Tackling the Big Hurdles

Congratulations! You’re in charge of organizing an event! Whether it’s your first time or your fiftieth, there are certain challenges that can disrupt your planning process. But have no fear! There’s always a solution or another way of looking at things. 

 

We each tend to have different things that intimidate us, and other items that don’t stress us out at all. Below are some typical categories of stressors you may encounter. Let’s take a look at some of these major obstacles and how you can set yourself up for success!

PEOPLE

Volunteers

I have vivid memories of recruiting volunteers during my first event. For me, defining volunteer job descriptions was an easy task. Coordinating volunteers and building relationships with them before, during, and after the event seemed to come naturally. But where in the world do you find these volunteers? That was the piece that seemed insurmountable. 

Thankfully my organization had an existing volunteer database that I could use as a starting point, and over time I learned how to extend and leverage my professional network to make recruitment a little easier. What assets are at your disposal? List them out to help you see your strengths as well as the gaps you need to fill.

No matter what part of volunteer management is tripping you up, VolunteerLocal has likely covered it! Take a look at some of these top posts. As with most things in the world of volunteer management, investing in solid strategies pays significant dividends in future years.

 

Event Attendees

Some people have a knack for resolving issues with guests or participants on the day of an event. For others it takes more planning ahead of time. Think through communication strategies to efficiently alert the necessary people of developing complications. Identify as many possible problems that may arise and have standard responses for each. As you incorporate these strategies and responses into your volunteer training, you can gain confidence and experience when the actual event arrives.

 

PLACES

Venue

Location is everything! But it’s also not worth being paralyzed about the decision. Before securing space, define the scope of your event as far as number of guests, type of atmosphere you’re hoping to create, etc. This list is now your wish list! It helps limit your search and focus on the essentials when visiting potential venues. Though there are times we have the means to get our dream venues, be sure to note which items on your wish list are negotiable. Many times simple décor and lighting tweaks can enhance ambiance; the location and number of bathrooms, however, cannot be adjusted. Think about the big picture and get creative!

 

Vendors

Once you secure a location, there’s usually still a myriad of vendors to select: catering, concessions, DJ, printers for marketing items, etc. Again, be sure to list out all your needs before you start calling potential vendors. Knowing what you’re asking for gives you more confidence and makes for more effective communication.

 

THINGS

Budgeting & Sponsors

Where would we be without the numbers? Creating budgets and securing sponsors make a huge difference, yet these two topics come with the biggest intimidation factor, at least for me personally. We have some great resources on this topic, as well, but be assured: research in this area really pays off! 

Just as with other categories of challenges, taking the time to fully define what you’re asking for makes a difference. Know your financial boundaries. Know what you’re looking for in a sponsor partnership, and know what you have to offer in return. 

 

Tackle the hard things, and you’re bound to have a great event!

 

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Requesting Feedback from Volunteers

What do you do after the race as been run, the kegs are empty, and the unsold art is safely packed away? 

Receiving feedback can sometimes be scary, but it is vital to improving our events and the volunteer programs that make them great.

It would be nice to have a break and not think or worry about your event for a few days, weeks, or even months. Maybe a few other things in your life have suffered as the event moved closer and your attention shifted to full-focus as you prepared for the big day. Before you can dust off your hands and say, “see ya next year,” we think you should consider one last item on that to-do list: get feedback.

Why is attendee (and especially volunteer) feedback so important? To help you uncover those blind spots. To make simple changes that can significantly impact the experience of all your volunteers on-site. To make the volunteer program more fun, accessible and impactful. To keep your best volunteers coming back, year-over-year.

Let’s dive in. There is more than one way to get feedback from your volunteers and you might find a combination of a few gets you the best information. No matter what you decide on make sure you read the responses and work to incorporate their feedback. 

 

Informal Questions/Chit Chat 

This includes conversing with volunteers as they check-out of their shifts, or at the post-event party. It can also include asking staffers or colleagues for their thoughts back at your desks, after the event is over. Sometimes, asking for feedback in this way (casual, informal settings) can produce the most honest, in-the-moment results – but you may not get the most thoughtful responses with this method.

Pros 

Cons

  • This doesn’t have to happen at the end of the event and could help inform some of your choices along the way. 
  • You can get feedback right away. It is easy for people to forget about what they would make comments about. 
  • Not everyone will be honest in an informal situation. 
  • You could get heat of the moment comments that aren’t accurate to the whole way someone feels

 

Digital (or Paper) Surveys

We recommend using a free service like SurveyMonkey or SurveyPlanet, but if you want to get fancy, you might consider a more advanced solution like Qualtrics. Online and paper surveys tend to have the highest submission rates when an incentive is offered to complete them – you could randomly choose one recipient to receive a free festival “basket” (leftover merch, anyone?!) or a set of passes to next year’s event.

Pros 

Cons 

  • People are more likely to be honest and they can think of how they want to word things. 
  • Can take place over week or two giving people time to think and give thoughtful feed back. 
  • There have to be a set of questions so it doesn’t leave much room for discussion or elaborating. 
  • You can’t force anyone to fill it out so you might not get as much information as you want. 

 

End-of-Year Meeting

This may entail bringing everyone together (staff, volunteers, and captains) in a conference room or – if you’d prefer a more open setting, a post-event party – to share ideas and feedback in a collaborative, discussion-oriented way. Virtual meetings count, too! Think: conference calls, Google Hangouts or Skype sessions.

Pros

Cons

  • Good time for everyone to get together after the event is over and maintain relationships
  • allow for more discussion on topics that are important to everyone. 
  • Not everyone is comfortable with conformation and may be less inclined to speak up about an issue. 
  • Happens at the end of the event so you can’t change anything during the event. 

 

Suggestion Box/Continual Feedback 

The old classic. It never hurts to have a brightly colored box stationed at check-in/out, with bits of paper and pencils nearby to deliver anonymous feedback in real-time. Sometimes, your biggest detractors (with the most valuable feedback) won’t take the time to complete an online survey, and certainly may not feel inclined to join the post-event gathering. An Honesty Box is a simple, low-cost and low-fi investment that is guaranteed to deliver.

Pros

Cons

  • Your volunteers will have the ability to be heard right away instead of waiting until they are called upon to deliver feedback, either virtually or in-person.  
  • You can start collecting feedback before the event occurs, and make changes leading up to the big day to ensure everyone has the best time possible. 
  • Feedback isn’t digitally stored or tracked in the cloud, so if you want any kind of reporting, you’ll have to manually enter this data into a system online.
  • If it is all anonymous it can lead to more of a venting tool than getting constructive feedback. 

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Marketing Yourself, Your Organization, and Your Event

As a volunteer coordinator, you’re asking people to give their time for free. It’s not only important to show how cool your event is, but the ways in which your organization is making an impact on the local community. It’s also easy to forget about marketing yourself – how can you show volunteers that you’re a fair leader, who recognizes and rewards hard work?

 

In order to understand these questions, it’s important to understand the nature of your relationship to the public. As such it is vital that you regard your volunteers as ambassadors of the public. I say this rather than to the public because this point of view maintains the understanding that they are not just working for you. They volunteer because they want to give service to their community through which you are the vehicle. Their good graces are extended through you.

 

So, let’s say it again: Volunteers are Ambassadors of the Public

 

Often times, they are the back AND foreground, accomplishing tasks and interfacing with the public at-large whether they are flagging people into parking spots or managing the main stage. Make your volunteers the face of your marketing efforts. Show the enthusiastic personas and helpful demeanors which they possess. Get the public excited about the people they will meet. Do they have any special talents? Creative acumen? How have they added to the flare and flavor of experience? 

 

These questions can be engaged from all angles and is up to your marketing team (are they volunteers?) how you want to convey the positive manifolds of your endeavors. Also, try to decide what the best platform is for your community offering(s). Spend time researching similar Organizations or Events to see what they are doing and how they are representing themselves and then decide how you are unique in what you do. 

 

This added recognition is a very public display of positive reinforcement to your volunteers. In our techno-driven collective conscious, this is equivalent to going to the rooftops—nay, the mountain tops and singing their praises.

 

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Remembering the Big Picture

As a volunteer coordinator, you’re juggling what feels like a million different tasks.

Your mind might be racing because you didn’t order enough t-shirts. Someone just told you they’ve got a food allergy and you’ll need to adjust the lunch menu. One of your volunteers just cancelled with less than 24-hours notice. With all of the things you’re working on, it’s easy to get preoccupied with the little details.

Take a breath.

Remember why you’re doing this important work.

At the end of the day, all of this energy is dedicated to making a difference in your community, in sometimes small and large ways. In this moment of desperation, I like to read quotes from leaders I admire, who navigated the weeds long enough to make change, and do good. I’ve transcribed a few of my favorites below. Enjoy.

 

“Do small things with great love.” -Mother Theresa

It’s easy to feel insignificant when there’s a mountain of work in front of you. But every task, every errand, every call you’re making is contributing to this cause. It’s important to remember that even those mundane tasks are critical to the long-term outcome that everyone on your team is working hard to realize. Each step you take, no matter how small, is a step forward for your community. 

You may not be the only one feeling overwhelmed – some of your volunteers may also be feeling the drain, too. The clean-up crew are wondering whether their work matters. Those taking drinks tickets are gazing at the long-line before them and thinking, what’s all this for?

Everything adds up, particularly the things we put care and love into. Let your volunteers know that whatever task they’re doing, it’s making an impact. Every individual contributes in a significant way towards increasing awareness, raising funds, bringing people together and making our cities and towns more cultural, vibrant and fun.

 

 

“To move forward you have to give back.” -Oprah Winfrey

 

Giving your time helps others, and it helps you. It’s easy to give our money, or donate our old belongings to a local thrift store – but to give our time? Our effort, hard work and (l)earned skills? These opportunities to give that part of ourselves enables us to connect with others and the mission. We can grow in meaningful ways.

 

“A lion chased me up a tree and I greatly enjoyed the view from the top.” -Confuscius

 

 

It’s that time of night when the spreadsheet in front of you is starting to blur. You have a giant detailed list of seemingly endless things to do. You’re tired, exasperated and just over it.

Step away from the glow of your computer screen and remember the big picture. There will always be challenges before you, and opportunities to overcome them, individually or with the collaboration of those you trust and can depend on to help see you through. If you find yourself at the top of that tree, take a look around. The view is unbelievable. 

 

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Identifying a Volunteer’s Niche

Not every job is a perfect fit for every volunteer–which is simultaneously your biggest challenge and greatest advantage when building a volunteer team. 

Volunteering is volunteering is volunteering, right? No, of course not! Every job, duty, and responsibility is different, just like every person who volunteers is different. The trick is finding the right people for the job. When people are working in their sweet spot, they tend to work to their strengths, have a better experience, and stick around in the future. As a volunteer coordinator, that’s a win-win-win! 

 

Recruit

If you know you have jobs to fill that require a certain skill-set, start by actively recruiting people who would be the best fit. Will you need a medical tent at your festival? Reach out to the local medical school or nursing program to see if they can help connect you with volunteers. Want a group of cheerleaders to encourage runners over the finish line? Contact the local high school to help promote the opportunity to enthusiastic high schoolers or even the cheerleaders themselves in need of volunteer hours. Having a defined role and clear need will make it easier for you to know what type of person to pursue. 

 

Request

Sometimes a volunteer will have a talent, skill, or trait that is not immediately obvious. Maybe that mom who just wants to help the cause currently selling tickets used to be in a band and is great at local promotion. Or maybe the person providing you with pro-bono legal advice is a skilled photographer on the side. Regardless of the age or background of the volunteer, they probably have some sort of hidden talent, so ask them about it! Whether it’s a question you ask when you’re first introduced or it’s an open field on their volunteer registration form–ask volunteers what other skills or interests they might have. Sometimes you may be amazed to find it’s just what you’ve been looking for. You might not need everyone’s extra skills all at once though, so it’s nice to build a document that lists the variety of skills represented all in one place. That way, when the opportunity arises, you know who to call.

 

Reflect 

After the job has been fulfilled, be honest–was it the right fit? Unfortunately, sometimes you’ll have someone who feels their strength is in one area when it isn’t right for your team yet or maybe they were just in the wrong role all together. That doesn’t necessarily make them a bad volunteer–it might just mean pivoting to a different position in the future. Of course, you’re also going to have dirty or less glamorous jobs that need to be filled. Sometimes that means getting creative and sometimes that means divvying up the fun and not-so-fun jobs on a rotating basis. Assess what works best through surveys or follow-up meetings with volunteers when possible to let them share their thoughts as well. Maybe you thought they were a perfect fit in the kids craft tent, but they would rather have a break from kids and sell merch instead. Realizing that you will have to continue to hone in on where a volunteer fits best will help foster a healthy and strong team of volunteers committed to their roles. 

 

Now that you’ve got the plan for how to do it–go fill those jobs with the right volunteers! Both you and the volunteers will surely be happier for it. 

 

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Ten Myths About Managing Your Volunteers

Volunteer coordination is hard work, and there are a lot of misconceptions about what the role entails (and how to be successful along the way). We’re here today to de-bunk some of the most common myths we hear about volunteer management.

  1. You’re on call, 24-7. If you’re passionate about your job, managing volunteers could turn into an all-day, every-day gig. But with established communication protocols and an active team, you can (and should!) unplug. 
  2. You can’t solicit volunteers for donations. Many volunteers see their time as their primary contribution to an organization, but if there are costs associated with onboarding (background checks, etc.) asking them to cover those fees is a good path into the donor pipeline. 
  3. Volunteer trainings need to involve slides and manuals. Sure, you should cover compliance and protocols in an onboarding, but bring the mission to life with role-playing, behind-the-scenes tours or other activities that engage and inspire volunteers. 
  4. You should be happy with whoever you get. That old “beggars can’t be choosers” philosophy could really disrupt your organization. Screening volunteers is critical. They should be a right match for the organization, and placed in a role that maximizes their skills.  
  5. There’s no professional development for volunteer managers. So many people fall into this line of work. Seek out a support system of other volunteer managers who can share best practices through your local United Way, nonprofit professionals network or online forums. They can also recommend conferences and webinars to grow your skills. 
  6. Volunteer programs are free. While a volunteer program can bring great value to your organization, they’re like a garden that needs attention and investment to yield the best results. Don’t forget to build recognition materials, management software and other supplies into your budget. 
  7. Your organization should jump on every Day of Service opportunity or group volunteer request. Saying ‘no’ to someone (or lots of someones) who want to contribute to your organization can seem crazy. But if the activity is out of scope for your organization, a ‘yes’ can lead to confusion and cause more harm than good. 
  8. You’re the only one recruiting volunteers for your cause. Partnerships – with corporations, colleges and universities and other civic organizations – can create productive volunteer pipelines. 
  9. Liability and insurance isn’t your territory. Make sure you are working closely with your organizations’ compliance arm to ensure both volunteers and the organization are not putting each other at risk. 
  10. Measuring volunteer impact is impossible. With proper tracking of volunteer hours and assignments, your organization can put a relative dollar value on volunteer power. And by collecting stories of volunteer initiatives and outcomes, your leveraging powerful anecdotes to support your cause.

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It’s a Family Affair! Fill Your Shifts with Families

As a volunteer coordinator, you are more than acquainted with the struggle to get volunteers to your event. A great way to get more people is including positions that work well for families. It is a great activity for them to spend time together while giving back to the community. How can you get families to your events? We have a few tips that we think might help.

What positions are appropriate for teenagers? 

Most events will have teen-appropriate jobs. Green team volunteers, set-up or tear-down, ticketing or even working with children. It’s a bonus if the job is one that can help them practice skills to benefit them in their professional development, like money-handling or on-site logistics. Jobs that require working with attendees (or greeting them as they enter) will give teens important communication and interpersonal skills.

 

Some families will want to spend the day together, are there positions like that?

Any position that has multiple spots within a shift could be a good choice for families to work together. Check-in is a great spot for families like this, they can have time to chat and parents can teach their kids some new skills. While it is tempting to fill the oft-understaffed clean up or tear down crews with families, remember that parents (and especially grandparents) may not be able to lift and carry as much as their children. You can always create sub-responsibilities within these roles that are age-appropriate for everyone in the family. (Bonus for you, those parents can keep the kids in line!) 

 

What events are family friendly? 

Almost any event can be family friendly – yes, even the local folk festival that serves alcohol. If you are just starting out the go to events would be charity races, information booths, neighborhood events, decorating, visiting nursing homes, park clean ups are all great examples. But don’t feel limited, if you are coordinating volunteers for an event you can make it family-friendly. 

 

What positions let me and my family work together? 

Working together is a great way to spend family time together. Volunteering for an event where you build something is a great way to work together, but even working shift at a charity race to pass out water can be a bonding experience. Volunteering at a soup kitchen or food bank is a good way for families to give back to other families that are not as fortunate. 

 

What about little-little ones, are they able join the family fun?

Certain sites aren’t the best place to have kids under the age of about 7 or 8, but don’t despair, as the volunteer coordinator you can create positions that are necessary for the function of your event and sounds like you need a few volunteers to help with daycare. 

 

What if the event really isn’t  family friendly?

Not all events fit the family mold. Maybe the majority of your volunteers need to check IDs or serve a glass of wine or beer. Can’t really have a high schooler handling that job. Depending on the laws in your state there could still roles for older kids, like wiping down table and cleaning up. But if there isn’t something you can do to make it fun for the whole family – it could be a great date night! Maybe the parents need a Saturday night and they can spend it volunteering for their favorite charity. 

 

For almost any kind of event you can make sure you have roles for a range of ages and multiple people in each shift. Those a the two easiest ways to accommodate families of any size. If you don’t have an event that lends its self to a family affair you can get creative with having a child watch area or make it a couples or best friend day out experience! 

 

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De-Briefing After Your Event

Finally – that event you worked so hard on is over. It finally feels like it’s time to throw on some slippers, grab a bag of chips and wind down with a glass of wine.

But not so fast.

While you should definitely give yourself a pat on the back, the period after an event can give you an opportunity to debrief both for yourself and your volunteer crew while the event is still fresh in your minds.

A de-briefing session can check on what worked and what didn’t for both you and your volunteers. It’s a positive opportunity to put a variety of minds together for a brainstorming sit-down. It can give you a chance to address concerns, highlight strengths and soak in feedback to better future events. And even if you feel like an event went successfully, you will want to check in with your team and volunteers to make sure you’re all on the same page.

Set aside time, have an agenda and get ready to review your goals both for yourself and your team.

 

Questions to ask yourself and your volunteers:

  • Get bigger and better

What are things that can be done to make the next event an even bigger success? Think about both the physical planning of the event and the analyzation of your attendee engagement. Could registration go more smoothly? Do you need more parking? Likewise, is there a way to get more attendees to your event? How was your social media language?

  • The good, the bad and the ugly

Take steps to congratulate yourself, acknowledge what could be improved upon and what needs to be thrown to the wayside. Acknowledge yourself and your volunteers for a job well done, but also discuss what didn’t work and how it can change. 

  • Listen and learn

What kind of feedback did the attendees provide – both explicitly and not explicitly? Brainstorm ways to get attendees to provide direct feedback, but also discuss what was observed. Did people struggle finding things? Was one activity particularly popular?

  • Let’s take action

Create a priority list and determine what actions can and should be done. Making a plan of action sets the tone for both yourself and your volunteers that the feedback they provide will be considered and utilized to make future events even better.

 

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Recruiting Volunteers for a Charity Race

Every event needs volunteers and as a coordinator one of your main priorities is recruiting passionate people to help the event run smoothly. There are people who volunteer for an event because they like the activity, the cause, or they got roped into it by a friend. It is good to take any help you can get, but the greatest volunteers are those that have an interest or a passion for the event. For charity races that core group comes from volunteers that are motivated by the cause. Here are some do’s and don’ts when finding and recruiting those volunteers. 

 

Do: 

  • Advertise the cause benefiting from the race. Communication is key make sure the cause the race is benefiting is clear. 

 

  • Include the cause in the name. That tells you right away that the race is for something more than just physical fitness (though, that is a great cause for a race too). Everyone loves something clever if you can manage to come up with a good play on words. 

 

  • Provide education about the disease or cause the race is supporting. The ice bucket challenge got people googling ALS to know what that crazy social media challenge was about. Maybe your race won’t get people googling, but you can provide more education about your cause to spread knowledge.

 

  • Reach out to affiliated groups. If your race benefits a high school band, reach out to the parents. If it’s a disease talk to hospitals or support groups. 

 

  • Make it clear where the funds raised will go. It’s not just enough to say it’s for a cause, show what the benefit will be. 

 

 

 

Don’t: 

  • Require volunteers to have been affected by the disease. Allies are important members of every community. 

 

  • Mislead participants about the purpose of the race. If you advertise a benefit race make sure the cause is front and center and not an afterthought. 

 

  • Assume people will know the cause you are supporting. If you name your race something vague or don’t find a way to include the cause in the name no one will know the cause unless its advertised.

 

  • Ignore social media. That goes for traditional advertising too. You want to reach out to everyone possible, don’t count on affiliate groups to encompass everyone who might support the cause.

 

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