In 2010, more than 13.3 million people, or 47% of the population, volunteered their time through a group or organization*.

This might seem like a big pool of potential volunteers for your conference but we all know there is plenty of competition for the good ones.

Loyal volunteers will support your event year in and year out – but only if you support them. So by investing in volunteers you not only develop a great conference team but also a strong base of support for your event – and therefore your organization. Volunteers are an investment that will pay off in spades for decades if you treat them well.

Here are a few tips to help you build and retain the support of the good ones:

  • Make them feel appreciated: This is the number one thing that will keep volunteers coming back: lots and lots of thank yous coming from you personally as well as from other people within your organization is key. Letters or emails of thanks post-event can come from board or other association representatives sharing their appreciation.
  • Give clear expectations: All volunteers should receive a complete volunteer package that is welcoming and exclusive well in advance of the event. It is your responsibility to guarantee that when they arrive at your conference they already have a clear understanding of what they are doing and where they are going. Leaving them feeling lost is a very negative way to start their experience.
  • Make their jobs interesting: Keeping volunteers engaged and involved is an important way to show value for their time. If a volunteer feels like all they are doing all day is standing around, they are not going to want to return. Finding things for volunteers to do during ‘down time’ is just as important as keeping them on task during busy time.
  • Ensure that while they are meeting the needs of your delegates you are still meeting their needs: Keep them fed, keep their personal needs met. Keep them happy!
  • Out of pocket costs: Whenever possible avoid leaving your volunteers with parking bills and other related expenses. Whenever possible help to organize carpooling or supply parking vouchers if the budget allows. Ensure they are fed during the day and that they have adequate break time to keep them refreshed and energized.

After your event has ended, take the time to ask volunteers after they have dedicated their time what they thought of their experience and how they felt it might be improved. Continue the dialogue to help reinforce the relationship and let them know that their input is valued.

Lastly, it is important to remember not to burn out volunteers – even if you are still able to retain volunteers year to year, continue to look for fresh faces to allow for consistent volunteers to have a break. This shows that you appreciate and do not take them for granted.

Cheerful and dedicated volunteers become representatives for your organization: when they look good, you look good. Finding ways to keep them happy and keep them coming back should be number one on your list when it comes to volunteer relations.

*2010 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, Statistics Canada.