Many of our clients rely on the work of volunteers to make their events a success. Volunteers are just as important as your attendees, exhibitors or speakers, yet they are often an afterthought. Here are some things to consider when recruiting, interacting and managing your volunteers.

Create High Impact Volunteer Roles

Volunteers want to know that their time is making a difference for the cause. It is your job to make sure that when designing volunteer roles, they are roles that are critical to the success of the event. It is also important to find a balance between too few and too many volunteers, as issues are sure to arise in either case. Let’s take the registration process for example, if you have 200 registrants arriving between 9:00 and 10:00 you need to stagger your volunteer shifts. You may have two people starting their shift at 9:00 and another two join them at 9:30 before the rush is anticipated to begin. This will ensure your volunteers are active throughout their entire shift and see direct results from volunteering their time.

Understand Their Connection to Your Organization

There are so many volunteer opportunities to choose from, yet this volunteer has come to your organization. Do you know why? Giving them the opportunity to share their reasons for coming to your organization is a great way to make them feel valued and welcome. Many people have a connection to a certain cause or event and will volunteer just because of that connection. Others have volunteered because they have heard great things about you, perhaps they were referred by a friend who has raved about your volunteer program, or they attended one of your events in the past and were extremely impressed. Knowing the “why”, will give you invaluable insight to how your organization is being perceived by the public and assist in attracting great volunteers in the future.

Set Up Your Volunteers for Success

Volunteers are often as important to the success of your event as your own employees and they should be trained accordingly. Communication is key here.
Have you:

  • Communicated a clear job description with all duties and responsibilities?
  • Supplied them with the resources to make them successful at their job?
  • Made someone readily available to answer any questions and respond to concerns?
  • Set up an evaluation framework to be able to give them constructive feedback?

By asking yourself these questions you can ensure you are setting up your volunteers to be successful.

Volunteers Reflect Your Event Story

Think about the event story you have created (see related article). How do your volunteers fit into that story? Your attendees are going to interact with your volunteers throughout different points of your event and they are likely the first and last person of the day that your attendees will see – the impression your volunteers make is immensely valuable.
Consider the following questions to ensure that your volunteer strategy is consistent with your event story:

  • Should your volunteers be dressed formal or business casual?
  • Should your volunteers be of a certain age?
  • Should they be able to speak multiple languages?
  • Does their dress reflect the image you want to create with your event story?

Keep Your Promises

If your volunteers have been offered something in exchange for their time, make sure to deliver on that promise. If they have been promised lunch, don’t bring in donuts and coffee. If they have been promised the opportunity to take part in the event after their shift, make sure they are finished their shift on time. If in doubt, always under promise and over deliver.

Promoting Your Volunteers

Do you have an amazing volunteer who has gone above and beyond? Have they been involved with your organization for a long time? Think about promoting them to a volunteer lead position! A volunteer lead is a person who will act as the manager of a particular section of your event. For example, let’s say you have a volunteer who has worked registration at your annual conference for five years. That volunteer has a vast pool of knowledge in registration and likely has the ability to manage other volunteers. Through making them the volunteer lead in registration, you are giving them more responsibility and showing your appreciation for the work they have done in the past. A volunteer lead will also help to take some of the stress off of you, as you will only have to manage the volunteer lead instead of managing all of the volunteers who are involved in registration.

The Power of Volunteers

Much like the customers or clients of your organization, volunteers have the power to influence the reputation of your organization. We have all heard that if someone has a bad experience they are likely to tell many people, whereas if they have a good experience they may only tell one. Many of our clients rely on volunteers to make their organizations function, often having more volunteers than employees. That being said, they hold a great deal of power in creating a favourable reputation of your organization.