This guest post was written by Chelsea Kahle, Business Development Manager at interactive presentation company, Zeetings.
How to Manage Volunteers for an Event
It’s the day of your event. You’re trying to keep things under control, making sure everyone’s happy, and that the day will be success. There’s just one problem — your volunteers keep messing up.
Volunteers can be a godsend, or they can be the one thing that turns a big success into a gigantic failure. They’re the double-edged sword of event planning. They’re passionate and committed — we’d get nowhere without them. But the tradeoff to having their help is that they’re often inexperienced. Most volunteers will only take part in a single training session prior to your event, the rest won’t even show up…
The result? Spending your day tidying up mistakes, re-explaining how to do things and working twice as hard than you would have to, had your volunteers been better prepped.
To learn how to manage volunteers for an event and minimise any problems that may occur, you should follow these basic best practices.
1. Delegate wisely
When planning a corporate event, remember that not all job roles are suitable for volunteers. Not every organisation can afford to hire people, and that’s understandable — but exercise care in which tasks you delegate to volunteers and the level of authority you give them. Sure, they’re working for you, but don’t forget that they’re giving up their own time to do so and usually asking for little in return — so they’re not obliged to give you their peak performance either.
Whether small or large in scale, certain events and roles need to be handled by experienced and professional staff members. People who know your business intimately and can be relied on to reflect that to the public.
2. Work with their strengths
Volunteer staff are there because they want to be, not because they have to be. Give them a hand by assigning them roles which take advantage of their interests and their strengths. Channel their energy and spark and put it to work in winning over your audience. This could mean designating some volunteers as hosts or greeters, sitting them at event tables to talk to attendees, or using them to conduct demonstrations, facilitate participation in activities or moderate digital Q&As.
3. Set expectations
Providing detailed job descriptions is a major part of effective volunteer management. It’s important that you provide people with a clear outline of exactly what you expect them to do, how to do it, and how much time it will take. Setting these expectations from the beginning will mean avoiding surprises later down the track — both for you, and the volunteer themselves.
Give yourself the best chance of getting the right volunteers by recruiting in advance. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to dedicate as much time and resources to recruiting volunteers as you’d like to. But there’s some simple hacks you can use, such as asking questions and using online polls or surveys in order to suss out the skills of your applicants.
4. Invest in training
One powerful tip for managing volunteers is to provide comprehensive training from the start, to avoid misunderstandings further down the line. Your volunteers are often unfamiliar with the way your organisation operates, so they’ll need as much (if not more) training than you’d provide to a regular employee. Don’t throw them in the deep end by overlooking this… or you’ll be asking for trouble.
5. Keep them motivated
We all have different motives — especially when it comes to offering our help for free. In 2016, 44% of Australian adults volunteered a total of 932 million hours — which shows we’re a pretty generous bunch. Some people are happy to receive nothing in return for their volunteer efforts, while others do it to gain experience or to get an inside look at an industry they want to break into. Whatever the motivation, it’s critical that your volunteers never feel taken advantage of.
One of the first things to ask your volunteers is why they want to help in the first place. Do they want to gain experience? A free pass? Special access? Once you know why your volunteers are interested in your event, you can focus on what incentives you need to provide in order to keep them motivated and committed.
5. Show gratitude
When you make people feel valued, they’re far more likely to go above and beyond to help out. That’s why you should always try to remember that, no matter how stressed you get in the middle of an event, your volunteers are here to help, not hinder. While it might not always feel that way, it’s up to event organisers to show their gratitude and offer support to volunteers so that they know they’re making a difference…and are more inclined to have our backs.
Having effective event volunteers is one way to help disaster-proof your next event. For more tips for avoid headaches, check out 10 common event disasters and how to avoid them.
Chelsea Kahle is the Business Development Manager at Zeetings in Sydney, working closely with event planners to help them get the most out of their events and presentations. She wears many hats from seeking out new people to impress with Zeetings, to working on Marketing, Strategic Partnerships, Social Media, and hunting down Sydney’s best coffee spots