Leveraging Volunteers for Successful Events

August 28, 2017

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I say it takes a village to pull off a successful event! No one person can do all the work themselves. Event planners struggle with managing contractors, staff and guests on a regular basis. It can get so hectic that at times, we forget that volunteer power can supplement our teams while playing a huge role in the success of an event. However, before corralling a bunch of seemingly willing participants, it is necessary to plan for volunteers in a strategic way. The goal has to be a win-win for both sides!

Volunteer vs. Paid Staff

Before you assign volunteer roles, it is important to distinguish between duties suitable for volunteers and those that are more appropriate for paid staff. Save the technical stuff like money handling, database management, and troubleshooting for the people you pay. Because volunteers are sometimes less reliable than paid staff, it is important to carve out roles that anyone can slip into with little to no training. For instance, volunteers are great as greeters, swag distributors, direction pointers, ushers, ticket takers, etc. Don’t give them the stressful jobs. That’s what you pay your trained staff to deal with.

Customize Volunteer Roles

A great way to make sure your volunteers are placed in roles they can easily handle is to survey them prior to assignment. For more elaborate events, consider compiling volunteer data through a pre-screening questionnaire. Be prepared with a list of potential volunteer needs and ask each volunteer in which areas they would prefer to assist. But, be sure to clearly define roles so there is no confusion when duties are assigned.

Will They Show Up?

So now you have a slew of volunteers just chomping at the bit to work your event for free. This is when you ask yourself: Will these people actually show up? Understanding volunteer motivation is the key to leveraging their effectiveness. Based on prescreening, you should take heed to what attracted volunteers to your event in the first place. Do they want a free pass? Are they looking for experience for building resume? Maybe they just want the free swag?To keep these villagers happy, you’ll need to offer incentives. Consider allowing them into your event at no cost and make sure their volunteer schedule includes sufficient breaks so that they can partake in the programs. Also, make sure they have access to food and beverages throughout their stay. And, finally, make sure your volunteers receive any “free gifts” your guests received at check-in.

Don’t Forget to Say “Thank You!”

Happiness is contagious. If your volunteers are happy, your guests will feel it; and odds are, they’ll enjoy themselves. Happy guests equate to a positively memorable event. So, rewarding volunteers for the part they played goes a long way. Public recognition is a must. Find time at some point during your event to recognize those who gave their time to support your cause. A token of appreciation is also a nice touch. Consider a gift delivered to their hotel room, a gift card, plaque, or similar item. Finally, private recognition is just as important. A nice, handwritten thank-you card dropped in the mail post event might just seal the deal on a return volunteer in the future!Bottom line is this: For a successfully staffed event, plan accordingly for volunteers. Be sure to place them strategically throughout your event and to recognize them for their time.