How to Grow Your Volunteers into Brand Ambassadors: Part II

Let’s keep talking about brand ambassadors! In our first post on growing brand ambassadors, we talked about putting together intentional steps to help move your volunteers from people who work with you occasionally into people who are fired up about what you do and talk about you even when they’re not volunteering. (If you missed the first post, go ahead and catch up! We’ll be here when you’re done.)


Today we’re talking about letting go. You’ve done the hard work of instilling knowledge and experience. Now it’s time to give a little guidance and let them do their thing! On the day of an event, you have the unique opportunity to observe your brand ambassadors in action and cheer them on. Take a look at a few ways you can set them up for success.


Offer Final Instructions

Repeating organizational language and ideology is extremely important as you communicate with your brand ambassadors in between events. As an event approaches, think through how your values and mission statement are played out in this specific instance and share that with your volunteers. This way they can visualize your mission in action.


This is also a great opportunity to give last minute guidance before the event begins. Think through the probable situations your volunteers may encounter and train them with best practices before they head out to work. For instance, my current employer throws a three-day fall festival each year. The first night is reserved only for families who have children with special needs. It’s a special night of celebration, and volunteers are usually eager to get involved. However, it also requires a few tips to help them be prepared to do their jobs well. We offer examples of positive phrases to use, ways to modify activities, people to contact if they need help, and reminders to slow down and enjoy the night together. These final pieces of information make your event better while also empowering your volunteers.


Give Official Gear

When asking volunteers to step into a broader role, help them get into a confident mindset by giving them official apparel to wear throughout the day. There’s just something about wearing a uniform, right? It makes us remember why we’re here and helps us stay engaged throughout the long event hours. This can be as simple as creating lanyards or creating volunteer shirts and hats. If your budget allows for new apparel every year, gift these items to your volunteers! Just another way to remind them of the great work your organization does after the event is completed.


Be Encouraging

When you see your volunteer embracing the role of brand ambassador, tell them as soon as possible! Call it out in person, text, or email to reinforce those great actions and attitudes. If you’re running a group text thread for your volunteer team, send encouragement and affirmation there. These little comments don’t take much time, but they help create a culture of encouraging each other and grow camaraderie among your team. Plus it offers an easy medium to address problems as soon as possible.


These steps are simple ways to equip your volunteers and release them into their role as brand ambassador. As they grow in their skill, experience, and passion, you’re able to shift into a support role and watch them be awesome—a true win for you both.


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How to Grow Your Volunteers into Brand Ambassadors: Part 1

There’s an abundance of buzzwords in our industry, and brand ambassador is right up there on the list. But don’t look past this one! Spend some time and resources on the concept of brand ambassadors, and you’ll maximize your volunteers to the great benefit of your organization.


Word-of-mouth is still one of the most effective ways of spreading your message and increasing awareness of your organization, and yet there’s not a lot we can do to control what people talk about. That’s where brand ambassadors come in. The idea is that people get fired up and passionate about your organization—what you’re doing and how you’re doing it—and they can’t help but talk about it and share the great work with others.


Like so much in the world of managing volunteers, it takes intentionality. But here are a few steps you can take to grow your volunteers into brand ambassadors.


Repetition, Repetition, Repetition.

When you’re asking volunteers to buy into your vision and mission and share it, you’ve got to make sure they know it. Even when it feels like a broken record, keep repeating your central language. Include it in your email communication. Infuse it throughout your conversational language. Ensure every training or meeting includes a focus on your mission statement or on a specific organizational value. The more your volunteers hear it and see it, the more they will use the same phrases when talking you up to their friends!


Increase your Access

While being intentional with your language is important and necessary, seeing really is believing when it comes to converting your volunteers into brand ambassadors. Do your volunteers have access to seeing your organization in action?

Brainstorm with your team to develop ways volunteers can see more of you. Perhaps this looks like having an open door policy or office hours when volunteers can stop by. Or maybe it looks like inviting an individual or family your organization has served to a volunteer appreciation night. If privacy is an issue for the population you serve, think of ways you can create a simulation, so your volunteers can get a grasp of how things work firsthand.

These experiences give depth and meaning to the knowledge they’ve gained from working with you. As they see you demonstrate your effectiveness, they’ll share what they’ve seen!


Make Space

As you train and invest in your potential brand ambassadors, be intentional about giving them space to grow. As you look at your organizational structure, do you have high-level volunteer roles available and waiting for your brand ambassadors? Think through social media options, guest experience positions, etc. and identify a track for your brand ambassadors to grow. Planning specific roles that promote ownership and responsibility is key to helping your people see they are a part of the team.

As your volunteers continue to buy into your organization and gain knowledge and skill, you have already provided space for them to utilize their passion and to help your organization be more effective.


As volunteer coordinators, we understand how much preparation goes in before volunteers arrive. Creating brand ambassadors is no different! A little intentional planning makes for a smooth path to equipping your volunteers!




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Make Your Race Stand Out

Planning an endurance event is a lot of work!

And we know you’re working hard to make your event amazing. Runners have a multitude of race options to choose from these days, so how do you make yours attractive to new registrants and memorable enough for repeat participants? The same things that attract runners tend to attract great volunteers. What elements of an event make it a positive experience for everyone? Take a look at the categories below for a little inspiration.


Sometimes separating yourself from the pack is as simple as giving away great stuff. (I’ve personally decided between two races based on the design of the medal received at the end. Shallow, I know, but hey! Whatever works!) Look at your budget to decide if there’s an area or two you can spend some extra resources on great take-home items for your runners and volunteers. If you always give away a t-shirt, perhaps this is the year you spend extra on a softer or better fitting shirt or on a higher quality design for your apparel. Or maybe you’d like to branch out from t-shirts and include other branded items such as socks, bags, or towels.

Think of these items as an investment in future races. The more your runners and volunteers use their freebies, the more your race stays on their minds!


Many runners like making their miles count by joining a race that has partnered with a charity or local non-profit organization. Giving back to their community or to a greater cause helps motivate them in their hard work. The same goes for volunteers! How you can you incorporate some meaning into your event? If you have an existing partnership for the event, how can you further integrate it into your planning?

Think specifically about pre-race or post-race activities. Perhaps you can show a video telling a story of someone impacted by your partner or your organization. Or create a display for participants, fans, and volunteers to interact with during down time. A race is a great opportunity to communicate the importance of your mission.


At the end of the day, both runners and volunteers want a well-planned race with a fun atmosphere. Revisit your logistics each year to keep improving how you serve your participants, fans, and volunteers. By anticipating their needs and making their experience simple and enjoyable, you keep building their positive memories and the desire to come back.

These areas surely don’t cover all the ways you can make your race stand out, but use these topics as a starting point in your brainstorming! No matter what length of race you’re planning —3k, 5k, 10k or longer—you can create a memorable experience that keeps your people coming back.




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Budgeting Basics

The world of volunteer coordinators is often fluid. When working with a free work force, you quickly find how to deftly roll with the punches and adapt to whatever circumstances arise. The same strengths that help you excel at your position often make it difficult to tackle tasks that appear rigid and fixed, tasks like creating a budget. Learning how to enter into the mingling of boundaries and flexibility is essential for both your organization and your event to thrive. So let’s take a look at some basic principles to help you get started.


Understand the Numbers

No matter your financial literacy, take time to fully understand the numbers for your event. The number one goal of your fundraising event is just this: to raise funds. If you produce the most innovative, entertaining, meaningful event, but it costs more money than it raises, you’ve still failed at your primary goal.


Take meetings with your financial team to understand the annual budget, the amount of resources earmarked for your event, and the variety of ways your event is planning to bring in income. As you list the forms of income (ticket sales, pledges per mile of a race, concessions, sponsors, etc.), be realistic in your estimations.


If this is your first event, reach out to organizations that have run similar events to see where their income levels began. If this is an established event for your organization, look through the budgets from years past to see the annual amount of growth per year to appropriately project this year’s numbers. Fundraising requires a high level of optimism and aspiration, but building your budget is a place to stay grounded in the information available to you.


List Expenses

If you’re a relational person, this may seem like another step that seems like a drag, but stay with me. Work through each aspect of your event and list all definite and probable expenses. Unexpected costs always pop up, but what can you anticipate? Authors Stan Hutton and Frances Phillips list the following categories as a good starting point for you and your team:

  • Location (space rental, site use permits, security guards, portable toilets, tents, cleanup costs)
  • Advertising and marketing (save-the-date postcards, photography, posters, invitations, event programs, publicist costs, postage, event website with a ticket purchase feature)
  • Production (lighting and sound equipment, technical labor, stage managers, auctioneers)
  • Travel and per diem (for guest speakers, performers, or special guests)
  • Insurance (for example, liability insurance in case someone gets hurt because of your organization’s negligence, or shipping insurance to protect donated goods)
  • Food and beverages (including permits for the sale or serving of alcohol, if necessary)
  • Decor (flowers, rented tables and chairs, linens, fireworks, banners)
  • Miscellaneous (prizes, awards, talent treatment, name tags, signs, t-shirts)
  • Office expenses (letter writing, mailing list and website management, detail coordination)
  • All other staff expenses


Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize

Now that you have the basic budget of cash coming in and going out, it’s likely time to make cuts. You’ve done the hard work of getting everything down on paper, and now it’s time to choose what is most important and most necessary. Brainstorm with team members to utilize multiple perspectives. In the end, help your team understand your decisions by discussing those priorities and the realities of the financial limitations.


Get Creative

Just hearing the word “budget” can conjure up feelings of conflict and restriction, but you don’t have to feel stuck. The budget provides parameters, but you can get as inventive as you’d like within them. Necessity begets creativity! Think of alternative solutions and partnerships that can help you achieve your goal. To maximize your marketing budget, perhaps existing sponsors are willing to use their social media channels to promote your event. To save on food and beverage expenses, look into your volunteer base to see if there are existing connections that may offer catering discounts. A solution is likely still present, even if it looks different than your first choice.


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Getting Sponsorship when You’re Scared to Ask for Money

Before we get started, let me be honest: I’m not great at asking for money. Talking about money makes me uncomfortable. Asking for money makes me uncomfortable. But at the end of the day, we in the nonprofit and event management business can’t avoid it. Procuring and developing sponsorship relationships is essential to success.


So let’s consider this a scaredy cat’s guide to asking for sponsors. We can do this! In many ways, the same principles that make an effective volunteer manager also make a prolific fundraiser. Take a look at four simple ways so secure sponsors.


Know Yourself.

There’s a theme throughout many of our posts at VolunteerLocal, but it’s that important! Know the vision behind your event. Know how your event fits into the overall mission of your organization. Know how your event provides value and benefits for the local community and for the sponsor. Nailing down great answers to these topics is incredibly helpful for recruiting volunteers, and it’s no different when thinking about sponsors. Knowing the details gives you confidence and helps potential sponsors put their trust in you.


Find Sponsors that Fit.

In the same way that there are people best suited to volunteer for your event, there are certain sponsors that are a good fit! Consider your vision and the mission of your event. Then research companies and organizations that already align with you. These potential sponsors are most prone to listen to you, and you likely have the most to offer them in return.


Look at local businesses and organizations. Examine your list of previous volunteers and identify any business owners or groups of people working for the same company. Assembling a list of warm prospects keeps building your confidence and eases some anxiety.


Do Your Research.

Develop your presentation with each organization in mind. Just like when you’re talking to different sources of volunteers, this is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Get to know your audience well, and demonstrate this knowledge by tailoring your pitch to show why investing in your event is the right choice. This takes a lot of attention to detail and extra time, but it makes all the difference!


Be Generous.

Many companies and organizations are willing to use their resources to invest in good causes, but they are still looking for the best return on their investment. Get creative in how you can give them high value exposure before, during, and after your event. Include sponsors in promotional material, add logos to event swag, offer high level investors to sponsor an entire section of your venue, find spots in your event schedule to integrate sponsor representatives into the festivities, send out post-event summaries to show them how much exposure your event generated on their behalf. In the same way volunteers are grateful for perks, your relationship with sponsors continues to grow as you find creative, meaningful ways to bring them into the event and repay their generosity.


If you’re like me and you find asking for money intimidating, don’t let it cripple your progress. Just focus on these essentials of fundraising. You can do it!




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Avoiding Volunteer Fatigue

You know that one person? The one who only ever talks to you when they need something? The one you see coming and then you immediately look for another person to talk to or an exit strategy? You start running through your mental schedule looking for the excuses to give when they inevitably ask you for your time or other resources…again. Eventually you just learn to be a completely avoidant person when they’re around just to be sure you don’t get sucked into another one of their projects. You know that guy? Is it just me? Don’t be that guy.


Volunteer fatigue and burnout are very real things. It can’t always be avoided, but there are ways to foster relationships with each of your volunteers to help them understand they are far more than just a warm body filling a role during events. Take a look at a few ideas below to see what strategies work best for your team.


Celebrate the Wins

It’s easy to joke about the people who ask for things all the time. But think through your volunteer emails. Are they always asking for more volunteers? It’s an easy trap to fall into. How can you diversify your email communication? Use your emails to share your latest accomplishments or interesting statistics. Send videos communicating organizational impact to your volunteers before you post them publicly. Of course there’s such a thing as sending too many emails, but strategic sharing with your volunteers demonstrates that you see them as part of the team and helps them gain a greater understanding of the work you are all doing together.


Acknowledge Each Volunteer

Find reasons to celebrate and connect with each of your volunteers in some way outside of your normal volunteer communication. This can be as simple as writing a birthday email or card for your volunteers. (VolunteerLocal’s birthday reminders make this easy!) Or set up a rotating schedule of writing thank you notes to your volunteers. Perhaps you are able to reserve one day a month to take different volunteers out to lunch or coffee. These face-to-face, casual interactions not only help your volunteers feel valued and affirmed, but they also help you know more about your volunteers and the lives they lead outside of your interactions.


Celebrate Together

Some of my favorite coordinator moments involve volunteer appreciation events. It does take some extra effort, but assembling your volunteers together to celebrate is a special way to say thank you and acknowledge the outstanding work of people who often go unrecognized. This is also a great opportunity to publicly promote high performing volunteers to volunteer captains or to hand out special awards, whether serious or otherwise. Volunteer certificates are a nice added touch and are available at VolunteerLocal! Regardless of how many volunteers are under your care, hosting an appreciation event is a fun way to show your gratitude and grow camaraderie among your team.

These are only a few of the ways you can nurture relationships with your volunteers, but each organization can tailor these methods to fit your volunteer culture. Take a few steps to elevate your communication beyond the ask and ensure you’re never that guy.




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20 Quotes for Volunteer Coordinators Who Need a Boost

Leading people well always has its challenges, but leading people who aren’t paid to show up requires next-level finesse and dedication. We’ve all been in those situations that make us wonder what we’re doing and if it’s worth the hassle, but at the end of the day, volunteering and leading volunteers has a way of reminding us that we’re working toward a greater purpose.

If you’re in need of some inspiration or some words to share with your team, take a look at the list below for some fresh perspective.


For the times nothing is going right

  • “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”  – Anne Frank
  • “Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain loving one another.” – Erma Bombeck
  • “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.” – Elizabeth Andrew


For the times people don’t show up

  • “Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King, Jr
  • “If our hopes of building a better and safer world are to become more than wishful thinking, we will need the engagement of volunteers more than ever.” – Kofi Annan
  • “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands — one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” – Audrey Hepburn


For the times your volunteers are struggling

  • “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” – Seneca
  • “The most important service to others is service to those who are not like yourself.” – J. Irwin Miller
  • “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • “Always render more and better service than is expected of you, no matter what your task may be.” – Og Mandino
  • “To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.” – Douglas Adams


For the times you think no one cares but you

  • “I am only one, but I am one.  I cannot do everything, but I can do something.  And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” – Edward Everett Hale
  • “It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank, that counts. These mean nothing. It is simply service that measures success.” – George Washington Carver


For the times you’re feeling burned out

  • “The only service a friend can really render is to keep up your courage by holding up to you a mirror in which you can see a noble image of yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw
  • “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.” – Mother Teresa
  • “The work an unknown good man has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground green.” – Thomas Carlyle


For the times you need to remember why

  • “What is the essence of life? To serve others and to do good.” – Aristotle
  • “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi
  • “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” – Leo Buscaglia

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

- Rabindranath Tagore




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Assigning Volunteer Roles? It’s All About the Ask

Somewhere out there is an alternate reality in which we all live in perfect weather with views of both the mountains and the ocean, a faraway land full of unicorns and rainbows and people with all sorts of extra free time who ask how they can help. In that lovely place, we all have an abundance of volunteers for our organizations and events and the margin to think intentionally about where each volunteer can best serve. What a world!


But seriously, effective volunteer management requires not only filling roles, but also filling the roles with the right people. We don’t always have the flexibility to put our volunteers into their most ideal spot, but how can we use our tools and resources to help others feel like they’re using their talents and abilities?


It’s all about the ask.


Get to know your volunteers by asking more than just the bare minimum questions. Ask about their hobbies and interests. Ask about their favorite movies or music. Ask about their family, their favorite restaurant, their experience serving with you and with others. Ask them about the things they know they’re not good at. Whatever information gives you insight into a good fit for your volunteers, make sure you ask it!


In addition to getting to know your volunteers, provide helpful and intentional information for them, as well. List out the roles you need filled and give the opportunity to self-identify the top spots they’d like to serve.


While your internal volunteer job descriptions are likely thorough and detailed, be creative in ways to present a summary of the description for your volunteers.

  • If you need administrative help: Do you alphabetize your bookshelves? Do spreadsheets make you happy? We have a spot for you!
  • If you need greeters: Do you like talking to strangers? Are you labeled a Chatty Kathy/Kenny? Use your power for good!
  • If you need floaters: Do you believe variety is the spice of life? Do you like the unexpected? We need you!

By taking some time to be intentional in this process, you start building rapport with your volunteers and growing their enthusiasm even as they sign up!


VolunteerLocal allows you to customize your volunteer registration form to include fun and helpful questions that help engage your volunteers. You can also send a survey over email or set up face-to-face meetings to help get to know each other beyond a name and email address. As you think about the number of volunteers you’re managing and the variety of roles you need filled, choose the method that works best for you!


After all of this information gathering, it’s time to put that information to work for you! Gather your team and start assigning roles as a sort of Volunteer Draft Day, and have fun with it! Volunteers want to be wanted, and as your team divvies up the available workers, you’re planting the first seeds of team unity. Your team leaders start getting excited about the people they’re working with, and your volunteers start getting excited about the event. It’s a win-win that sets you up for success in the immediate future and retention in the years ahead.




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The Best Ways to Manage Local Volunteer Recruitment

We talk a lot about the value of local. We eat local. We buy local. And we know how important it is to recruit locally. What are the best ways to leverage the presence of local volunteers?

Reaching out to community organizations is essential to both enlisting enough volunteers and incorporating your event into the hosting community. Schools often have incentives for students to pursue volunteer opportunities. Certain sororities and fraternities have service built into their bylaws. Service-minded organizations such as Kiwanis, Rotary Club, and Lions Club focus on community improvement and have great potential to partner with you.

By recruiting from a variety of entities, your volunteer base grows in diversity and gives you an effective snapshot of the city, suburb, or neighborhood you’re planning to reach. Each individual offers a unique understanding of the local context and can provide insight as to how to successfully tailor your event to the event location. Now let’s make the most of it!

Photo Credit:

1. Give Some Form

Before asking your volunteers about event details, gather as a staff to decide the aspects of your event that are most core to your mission and vision. You know your organization and its goals the best! List the qualities and methods that are central to who you are as an organization or to the event itself. These are your non-negotiables and therefore not up for discussion or debate with your volunteers. This may sound harsh, but by providing this structure before you talk with volunteers, the conversation remains focused and your volunteers better understand the overall goals of the event and organization.

2. Give Some Freedom

Now that your non-negotiables are in place, decide what is flexible! There is often a difference between “the way we’ve always done it” and “the way we should do it this time.” Your volunteers can help you bend and shift on these topics to maximize your overall effectiveness. Take a look at your logistical decisions, local marketing strategies, or any other areas that need to adapt to different locations, and bring in your volunteers! Utilize email surveys or plan volunteer forum opportunities. Identify key volunteers who seem most in-step with your work and invite them to planning meetings. It’s not wise to incorporate every idea, of course, but intentionally communicating with your volunteers helps you adapt to event locations and helps your volunteers invest in their work on a deeper level.

3. Get Some Feedback

While we strive to integrate great methods before the event, sometimes the best ideas come afterward. After an event, continue your volunteer communication to gather ways you succeeded and ways you can improve in the future. Keeping notes about what worked and what should be modified helps create an even better experience when you return and shows your volunteers that you’re listening!

Incorporating the voice of your volunteers may take patience and creativity, but the end result elevates your event from good to great.

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5 Ways to Help with No-Show Volunteers

We all know recruiting and developing volunteer teams is necessary and effective to run events of any size. Yet depending on a workforce with no official obligation to show up on time (or at all) means last minute flakes are often inevitable. What can you do to handle these no-shows?

1. Pad Your Numbers

As simple as it sounds; account for last-minute dropouts while you’re still in the planning stage of the event. If you know you need 10 volunteers to cover a specific area, work to recruit 12-15 people. To be more accurate, take a look at data from previous years to calculate an average attrition rate tailored to your event culture and demographics. (Hint: VolunteerLocal gives you great tracking data!) Planning to overestimate your volunteer recruitment helps cover no-shows on the day of the event.

2. Create Floater Positions

While you’re preparing your volunteer plan, create a floater position. The job description for floaters is simply to fill in the gaps for absent volunteers or areas that have a higher degree of need than anticipated. This again requires a higher level of recruitment, but it also makes for a smoother experience during the event.

3. Keep Paid Staff Off the List

Your paid staff members are invaluable not only to the event but also to your volunteers. As you promote your event and recruit volunteers, resist the inclination to count your staff people in your volunteer numbers. When they are not locked into a certain area, they are free to provide leadership to volunteers and cover gaps created by a lack of volunteers or by crises that may arise.

4. Track Your Volunteers

Find the tools that make your job easier! VolunteerLocal helps you in each stage of planning, recruiting, and event management. Collecting your data in one place allows you and your team to see potential areas of concern, locate teams that are running low on volunteers, communicate with volunteers before and after the event, and keep track of who has checked in and who not arrived. Knowing your need is half the battle in keeping your event running smoothly, and VolunteerLocal makes it simple.

5. Practice Gratitude

The easiest way to fix the problem of no-show volunteers is to make sure volunteers show up in the first place. Most volunteers are willing to serve but also are looking for perks. How are you thanking your volunteers? Look for ways to give them behind-the-scenes access, exclusive merchandise, or special experiences that demonstrate your appreciation and provide an incentive for them to show up. Keep treating your volunteers well, and watch your no-show rate drop from year to year!

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