Back to Basics
Working With Volunteers On-Site
How to Recruit and manage unpaid event labor
by Jason TuckerDecember 1, 2012
Follow Up• To show appreciation, send hand-written thank-you notes from you and/or a top official in the organization. If your budget allows, recognize volunteers with a post-meeting party.
• After the event, send volunteers a brief survey with questions about their experience. Ask what they enjoyed, what could be improved, etc.
• Maintain an online database of your best volunteers for future events.
Many organizations rely on volunteers to supplement their on-site meeting staff and perform critical tasks related to the event.
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Following are tips to ensure that you get the most from this invaluable labor force.
Determine Needs Consider what elements of the meeting can and need to be staffed by volunteers.
Next, determine how many volunteers will be needed per task. For long jobs that can be done in shifts, e.g., registration, be sure to allot enough volunteers to cover shifts.
Once you've determined your volunteer staffing needs, add another 25 percent to the total, in case of last-minute no-shows or dropouts.
Consider appointing a volunteer supervisor (more than one might be needed for large events).
Recruit Volunteers Volunteers can be recruited from a number of sources: the sponsoring firm or association (which may ask employees from departments other than the meeting staff), local chapters of associations affiliated with the organization, and universities.
In addition to word-of-mouth, reach out to potential recruits via company newsletters, websites and social media, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Some convention and visitor bureaus and national tourism organizations recruit volunteers, typically from universities, on behalf of groups.
Assign Tasks After you've secured your pool of recruits, determine how individuals will be deployed. For best results, try to match volunteers with tasks in line with their skills and interests.
Next, supply each volunteer with a job description, which should include the following:
• Location: where they will be stationed during the event;
• Start time: when they need to report for duty;
• Core responsibilities: This can be a recap of the essentials of the job description;
• Dress code, and
• Contact information: Ensure that all volunteers have the e-mail addresses and cell phone numbers of the event team and volunteer supervisor.
Provide Training Some volunteer tasks will require more training than a cursory 10-minute brief. In those cases, determine what elements can be taught on-site, and consider offering additional training beforehand via online e-learning sessions such as webcasts.
Other Considerations Be sure to brief volunteers on the event's emergency plans, security concerns and media etiquette.
Before the event commences, give volunteers a comprehensive tour of the venue and point out key locations: emergency exits, rest rooms, lost and found, event staff's on-site office, etc.
Arm volunteers with online resources and documents outlining all the information they need to make decisions.
If possible, set up a room or office for the exclusive use of volunteers, where they can store personal belongings, take a break, and recharge with drinks and snacks.
By following these steps,you will get the most from your volunteer corps.