Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Volunteers - Vital to Event Success

In my experience as an event planner, volunteers are needed for practically every event you execute. They help with a variety of duties including but not limited to registration, security, crowd control, setup/teardown and way-finding. Volunteers are important as they represent and contribute to the success of your event. They are the nuts and bolts that help your event run smoothly. For the most part, your event would not be able to be executed without them.

To help you with selecting and managing volunteers, here is my process and guidelines:

Number of Volunteers

To determine the number of volunteers for the event you need to thoroughly review the event schedule from start to finish and determine where you will need help. One way to help with this is to create a floor plan of the event so you have a good visual of where volunteers need to be. Another way is to actually go down to the event venue and create step by step scenarios.

Another thing to keep in mind is that on the day of the event you have to be prepared for volunteers being late or not showing up (an event planner should always be prepared for the unexpected). I would recruit more volunteers than you need just for this reason, that way you won't be scrambling to find a replacement.

Volunteer Positions

Once you have figured out how many volunteers are needed for your event, you will need to determine the types of event positions. Make a list of the volunteer position titles and their descriptions. Make sure the descriptions are specific and provide enough information.

Recruiting Volunteers

There are a variety of ways to recruit your volunteers. You can make a post on the following websites:
There are of course more websites than that but that is just a sampling. You can also create posters and place them on community center boards, have event planners promote recruitment to their existing volunteer list (if they have one) and communicate to your friends/colleagues about your need.

To help attract volunteers you can offer them incentives such as a free t-shirt, free entrance into the event, raffle draws and gift cards. 

You should create a volunteer application for volunteers to complete which includes the following fields: first name and last name, contact information, address, work experience, references, preferred volunteer dates/times and preferred volunteer positions.

Once you have received enough volunteer requests, it is important to review each volunteer application (if feasible). You really want to make sure you recruit the kind of people that will show up, work hard and provide a positive image for the event. Reviewing may take some time and you may need to get some help. It would be best to call the references the volunteers have provided to make sure they are the right fit and can do the job. It may be good to also do a bit of digging on LinkedIn or Facebook. This process may seem tedious but it's important to select the right candidates as they will be the faces that represent your event.

Once you have selected your volunteers, send them an email letting them know that they have been selected. The email should also include their volunteer position and description, schedule, event contact/address information and orientation information.

Volunteer Coordinator

Whether it be an event staff member or a volunteer, it's a good idea to have a volunteer coordinator to monitor the volunteers and be a go-to person. If it is a small event, this position may not be needed but if it is a large event I would say it is important. As an event planner, you have many things to oversee on the day of the event and a volunteer coordinator would help tremendously.  

Volunteer Orientation

When possible, it is important to have an event orientation for all the volunteers. This will give you, the event planner, the opportunity to give a run down of the event and provide your expectations. You should discuss the following key points:
  • Overview of the event (what, when, why, where, how)
  • Volunteer roles
  • Expectations (ie. come early, don't use your cellphone, be helpful, what to wear etc.)
  • Emphasize that they are contributing to the event success
  • Event staff contact information
After discussing those points, provide an opportunity for the volunteers to ask any questions they may have so they are crystal clear about everything. It is also good to provide a handout to all volunteers recapping the key points you discussed.

Once the orientation is complete, it is best to send an email out to all the volunteers going over what was discussed to really make sure they understand their roles and volunteer expectations.

Send Out a Reminder

A couple days before the event send out an email to all the volunteers reminding them of the date and time of their shift, their role, the event location and event staff contact information. 

Event Day

When the volunteers arrive, have the volunteer coordinator (or yourself depending on the size of the event) brief them again on their position and guide them to their volunteer location. Make sure the volunteer coordinator and/or yourself monitors all the volunteers frequently to ensure they are doing their job.

Each event planner deals with this differently but if a volunteer is late I personally would give them a chance to redeem themselves. First ask them why they were late and explain to them that being late is unacceptable. Once you have had a discussion with them, brief them on their position and bring them to their volunteer location. If a volunteer is late for the second time, I would tell them they they are no longer part of the event.

If a volunteer does not show up for their shift, I would first try to contact them. If you cannot get a hold of them, I would ask a volunteer to do double-duty and take over two positions or if you recruited more than enough volunteers (as discussed earlier), switch a position. If you are not comfortable with having a volunteer do more than one position, I would get the volunteer coordinator or yourself to step in and help out.

If you find that a volunteer is not doing their job, I would bring them aside and emphasize the volunteer expectations and their volunteer role. Explain to them that they need to focus on their position to ensure the event runs smoothly and is a success.

Post Event

After each volunteer shift is complete it is important to thank each volunteer, tell them how much you appreciate their help and how they contributed to a successful event. You can also ask them for feedback on the event itself as this will help you improve future events. For larger events, event planners sometimes throw wrap-up parties for the event staff and volunteers to express their gratitude for a job well done. Taking the time to thank them will make them feel valued and want to volunteer for future events with you.

I know this post was a bit of a long one but I wanted to give you as much information as possible on volunteer coordination and management.

-Shira :)


Anonymous said...

That is very informartive and helpful! Thank you!

Diana said...

That is very informartive and helpful! Thank you!