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.

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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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