How to Effectively Use Volunteers at Your Event

Written by
Published on
August 13, 2018

If there is one thing that running a big event takes more than anything else, it’s manpower. You need people to set up your event and break it down. People to coordinate with attendees to ensure they’re having a good time. People to take care of speakers and sponsors — and that’s just the day of! That isn’t to say anything about all the people you need to get your event off the ground. So it’s easy to see how much bigger your budget needs to be in order to pay every single person involved in running your event! Which, for most, just isn’t a viable option. Enter — event volunteers. Using volunteers is an easy way to help mitigate the need for serious manpower at your event, while simultaneously keeping costs low. But using volunteers takes its share of finesse, organization, and communication to keep everything running smoothly.

Communicating with Volunteers

When it comes to working with volunteers, nothing is more important than good communication, both before and during your event. It’s important to have a volunteer meeting a few days before the event. While there will always be some volunteers that won't be able to make it, many of them will show up so that they know the run-down before the day of. Send out a reminder email a couple of days before this meeting. You’ll also inevitably catch people who might have forgotten to tell you their schedule has changed, and they’re no longer able to help out. This meeting is a great time to go over the event schedule, talk to each volunteer about their position and answer any questions. The day of your event, you'll be swamped with everything going on, and it can be hard to patiently answer all your volunteers' questions. Hence, the more the volunteers know in advance, the easier it is for you on the big day. At this time, you can also give your contact information to each volunteer so that they can easily reach you if they need to cancel. Let them know that they can text, call or email you in the event that they can't show up.

Volunteer coordinating

Appropriately Delegating Responsibilities

One challenge with working with volunteers is making sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing at all times. Since many event volunteers don’t do this work professionally, it can be harder for you and your team to keep them on task. This is where creating crystal clear roles for all of your volunteers is key to keeping them on tasks and working for the entire time you need them. One simple way of doing this is to create positions with creative titles, descriptions of specific tasks, and time frames. Leave the word ‘volunteer’ out of your role title/description and use workplace titles to help make the person feel more responsible: Coordinator / Manager / Supervisor / Assistant. Likewise, you can also create a tiered system of positions, so that "Assistants" have a clear "Manager" to whom they will report to during the event. That way, not every volunteer is coming up to you or your staff members the whole time with questions. They need to refer to their "Manager". One way to ensure this is to be strict about having your staff assign volunteers to their positions, instead of allowing them to choose one for themselves. The positions with a lot of responsibility can be given to qualified volunteers, while simpler positions are open for anyone to sign up for. Finally, you should try to include some flex positions with trusted volunteers who you know will be able to jump in when needed. A few volunteers usually drop out last minute or get sick, so having a few reliable flex volunteers reduces stress.

During the Day Of

Once your event gets started, you’re going to be swamped. You’ll want to make sure everyone is in their places, working, with as little hands on effort from you and your staff as possible. Which is why it’s key to have clear boundaries and expectations for your volunteers:

  • Have clear volunteer etiquette policies. Is it ok for them to participate in the event, like bidding on auction items, (typically, yes), drink alcohol while on shift (technically, no), eat the event food during the event (usually not), or whether it's ok for a volunteer to hang out after their shift has ended (depends). Whatever the case is for your event, you need to make those rules crystal clear to your volunteers beforehand.
  • Create a volunteer dress code. Depending on the style of the event, having volunteers clearly indicated by their clothing is helpful to guests. You also want to avoid a volunteer showing up looking sloppy to a nice event, which can be a real distraction.
  • Use name tags. Create special name tag lanyards to hang around each volunteer’s neck, and include each volunteer's own schedule on the back. This helps remind the volunteer where they need to be throughout the entire night.
  • Have a check-in/ check-out station for volunteers. Including a sign-in sheet at your event is a good way to notice if someone hasn't shown up when they are supposed to and find a replacement for their position. Likewise, when a volunteer ends their shift, they can sign out on in the sign-in sheet and record a time. This will be useful when entering in volunteer hours later

Volunteer coordinating

After the event

Once your event starts coming to a close, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the end-of-day mayhem. But there are some important tasks still left to complete to keep your volunteers on track. One position that is often looked over by events is a "Clean Up Crew" or "End of Event Coordinator" that helps with wrapping up the event. After running an event, you’ll be super tired and having some fresh blood will help keep everyone motivated to pack everything up and get out of the venue. This position can arrive later in the evening, (for example, 30 minutes before the official end of the event) and help with breaking down decorations, packing up supplies, and dealing with other loose ends. While using volunteers in the role is very useful, it’s important to assign a staff member to be the sole person who can decide when to allow volunteers to start breaking down the event. You don't want to start breaking down the event if there are still attendees around having a good time, but some volunteers can become impatient and start doing their job early. So, make it policy that breakdown doesn't begin until one specific person says so. If volunteers aren’t staying through your whole event, they should also let their "Manager" or you know that their shift is done, and they are leaving. This will ultimately reduce a lot of confusion and wondering where people have ‘run off to’.

Saying Thank You

This helps them feel appreciated and valued. Volunteering can feel like a thankless job, and while you’re running around it can be hard to stay on top of saying thank you, but a little recognition will go a long way. Likewise, don’t forget to follow up with each volunteer with a personalized thank-you note, email or call after the event. You can also use this time to get their feedback for next year and see what you can do to make your event even better in the coming years.

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