Best Preparation Practices for the Big Day

Clipboard? Check. Volunteer contact form? Check. Sanity? Kind of.

 

There are a million and one things a volunteer coordinator needs to remember the day of an event. Setting a plan, preparing for potential obstacles and keeping everything on course is just the beginning. To help our volunteer coordinators out, we’ve whipped up a few of our best practices for prepping for the big day.

 

Communication is Key

Emails, texts, Facebook groups and even old-fashioned phone trees are all great ways to communicate early and often with volunteers. Clearly stating arrival and dismissal times, expectations for behavior and dress, and other pertinent details are crucial to making sure volunteers show up informed and ready.

 

Be Realistic

Volunteer coordinators should always believe in their volunteers, but they’re not superheroes. Can three people really set up your entire event before the rest of the volunteers arrive? Probably not. Consider exactly how many people you’ll need for each shift and then add a few more to be safe. Volunteers are ready and willing to help you, so let them!

 

Know Where to Go

When you’re in the middle of managing a group of helpers, chances are you won’t have much time to direct volunteers to the bathrooms. Making a detailed map of everything a volunteer might need to find (bathrooms, water station, breakroom, etc.) will provide a quick reference point. And if they still ask you where the bathroom is, take a deep breath and kindly point to the map.

 

Self Love is the Best Love

Coordinating volunteers can be incredibly rewarding – all these people giving their time to help your organization?! – but it can also feel like herding giant, human cats. So, our biggest suggestion to help you prepare is to take care of number one. Meditate, listen to music, eat all the chocolate in your house. Do whatever you need to do to show up at your event calm, collected and ready to coordinate.

 

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Connecting with Volunteers Before, During, and After Events

So, you’re a volunteer coordinator.

 

There’s software to keep you organized and spreadsheets to print out and timeslots to fill. But how do you manage volunteers in a way that makes them feel like more than a number? After all, you couldn’t make things happen without them.

 

Build a relationship with volunteers

 

Learning what makes your volunteers tick is the first step towards leveraging their strengths and abilities. Once you know what they are most excited about or what made them want to volunteer with your organization in the first place, you might be able to really connect with them on a deeper level. Instead of puzzle pieces that need to fit in various roles and schedules, remember that volunteers are people. They have other jobs, family, passions, hobbies–all sorts of interesting things about them.

So start by getting to know them. Maybe it’s taking them out to coffee to hear their story or learn about how they got connected with your organization. Maybe it’s sending out a silly questionnaire including questions such as “What’s your spirit animal and why?” or “Where and how do you spend most of your free time?” You might learn about special talents that could be used or their unique quirks. Make sure to jot these notes down so you can keep them in mind for the future.

Building a relationship with volunteers is beneficial for both you and the volunteer. Not only do you get to know them better, but they get to know and trust you. Trust is an invaluable trait to have if and when some sort of issue comes up during an event.

 

Keep the communication clear and open

 

You’ve probably been on both the giving and receiving side of communication, and you know it’s vital to keep all communication clear and easy to understand. Of course you have countless things on your to-do list, but don’t let communication fall to the bottom of the list. Communication can come in all forms–emails, texts, phone calls, trainings, and even one-on-one meetings in person. Keeping volunteers in the know leads to more personal investment from them, better interactions with them, and a higher likelihood they will continue volunteering in the future. You are their primary point of contact with the organization, and they rely on you to learn what they need to know in order to do their job successfully. Make sure this line of communication is open on both sides by being available for questions or comments from them along the way.

 

Follow-up

 

Keep the momentum going–and follow-up! After an event there’s a lot to sort out, but make sure you reach out to volunteers soon afterwards. Thank them for their time, and ask for their thoughts about how it went and what can be improved next time. Host a debrief and thank you celebration night with ice cream for volunteers or send a personal thank you card in the mail. If you can’t manage that, send a thoughtful email with a survey to capture feedback for future events. Use the information you collected at the beginning and send a birthday card when the time comes or reach out with a friendly email when you find out they got a promotion at work, bought a new house, or rocked it at open mic night. Anything you can do to show volunteers how much you care about them goes a long way.

 

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VolunteerLocal Field Expert: Samantha Gratton

Samantha Gratton

Raleigh, North CarolinaSamantha Gratton

“Volunteering helps you step outside of yourself. Perhaps you’ll join a cause you’re passionate about, or you’ll positively impact your community. Regardless, volunteering broadens your perspective and helps you connect with others in a very real way.”

What do you love about your hometown?

I’m in a city that’s just the right size, has relatively mild weather, and only a day trip away from the beach or mountains! But mostly, it’s the every day life that I love most–whether that’s taking a walk downtown to a festival/event or having a friend over for coffee.

Tell us about your unique perspective when it comes to volunteer coordination.

I’ve done a little bit of everything in my career, which includes coordinating big and small events with numerous volunteers, working at nonprofits and colleges, and simply volunteering myself.

What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work:

A lot of my time goes toward raising my kiddo, but past that I enjoy traveling, rock climbing, reading, writing, and supporting the people around me.

Who is your favorite musical artist?

Rosie Thomas

Where would your friends find you on a typical Friday night?

Maybe out to eat at a local restaurant, on a walk downtown with my family, or at a friend’s house. Otherwise, I’m most likely at home…eating chocolate, catching up on some of my favorite shows, or writing ridiculously long emails.

 

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VolunteerLocal Field Expert: Rebekah Coenen

Rebekah Coenen

Des Moines, IowaBekah

“Honestly, volunteering seems like such a common sense requirement as a human on the earth taking part in activities that others run. I can’t think of a single reason you shouldn’t. The world runs on passion.”

What do you love about your hometown?

Our neighbor Harry. He bring treats out to our dogs almost every day. And if he hasn’t been able to in a while he leaves them on the ground in our yard.

Tell us about your unique perspective when it comes to volunteer coordination.

I have experience on an Ultimate Frisbee non-profit board and trying to organize leagues and volunteers to help.

What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work:

I have a lot of favorites.. but my 3 top hobbies are Ultimate Frisbee, crafting, and brewing beer.

Who is your favorite musical artist?

Florence and the Machine.

Where would your friends find you on a typical Friday night?

On my couch, snuggling with my husband and dogs!

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VolunteerLocal Field Expert: Brianne Sanchez

Brianne Sanchez

Des Moines, Iowa

“Civic engagement is at the core of a functioning society. Volunteering is putting yourself in service of something bigger. It’s saying ‘yes’ to community and building up organizations and turning ideas into action.”

What do you love about your hometown?

I love the accessibility of Des Moines. You can be the person to make things happen. You can meet CEOs and college kids. We’re such a fun festival town, and we have great trails and library systems.

Tell us about your unique perspective when it comes to volunteer coordination.

I have worked in the nonprofit sector for more than five years, and currently manage volunteers as a huge part of my day job working at a medical school in community outreach.

What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work:

Reading and riding bikes with my little family. We just got a Yuba that fits both kids on the back and has an electric assist to give me a boost up the hills!

Who is your favorite musical artist?

Blind Pilot

Where would your friends find you on a typical Friday night?

I live for my book club! Wine, pizza, books and conversation. But 5/6 Friday nights I’m popping popcorn on the stove and watching a movie with my kids. The Sandlot, anyone?!

 

“I like connecting people and entertaining a crowd – I consider myself a ‘pollinator – but I’m also really happy baking banana bread and listening to a podcast at home or going on a hike or bike ride with my family.”

 

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