.
4. Write Messaging and Promote Your Volunteer Opportunities
With your volunteer job descriptions and incentives written out, it’s time to start promoting your volunteer opportunities. First, you need to write promotional messages that succinctly communicate the benefits of your volunteer opportunities. Be sure to include details about when and where the event will be held, what tasks they’ll be expected to perform, what skills you’re looking for, and what they’ll get in return.
You can use your promotional messages to raise awareness of your volunteer opportunities and recruit volunteers across the social web. Create a volunteer website or a form to capture prospective volunteers’ information for follow up. You can use Google Forms or a tool like SignupGenius to do this. Bottom-line, when you promote your volunteer opportunities, you need a dedicated place to send people to learn more and sign up.
Promoting your volunteer opportunities doesn’t have to be expensive. Start by sharing the information and link to sign up across your social media profiles, on your website, and even on your ticket sales page. Get busy networking online and offline, and ask people you know to volunteer or at least spread the word about your volunteer opportunities. Also, try to recruit the performer’s fans or recruit by geography based on the location of the venue. You can invest in affordable Facebook Ads to find people who might be interested in your event, are interested in volunteering, and live in your target area.
Action Item: Write your promotional messages, and create a list of 10 ways to promote your volunteer opportunities.
5. Recruit Volunteers
In addition to the promotional tactics discussed in #6 above that you can use to recruit volunteers, you can also conduct searches across the web. For example, there are a number of websites that connect volunteers with opportunities. Keep in mind, some of these websites only work with charitable events. Examples include VolunteerMatch and Idealist. Another great option is your local Craigslist. Every Craigslist site includes volunteer and event sections where you could post a recruitment message.
The local community is a perfect place to look for volunteers. Ask the venue for recommendations if you’re not from the area. Connect with the local Chamber of Commerce and recreation department and ask if there are ways you can share the news that you’re looking for volunteers within the community. You can also contact the local newspaper and radio stations to ask for publicity or to place an ad for volunteers.
Action Item: Make a list of 10 ways to recruit volunteers for your event. Prioritize the list and start reaching out as appropriate to get the ball rolling.
6. Pre-qualify and/or Interview Prospective Volunteers
When you start getting queries from prospective volunteers, it’s important to make sure they’re put into the best roles based on their skills, knowledge, and interests. Consider creating a pre-qualification questionnaire on your volunteer web page that asks questions about the volunteer’s skills, interests, and reasons for volunteering at your event. You can use this information to pre-screen volunteers and place them into the best roles.
If you don’t have time to personally interview every prospective volunteer for your event (which is often the case for large events), that’s okay. At a minimum, use the pre-qualification survey, and if possible, have a phone conversation. Skype video calls are free and a great way to speak with and see prospective volunteers before you decide to give them a role. Also, be sure to ask people what type of role they’d like to have. Just because someone is a marketer by day doesn’t mean they want to do the marketing for your event. They might want to sell merchandise or do something entirely different! Give them a choice if you can and they’re likely to be happier volunteers.
Action Item: Create a pre-qualification questionnaire using Google Forms or another form tool like JotForm or FormStack.
7. Communicate with Your Volunteers Often and Clearly
Great communication is critical to building a team of effective volunteers who can help make your event successful. You need to be in frequent communication with all of your volunteers, so they’re up-to-date on everything that’s happening with the event which could affect them. Frequent communication also makes them feel more involved. It builds a relationship with them that inevitably reduces no-shows on the day of the event.
Hold regularly-scheduled team meetings by phone or online using a tool like GoToMeeting or Join.me. Both of these tools allow screen-sharing, too. For large teams, you can use a tool like Slack to keep everyone in the loop, and to manage tasks and projects, consider using a project management tool like Trello or Asana.
You might want to assign leaders for sub-teams if your full team of volunteers is large. This way, sub-teams can have their own conversations without cluttering the full team’s communication stream and confusing others. For smaller teams, you might decide to set up a group chat or use a private Facebook Group for conversations.
Action Item: Set up a method to hold regularly schedule meetings with volunteers and choose a tool or method for ongoing team communications.
8. Train Your Volunteers Well
Training is essential for every volunteer. They need to know their assigned tasks, deadlines, who to go to for help, their itinerary for the day of the event, and contingency plans. You need to make sure they have all of the tools required to do their jobs and that they know how to use those tools.
In addition, your volunteers need to understand what is expected of them in terms of your code of conduct, dress code, and so on. Train them on how to report problems and how to treat ticket buyers, vendors, VIP guests, performers, and others. If volunteers will lose their incentives if they don’t show up, arrive late, or don’t perform well, they need to know that, too. Also, don’t forget to share little details like where they should park on the day of the event, if free food and water will be available to them, when they’ll get breaks, and so on.
Action Item: Create a training program and develop a written code of conduct and performance requirements document that volunteers will be required to follow.
9. Follow the Law
Even though volunteers aren’t your employees, there are still some federal labor-related laws that apply to how you work with volunteers. There may also be state laws that you’ll need to follow, so do your due diligence and learn the rules before you start writing job descriptions and recruiting people.
For example, it’s likely you’ll need to obtain insurance for volunteers. You might have to give them breaks after a certain number of hours working, and you’re probably not allowed to replace a paid worker whose job is necessary with a volunteer.
Action Item: Do your research and identify the laws related to volunteer workers that you’re required to follow for your event.
10. Send a Post-Event Volunteer Survey
After the event, it’s always important to send a survey to volunteers so you can learn what went well and what didn’t. This is valuable information that you can use to improve your volunteer programs at future events. You can use Google Forms or a survey tool like SurveyMonkey to create and send your survey to your volunteers.
Include questions about the recruiting and training processes, how job descriptions were written, if roles matched job descriptions, and if communication was adequate. Ask volunteers what could have been done differently to improve the volunteer experience. Also, be sure to ask if volunteers were satisfied with the incentives and if they would volunteer at your future events or recommend volunteering to other people. Follow up with a why or why not question!
Action Item: Write your post-event volunteer survey.
Your Next Steps to Get Event Volunteers
To get event volunteers, you need to follow the 10 steps above, but even after you’ve sent your post-event survey, your work isn’t done. You also need to thank your volunteers. You can do this by email or snail mail. You could even call them individually. Most importantly, your thank you messages need to be personal and genuine. Don’t send a message to all of your volunteers at one time. Instead, show them you truly appreciate them with an authentic, personalized message, a hand-written note, or a phone call.