by By Sarah J.F. Braley | November 01, 2008
The following checklist was compiled with the help of Kelly Peacy, CAE, CMP, vice president of meetings and events for the Chicago-based Professional Convention Management Asso­ciation (

From the Start

  • Determine your budget; even unpaid staff incur expenses. Will you cover meals for volunteers? Will you provide T-shirts or buttons? What expenses will be reimbursable? How will you recognize and thank your volunteers for their service?
  • Assign a staff member as "head of volunteers" to be the go-to individual for the team and also responsible for coordinating volunteer schedules.
  • Create a list of volunteer needs for your meeting or event. Ask staff members and/or hosts for which projects/events they will need volunteers.
  • Determine the number of volunteers needed for each component of your meeting. Generally, the no-show factor for volunteers is around 10 percent, so plan accordingly.
  • Create volunteer job descriptions that clearly outline time requirements and reporting structure.
  • Consider managing volunteer recruitment and scheduling electronically. Volunteer database software can keep track of schedules and invite volunteers to participate via e-mail. Be sure to include any important policies, incentives or reimbursable expenses in your recruitment communications.
  • Create a volunteer manual for your organization and event. Components should include the organization's mission/vision, background on the event and attendees, a volunteer organizational chart, the overall program schedule, the dress code, reimbursement policies and a volunteer schedule. Also list key contacts and their cell phone numbers, as well as the organization's emergency plan and procedures.
  • Identify all jobs that should not be assigned to volunteers, such as those involving decision-making.
  • Avoid assigning volunteers duties that could result in injury or jeopardize your professional liability. Determine if your organization's liability insurance covers volunteers.


  • During this process, provide a thorough, comprehensive briefing on your event.
  • Ask candidates whether they have prior volunteer experience, and take into account their dress and manner of speech.
  • Try to tie the personal aptitudes of the individuals to the work to be assigned. For instance, if your event is expected to attract a large number of Spanish-speaking attendees, a volunteer who speaks Spanish would be an ideal candidate to staff the information desk. Likewise, senior citizens might make wonderful greeters, and students might be good runners (getting materials to session rooms, etc.).
  • Ask if there is any job to which they would prefer not to be assigned. This is a good way to avoid no-shows.
  • When recruiting from campuses, consider whether an assignment will clash with students' academic responsibilities. Ask students to be honest about their available time.
  • Obtain personal information on each candidate, such as name, address, telephone number, emergency contact and, if possible, character references.

Briefing the Troops

  • Consider assigning a room on site where volunteers can report in each day and take breaks.
  • Communicate with your volunteers well in advance. Send reminders of their commitment along with the volunteer manual, as well as where and to whom to report on site.
  • Assign a staff captain for each group of volunteers assigned to a particular project/event. The staff captain should develop the training/briefing necessary before the event.
  • Allow ample time for a question-and-answer session.