Tips to Go from Design ‘Freak’ to ‘Geek’

Guest post by Ariane Criger who presented on  graphic design basics at our recent YNPN Des Moines’ Afraid to Ask: Design 101 workshop.


As a professional graphic designer, I like to call what I do ‘Design Geeking.’ It takes ongoing commitment to training and development to truly be an effective and successful designer.

But what about those of you out there that are in marketing or program management at a non-profit? Chances are you’ve been tasked with putting together a flyer, newsletter or web page at some point in your career, and have found yourself wondering, “How do I even begin?”

If your attempts to design are feeling more “freak” than “geek,” read on to learn tips to take your visual communications to the next level:

Building Blocks of Graphic Design
There are five main building blocks of Graphic Design: Line, shape, mass, texture and color. Keep these concepts in mind as you put elements together on the page:
• Lines help to divide or unite different elements, and can denote direction or serve as an anchor.
• Shapes are the root of graphic design and can help define the mood or message. Curved or rounded shapes are perceived differently than hard, angled shapes.
• Mass can refer to the physical or visual size of a design. Just because you can fit everything onto a page doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Consider how the amount on the page fits with the message you’re trying to convey.
• Texture can be physical or visual. Use textured papers or backgrounds like wood, stone or fabric to help set the mood.
• Color conveys emotion and status, but can be very subjective depending on cultural background, personal experiences and preferences. Use color to help define the mood of the piece.

Design Principles
There are four basic design principles that can help you create effective, polished layouts: alignment, contrast, repetition and proximity.
• Use alignment to create interest and structure, but always check legibility. Left aligned text is the best for body copy. Use centered and right-aligned text to add contrast or visual interest, but don’t use for body copy.
• Contrast occurs when two elements are different. Contrast adds interest to the page and provides a means of emphasizing what is important. However, if everything contrasts highly with everything else, you end up with competing elements and the reader won’t know where to look first.
• Repetition is the recurring of the same object. Repetition can create visual consistency in page designs, such as using the same style of headlines, the same style sidebars, or repeating the same basic layout from one page to another. However, excessive repetition may lead to boring and uninteresting compositions. If a design feels monotonous, try adding some visual breaks and white spaces where the eyes can rest for a while.
• Proximity is the closeness or distance of individual design elements. Close proximity indicates a connection.

Putting it together
Follow these tips to put all the elements together on the page:

• Use hierarchy to draw attention to the most important pieces. Visual hierarchy is the order in which the human eye perceives what it sees. Objects with highest contrast to their surroundings are recognized first by the human mind. When arranging the page, determine what are the most important elements – headline, body copy, image, logo, contact info – and use size, color, mass, placement to help create hierarchy.
• The eye reads the page like a “Z” (just like how you read), so the most important elements are usually located at the top of the page.
• Use grids to create order and a basic structure to the page. Grids can also help you determine where to best use white space. White space, or negative space, is the areas of a design that are devoid of text or graphics. In graphic design, white space is considered an important element of the overall design. White space can give emphasis, contrast, and movement to a design.
• Use columns to break up large bodies of text, or consider replacing excessive text with bullet points.

There are four main categories of fonts: Serifs, Sans Serifs, Scripts and Decorative (also known as Novelty, Ornamental, or Display). Follow these dos and don’ts:
• Do try using fonts from two to three categories instead of just one if your design feels boring or monotonous.
• Don’t use fonts from all four categories (although there are times rules are made to be broken).
• Do use script or decorative fonts to add emphasis or grab attention, but use them sparingly.
• Don’t use script fonts in all capital letters because it’s nearly impossible to read.

• Faces grab attention. Use real photos of real people doing real things whenever possible.
• Use the attractive power of a face by having it turned towards your product or call to action. Try not to use pictures of people that are facing toward the edge of the page, because that’s where the reader’s eye will tend to go.
• Use emotion to increase support for your cause. Emotional pictures encourage people to stop and consider the consequences of not participating in your cause – and leave them feeling guilty as a result – so they feel compelled to action.
• Use images that best represent your product/service. People don’t like to be lied to or mislead, so make sure your photos show viewers exactly what they can expect from your product or service.

Now go get Design Geekin’!

To learn more about Ariane’s work, visit Also check out frequently asked questions about hiring a graphic designer:

Reflections on my GDMLI Experience

Guest post by Crissanka Prasad, Coordinator, American Parkinson Disease Association

This past year I had the honor of being a part of the 2013-2014 class of the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute. For those of you unfamiliar, GDMLI is a premiere leadership program that accepts about 50 people a year through an application process. The class runs August through May and the curriculum focuses on different aspects of Des Moines — from local government, to Des Moines’ history and foundation — and becoming a community leader. Experiences like learning about our criminal justice system at the Mitchellville Women’s prison were among many impactful lessons. (Yes, we toured a prison and even ate prison dinner. Anyone who has gone through the class and who’s toured the prison will tell you it was probably one of the most insightful and humbling experiences and nothing like Orange is the New Black, though I still love that show).


The biggest legacy each class leaves behind is the class project that benefits a local nonprofit. Our class chose to support Courage League Sports, an adaptive sports facility for children and adults. We raised over $140,000 that went towards adding to the design and construction of their facilities, providing a state-of-the-art Exergaming system and scholarships. For me, the Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute provided an exceptional opportunity to be developed and challenged as nonprofit leader in the community.

Getting Out of Your Head

There are several highlights to being a GDMLI class member – first, you meet some amazing people that are NOT in the nonprofit world. In my position at the Iowa Chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association, I am the only full-time employee. GDMLI allowed me to connect with other folks who ranged from business owners, attorneys, designers, architects, people who work in public sector, and other fabulous non-profit and for-profit peeps. One of our class members, Max Farrell, business development and relationship manager at Dwolla, is also a musician/rapper – listen to “Goody, Good”. Careful, it’s really catchy!


Nonprofit professionals are do-gooders and do-it-yourselfers. Fundraising? Sure. Marketing. Yep! Everything else – a smile, a can-do attitude and okie dokie! You are used to working by yourself or in smaller groups or with volunteer groups. Everyone in the GDMLI class has their individual expertise and contributes to the project. I mean, sure, I could figure out how to rebuild a lobby area if you give me a couple months, some youtube videos, and a hammer, but I would much rather leave that to the person who went to school for that.

The class was set up into committees to tackle the project – marketing, design and construction, fundraising, and volunteers. This class project showed me how imperative collaboration is to make big changes happen in your organization and create change for the population you serve. 50 dedicated professionals, 1 cause, a few months. We made it work.

Des Moines Gives a Hoot

As I mentioned, as a class we raised more than $140,000. I and my classmates were blown away by how friends, family, acquaintances, local companies and businesses jumped at the opportunity to help us help Courage League Sports. Des Moines is a big little city that really cares. If you have a worthy cause, you are bound to have supporters. All you have to do is ask.

Courage and Courage League Sports

Contributing to another cause that isn’t part of your 40+ hour work week is a great feeling (remember what I said about getting out of your head?) Our class really connected with Courage League Sports’ story. CEO Melissa Clark Wharfe started Courage League in Fall of 2013 because she wanted her son, Jack, and other children with special healthcare needs to be involved in sports and activities year round. Melissa and Jack’s courage are infectious. It was hard not to resist Jack’s charisma and wonderful spirit in choosing which project we wanted to do. The GDMLI class of 2014 is proud to have supported such a wonderful endeavor and I think I can speak for my class when I say we are all better having been impacted by a wonderful cause.

We are all in the nonprofit world to do good – be a voice for others, to effect change and to impact lives daily. It’s not easy, but gosh darn it, we care! It takes plenty of courage to do that in a world that sometimes doesn’t seem to care. The Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute taught me that you can make a huge difference in the world by starting with your community – we are lucky that in Central Iowa you have a lot of people who care and want to do good and not just in the nonprofit world. So, keep being courageous. Keep changing the world one good deed at a time. It’s pretty easy in Des Moines.

May 2014 Events Recap

May was a fun month with YNPN Des Moines.

We saw some new faces at the New Member Social we held at Quinton’s:


It was great to hear everyone’s ideas for growing our group. The next new member social is Monday, June 2, 6-7 p.m. at Quinton’s. It’s a great opportunity to hear more about YNPN and get involved. You don’t have to have paid dues yet to attend. Just pop by after work!

Earlybirds enjoyed a special twist on our morning discussion group with our “Breakfast with the Bosses” event hosted by Iowa Campus Compact at the Pappajohn Center downtown.


We held small group chats with local nonprofit leaders. Attendee Christen Bain posted to our Facebook page: Good time this morning! Thanks for organizing. My takeaways from Anne Starr: When applying for jobs, show how you lead with both your mind AND your heart. And Norene Mostkoff mentioned the say/do ratio-I’ve never heard of this before, but being able to brag about a high say/do ratio is a great thing to show your capabilities.

Check out more photos from the event on our Facebook page!

Lastly, the weather held out for our Brew Gooders Happy Hour at The Rooftop in the East Village. YNPN Des Moines co-chairs Brianne and Danny invited YPC president, Emily, and president-elect, Kyle, to discuss possible collaborations between our groups.


Check out our YNPN Des Moines calendar. We’d love to see you out at our June events!

Not a Teenage Wasteland

Guest post by Sonia Ashe, Fund Development Coordinator, Young Women’s Resource Center

Teenagers generally get a bad rap as lazy and apathetic, but I don’t buy it. When I was a teenager I wanted to save the world, and had seemingly endless amounts of energy to get the job done.

Way back at the turn of the century, I regularly volunteered with the Young Women’s Resource Center (YWRC) through their Chrysalis afterschool program for 10-14 year old girls. I quickly recognized that I was probably learning more than I was teaching, and wanted to bring some lessons back to my peers about self-confidence, healthy relationships, and reproductive health. The YWRC helped me start my own student group at Roosevelt high school that focused on building female leaders, offering educational opportunities on women’s issues, getting involved with local events, and even a bit of advocacy to our PTA and school board.

Looking back, I have a hard time imagining how I had the time or energy to devote to such a project. The idea of taking classes and completing homework assignments seems daunting enough. Yet, the idealism, creativity, and force of will that a teenager can posses should not be understated. I loved the community I developed when volunteering with the YWRC and organizing my peers, and I was more than willing to skip some television to keep it going.


Now, over a decade later, I have found my way back to the YWRC as their new Fund Development Coordinator – and it feels like coming home. There are two things I have come to realize in this transition back:

  • Volunteer opportunities we can provide and encourage our teenagers to participate in can be life changing, and life directing.
  • Teenagers can be an untapped whirlwind force for change that we should be tapping in to.

It would be a lie to say that my path from YWRC volunteer to full-time staff wasn’t a winding one. However, I can confidently say that my experience as a volunteer opened my eyes to the possibility of working with a non-profit as a career. Importantly, it was the consistent engagement as a volunteer that had the most impact. I had done the one-day volunteer projects with Salvation Army, and I helped out at the Iowa Jewish Senior Life Center a few times – but working with the YWRC was my first experience volunteering weekly and sticking with it for more than a month. I recognized what it was like to feel passionate about my work, and I didn’t want to work anywhere that didn’t give me that feeling ever again. I was hooked.

That’s not to say that every teenager who is engaged as a volunteer in a significant way will automatically be destined for the non-profit world. However, I would bet that most teens who find a love for volunteering early on will grow to be highly involved in their community, and champions for causes they care about later on in life.

Since returning to the YWRC, I have been impressed by the insight, ideas and personal strength of many teenagers who come through our doors. Our “Sheroes” are a perfect example of young women who have dedicated themselves towards making a difference at an early age, and who are primed to become the next big leaders in our community. Non-profits often dip into the deep pool of college student volunteers, but I would argue that our local teens are just as savvy and energetic – and likely a lot less over committed.

Local teen, Lexi O’Connor, recently kick started her own non-profit – Teens Against Human Trafficking – and has already been making waves. Focused on peer-to-peer education, Lexi has been speaking at local events, raising funds, and motivating other local teens to action. Recent Quasar award winner, Grace Rice, founded the Paws and Effect service club and annual fundraiser dog walk to support the training of service dogs for veterans and people with disabilities. These are the teens we should be spotlighting. Step aside Justin Bieber.

Coming back to work with the YWRC is a dream, and a bit of a blast from the past. I probably wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t gotten the encouragement to step beyond my personal teenage drama and help out. More than that, I likely wouldn’t be the engaged community member I am today. So, whether it’s reaching out to your own teenage kid or working with local high schools to promote volunteer opportunities – let’s make a commitment to look past the stereotypes and allow our local teens to show us what they are capable of accomplishing. I’m sure we will be pleasantly surprised.

DSM Charity Hack FAQ

The Des Moines Charity Hack (June 12-14) will support our social sector using the “hackathon” concept to benefit the social sector. A Hackathon is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects.


Local nonprofit organizations seeking a tech solution to their challenges are encouraged to submit a proposal by June 1, 2014. Projects will be selected by June 3 and the event will take place June 12-14 at Startup City.

We asked the organizers if they could provide a few more details about the event and some examples of projects nonprofits could request.

Here’s the F.A.Q. via Dwolla’s Max Farrell:

Why was dsmHack created?
There is a wealth of technology talent in the Des Moines area and amazing nonprofits that continue to help Central Iowa win awards as one of the country’s best place to live. In an effort to team great companies, their resources and the nonprofits of this community, we’ve created this event to bring the best of both worlds together.

From June 12-14, these two groups will come together to build and implement tools to make the area’s nonprofits operate more effectively so they can continue to focus on doing good.

Through this event, we will learn a significant amount about the needs of local organizations and how we can work together to make this community stronger!

This is the first year we are putting on the event. We are all learning as we go.

Why is there a $20 cost to participate?
There is no cost or commitment needed from the charities other than a little bit of time. We’ve got some wonderful sponsors who are going to cover the expenses of this event. We may be in a position to contribute some nominal funds to help sustain the solutions as well (i.e. web hosting).

There is a nominal cost for developers to attend. It’s $20. This is mostly just to make sure they have some skin in the game. We want to make sure participants sign up and show up.

Why should my non-profit organization submit to be involved?
With organizations constantly operating on a tight budget and with limited talent to work with, processes often become paper-heavy and labor intensive. We want to help you change that. Submitting your charity for this event will provide the opportunity to work directly with technology professionals that are always creating efficiencies. Great tools will be built or improved for your organization and you will learn a tremendous amount!

Why are developers participating?
The tagline for dsmHack is “build.learn.give”. We want to use this time for our developers, designers, project managers and business minds to apply their existing skills to people who need them. The event will provide food, beverages (caffeine + beer), a cool t-shirt and a great chance for tech minds to work with other peers in the community and learn new skills.

What if I can’t code? Is there a role for non-developers?
We will need designers, project / product managers, business minds and any other creatives to work with the organizations to make sure their needs are not met – but exceeded! You will add substantial value to any team.

What happens during the event?
Technology professionals will arrive on Thursday night to mingle and hear the pitches from nonprofits about what needs they have. From there, teams will form around the needs of the organizations.
Over the next 48 hours the participants and organizations will hack their hearts out! There will be food served, snacks, beverages, great camaraderie and a tremendous amount of learning/building. The event culminates on Sunday with presentations of what the teams created and then a post-event happy hour!

Will the projects be finished at the end of the event?
dsmHack’s goal is to have all projects completed by the end of the event. Depending on sponsor contributions, we hope to have funds allotted to provide limited support to projects that need it.

Do we have to build something from scratch or can we implement pre-existing tools?
We encourage both! Some organizations are needing a new solution created, while many are using pre-existing software and they need help implementing or optimizing it to continue being productive.

What are some example projects?
Digitize paper processes
-automate volunteer registrations
-move paper forms online
-build web based system to track clients
Improve website
-accessibility of the site
-create a landing page for an organization
-create responsive redesign
-migrate website to a new hosting provider
-SEO help for existing web pages
-upgrade website to newer version of WordPress / Joomla / Drupal etc.
-create online and / or mobile giving portals
-donor management
-centralize database
Improve existing systems
-make CRM more effective
-streamline calendar functionality
Database improvements
-build a staff development database
-centralize database information
-create a database search functionality

And anything else! Shoot ideas to us at

Project Management: Keepin’ Sh*t Together

Guest post by Danny Heggen, YNPN Des Moines founding co-chair and Project Management extraordinaire

What do you do? It’s a pretty common question when meeting new people. When I worked with youth, I always told people I was a youth worker. My wife was always quick to note that I ran youth programs, not summer camps and I wasn’t a counselor. Definitions. Who needs ‘em?

When I took on the title project manager, I realized I still struggled with definition – what do I actually do? So I spent some time thinking about the most concise way to phrase it, thinking about the most delicate way to explain what it means to be a project manager. What I came up with: I keep shit together.


Let me explain.

It’s not my role to manage people. It’s my role to manage the work people get to do. Which essentially means I need to know how to manage people in order to drive their work. My day to day is a mixture of tasks that involve people: discussing strategy, tracking data, and generating reports. Piecing everything together, so that our outcome is what we expected it to be. I’m not the one doing the work; I’m the one making sure the work the needs to happen happens.

In short, my work is to make sure everyone understands how their work fits in the big picture. Along the way, I keep track of everything – notes and data. This way, when we reach the end, we can tell a story.

A few tips I’ve picked up along the way:

1. Communicate. Until everyone tells you to stop talking about what is happening, communicate.
2. Roll it out & Roll it up. Know how to take an idea or task and then create a plan to make it happen. This is what I call rolling it out. Then, when the work is complete, generate a report that captures what happened, when, and how. Also, make notes about what could have gone differently to make it easier on the team next time. Roll this report up to the necessary people. They’ll be thankful.
3. Know who is involved. This seems really simple, but the most important thing when starting a new project is understanding who needs to be involved. It could be two people. It could be 13 people. Once the team is in place, the work can begin. Why? Because these people bring the skills, tools, and resources needed to get the work done. If your job is to make sure all the screws are tightened, you want to make sure the people with screwdrivers are sitting at the table.

Want to learn more about starting up a new project with a team of people? Check out this blog, Team Development Lessons Learned.

There are many reasons to bring a project manager to the table; however, there are many skills that each of us can develop to ensure each project we take on is successful. Keep in mind: We all need to keep shit together.

Writing for Nonprofits: Simplifying Your Nonprofit’s Pitch

By Ash Bruxvoort, Philanthropy Coordinator at The Nature Conservancy in Iowa 

I was never very good at science growing up, but I loved nature and always had a strong interest in the environment. I love my job at The Nature Conservancy in Iowa because I get to work with awesome scientists every day and do what I do best—write about it.

My main problem: Our mission and work is incredibly complex, and people with science degrees are usually not the best at explaining it.

I don’t think this problem only exists in the conservation sector. I think all nonprofits struggle with simplifying our elevator speech. After all, we do SO much, and we want to make sure people understand just how much we do and why it’s important. We have to keep in mind that while we might be incredibly passionate about clearing trees on a prairie to make suitable habitat for prairie chickens… most people aren’t. 


I mean, your eyes just kind of glazed over reading that sentence didn’t they?*

Often, the language nonprofits use is overloaded with jargon. When I first started working at the Conservancy the “hot phrase” was ecosystem services. I understood what the phrase meant, but I had an inkling most people did not. But everyone understands the phrase nature’s benefits, which is what ecosystem services means.

After a one year process, our marketing and development department (read: my boss and me) managed to take all of the jargony, complex science language we used and condense it into a simple, easy to read document that speaks to issues all Iowans can relate to. It wasn’t an easy process, and there were a lot of days I wanted to pull my hair out, but I learned a lot about how to simplify a nonprofit’s pitch.

Be Short. Be Succinct. Be Engaging.

Use simple, straightforward language and get to the point. As a writer, I tend to use a lot of unnecessary words because I think it makes me sound smarter. Quit doing that! I often write things in as few words as possible, to the point where it sounds incredibly ugly, and then add in words as needed. We all know we don’t have a lot of time to catch someone’s attention before they’re back to texting or checking Instagram. If people don’t understand why you’re work is important for their lives you will lose them.

Have Your Best Friend, or Your Mom, or Your Grandma Read Your Pitch

Sometimes I write something I think is brilliant and easy to understand, only to take it to my mom and find out she doesn’t get it. My mom doesn’t know anything about conservation, and that’s exactly why she’s a great person to edit my text. She forces me to simplify the language for the broadest appeal.

You Might Get Some Backlash From Your Coworkers… Listen, But Stay Firm

When our philanthropy and marketing department started going through the process of simplifying our language we upset a lot of people. We held an editorial meeting where we asked everyone on our staff to answer several questions about how they talk about our work. Not surprisingly, there are things some staff members say that I would never put down on paper. We recognized that some staff members were stressed because they thought they would have to read this elevator speech verbatim—which isn’t what we were going for at all! When we explained that we were writing a document that would appeal to the every Iowan—and that the every Iowan didn’t understand the complexities of our work but still wanted the benefits—our staff got on board. And when they saw how simple and clear the final document was, everyone thanked us.

*If the answer to that question was no, then we should probably hang out.

Volunteer Week, Every Week

By Sarah Welch, YNPN Des Moines Professional Development chair and Communications Director at Prevent Child Abuse Iowa 


With 5,000 volunteers helping out at Central Iowa Shelter & Services each year, volunteer coordinator AJ Olson knows just how important recognizing these key players in a non-profit can be.  At our April discussion group kicking off National Volunteer Week , AJ offered our YNPN members a few ideas of how to thanks throughout the year:

• During Volunteer Week, every regular volunteer receives a handwritten thank you note directly from AJ that offers a personal reflection on that person’s service. AJ has treats available during each shift and works his schedule so that he can personally thank as many volunteers as possible.

• Throughout the year, Vista members and other volunteers are recognized with fun certificates when they do something out of the ordinary like sort through 160 boxes of t-shirts or stay calm during a tense situation. The most memorable award went to Gov. Terry Branstad for making a kit at a 9/11 volunteer event. AJ said the awards may seem silly but volunteers hold onto them and talk about them long after receiving them.


• AJ keeps a photo of every volunteer on file and makes sure he and the people working with that volunteer get to know that person. Sometimes he’ll sit down with a volunteer and have a conversation not related to the task at hand, and at the end, thank the volunteer for their support.

These kinds of personal touches have led to a steady base of volunteer support without having to do much recruiting, AJ said. Not only do volunteers who feel valued tend to stay with the organization longer, but they also draw other volunteers to your organization.


 How do you recognize volunteers? Share your ideas in the comments!

Discussion Recap: Managing Volunteers

By Sarah Welch, YNPN Des Moines Professional Development chair and Communications Director at Prevent Child Abuse Iowa 

Whether it’s that person who stepped in to save the day or that time you had 10 people ready to help and nothing for them to do, we all have our good and bad stories when it comes to managing volunteers. That’s why I was excited to see so many non-profit professionals join our March 13 discussion to share lessons learned from these experiences.


From all the advice I received from those who attended, I’ve narrowed down my notes to five key takeaways:

Guide a productive meeting. To facilitate a meeting with volunteers, maximize what you accomplish by setting times for each discussion item and placing the most important items at the top of the agenda, with the more “chatty” items toward the end. After the meeting, send a follow up e-mail with a list of tasks everyone agreed to do.

Keep your volunteers engaged. When you actively recruit volunteers, make sure you have an event coming up that they can get involved in right away. During a slow time in your organization’s schedule, hold a brainstorming session with your core volunteers to identify outreach or fundraising opportunities they can take charge of.

Have multiple back-up plans. Create a long list of tasks a volunteer can do so there’s always something you can offer on a moment’s notice. Book 1-2 volunteers per shift to handle no shows.

Seek feedback. Take dedicated volunteers out to coffee to get to know them and to ask for advice on how you can improve the way you work with them. Conduct an exit interview after an event or when a volunteer is wrapping up his or her time with your organization.

Recognize your volunteers. Send a thank you card that explains the difference they’ve made to your mission. Include a group photo from the volunteer activity. Or, highlight volunteers in your newsletter or nominate them for volunteer awards.

Event Planning: Recruiting Event Volunteers

As Events Manager for a non-profit organization based in Des Moines serving the state of Iowa, Stacie Garmon produces events  for anywhere from 10 to 15,000+ people. She’s responsible for a 3-day children’s festival, auction gala, two golf tournaments and two children’s events, annually. Stacie’s past blog posts on event planning have included: her timeline checklist for fundraising event managementsecrets for securing sponsorships and tips for engaging committee members. 

I have managed events that require only a few volunteers to one that requires over 650 throughout a weekend-long event. I start recruiting approximately six weeks in advance for the event requiring over 600 volunteers and for smaller events I start recruiting a few weeks beforehand.

Get the word out! Use as many resources as possible: VolunteerMatch and like resources, Facebook, e-mail blasts, website, newsletters, twitter, school organization contacts (middle school, high school and college), fraternities and sororities, religious organizations, corporations, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts,4-H groups, etc. The options are endless and no one should be left out — especially if you have an event that will require several hundred volunteers. In all of your outreach efforts, ask recipients to help spread the word and forward the opportunity to their friends, family and co-workers. When recruiting, provide clear examples of duties and expectations. If there are age requirements, make that very clear. Typically, if volunteers are participating in a children’s event, volunteers must be over the age of 12 or 14. This helps ensure they will be volunteers and not event guests.

Making it simple for volunteers to register is important. Create a volunteer registration form that can be completed and emailed, faxed or mailed or use an online registration system. If a volunteer’s first experience is frustration during registration, this could leave a poor taste in their mouth. I prefer to use event planning software that has a registration option. From my experience these are easy to use as an administrator and registrant. These also allow for personalization in creating volunteer shifts throughout an event. In addition, the software creates a variety of reports that are exportable to excel, creating quick check-in lists for the event itself.

If you do not have a volunteer database, start creating one immediately. Collect name, address, phone and e-mail addresses from volunteers. Ask them if they would like to be contacted for future volunteer opportunities. This will help your recruitment efforts throughout the year for your various projects and events.


Know – and communicate – the duties you expect the volunteers to perform. I provide details from dates and times, attire, parking, arrival time, departure time and even venue maps as needed. The more information you can provide in advance, the smoother the event will go. In additional, I create very detailed instructions for each volunteer task. I write the instructions in an overly detailed fashion as I want to make sure that the individual could perform the task with little verbal instruction if needed. I typically have 2-3 people (co-worker and someone not involved in the event) read the instructions and make suggestions prior to printing the final set of instructions. The key is to let volunteers know how important it is to read those instructions a couple of times and ask questions as needed. If a volunteer has expressed being uncomfortable with a task (example: handling money), reassign to a new one. If they are not comfortable – chances are the outcome will not be as favorable.

Remember to thank volunteers. Make sure they realize their assistance is vital to the event’s success. Ultimately, their hard work impacts your organization’s success because it benefits from the funds raised during the event. I want to create an organized and fun environment for volunteers to work in, if they have a great experience they are likely to return to volunteer for you again and hopefully tell their friends and family about what a wonderful organization they are assisting.

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