Building a Core Group of Volunteers

When the world needs a hero–that hero needs a team.

No matter how powerful, smart, or rich a superhero is, they always need a little help. Whether it’s from someone they depend on (hello, Alfred), a team of other superheroes (Thor may be mighty, but he’s even better with Stark and Captain America) or someone who swoops in to save the day at the last second (Eleven, what would Hawkins do without you?), these superheroes can’t succeed alone. Before we get too nerdy, the point is–you need a strong team who has your back. In the case of a
(super) volunteer coordinator, we’re talking about
your core group of volunteers.

 

Build your dream team

Maybe you’ve got a few people who’ve been there through it all with you, or maybe you feel a hole where a team of committed volunteers should be. Start by assessing the volunteers you have now. Ask yourself and your volunteers how you can better support them and lead them toward more significant roles in the organization. Invite volunteers to tackle problems you are facing and trust them with the tasks you give them. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your team to better leverage your strengths and seek solutions for your weaknesses. Then, start recruiting new volunteers. Some of these new volunteers may start with simple tasks, but others may be ready for a meaningful role right away.

 

Include some of your current volunteers in this process of building the dream team. If you want to have a strong core volunteer team, you have to start working as a team now instead of continuing to go at it alone.

 

Show them the love

Start by saying the magic words: “thank you!” It sounds so simple, but somehow still gets overlooked. Say thanks with sincerity and get specific about what you are thanking them for. Say thank you verbally, in a handwritten note, or even publically if the opportunity presents itself. Maybe throw an appreciation party for core volunteers. Everyone has different motivations for volunteering, be it to support something they are passionate about or simply to get a free t-shirt. Try to understand what motivates your volunteers, especially your core team, and encourage them in a way that matches their personal goals. For instance, if they are looking for career growth opportunities or ways to network, make sure to connect them with the right people.

 

While you obviously want to roll out the red carpet for your core team, you are also the volunteer coordinator over all of the volunteers. Be tactful about how and when you say thanks to your core volunteers and continue to include all volunteers when you thank people for a job well done. Make gratitude and appreciation a part of your culture and ask your core volunteers to pass that appreciation down to the people who report to them as well.

 

What’s in it for them?

Why should you “promote” volunteers to the core team? And why should they even want to join this dream team? When people are committed to a cause, they like knowing their effort will make an impact. So if they are spending their time volunteering, they probably want to get the highest ROI for both you and them. When they take on more responsibility, that often means more ownership. It means doing higher level tasks and having a voice in the decisions and direction of the event or organization. Ultimately, volunteers may get more fulfillment out of the experience. And in return, you get a stronger volunteer base with a higher likelihood of retention.

 

Now that you’ve got your team, all that’s left is putting on your cape.

 

 

Read More

4th of July Event Planning

It’s time for those lazy days of summer and for many people, the highlight of the summer is that awesome holiday right in the middle. Yeah, baby, we’re talking about the 4th of July! When the weather is hot, the watermelon is ripe, and the outdoor music is at its loudest. Perhaps this is a relaxed time between events for you or maybe you are in the thick of it. If you’re about to hold a festival or race on this fine holiday (or even on another holiday later on in the year), here are a few of our favorite go-to tips to make sure it’s lit.

Embrace the day

  • Whether you’ve got an event on the 4th of July or another national holiday, embrace the holiday! People (likely) have the day off from work, and they’ve chosen to spend it with you. So get a little silly and go all out with decorations or holiday-themed elements (be it food, music, marketing, whatever). People are there to volunteer or participate on a holiday, so you might as well make it feel a little extra celebratory.

Be aware of your surroundings

  • On a holiday, you most likely won’t be hosting the only event happening in town. While this can add to the overall sense of fun and excitement, you need to be extra vigilant in the planning process to understand how other simultaneous events and activities will impact yours. Will parking be more of a challenge? Will you still be able to get the security coverage you need? Do the permits conflict or does your race intersect paths with the parade route? Will there be fireworks going off in the middle of your planned moment of silence? Whatever it is, know about it and plan accordingly. Maybe even communicate with volunteers what else is going on in town so they are aware as well. Be sure to not only know what’s happening at the same time as your event but also throughout the entire holiday as well as in the days leading up to it.

Appeal to volunteers

  • Your race, festival, or event matters, but let’s face it, some people would rather sleep in than show up early for race day or miss out on spending time with friends and family. So, encourage potential volunteers to consider it a part of the day’s celebration. Instead of taking volunteers away from friend and family activities, make it easy for them to bring their friends and family along with, and all volunteer together as a group. Create options for shorter shifts so that people are able to give a little time to volunteer but still feel like they have plenty of time to spend the day as they please. Provide incentives, be it holiday-themed swag or tickets to the remainder of the event. Instead of an “either/or” decision for volunteers, make volunteering with you so good they’d be crazy to pass it up. Ultimately you want the act of volunteering at your event to go hand-in-hand with their plans on this holiday for years to come.

In all of this, remember to have a little fun yourself. Relish in the occasion, especially because people will likely be in a better mood overall. Even though you’re working on your holiday, it can still be an enjoyable time and a really meaningful event in the community. Live it up!

Read More

7 Ways to Get The Most Out of Your Online Communication

Every day we all get dozens (hundreds?) of emails, and it’s a constant game of trying to keep up with the most important ones.

 

Just like you, volunteers are flooded with emails. But obviously, your emails are the most important to them…right?

That moment when you realize half of the people you emailed didn’t even bother reading through what you spent an hour carefully crafting is definitely a blow to the ego. Not only that, but it’s a real communication issue if volunteers aren’t getting the information they need.

We get it. That’s why we’ve got seven helpful ways to make your online communication more effective. Next time you are trying to connect with volunteers, keep the following tips in mind:

 

Send a text. Emails are great, but texts have a significantly higher open rate. It forces you to think through what the most vital piece of information is and send that short snippet off to your masses. With VolunteerLocal’s feature for volunteers to opt-in to text messages, you can communicate what volunteers need to know in a quick, no-fuss way.

Communicate with the right people. Seems pretty elementary, right? Send your emails or texts (or carrier pigeons) to the people who most need to read it. Sometimes it may seem easier to send one big email to everyone on your list and hope they find the part that pertains to them. Wrong! That brain dump in one massive email just means that even more people are confused. Then they might start to ignore those big emails you send, thinking it no longer pertains to them. We’ve got all the export tools you need — so grab the list of volunteers working on a specific task and email them only what they need to know.

Have fun with it. You heard me, spice it up a little! Be playful and fun by dropping in some (appropriate) jokes or images to keep volunteers engaged and interested. Everybody loves a little GIF action to sum it up. Make this email something volunteers enjoy receiving and reading by giving some personality to it. When adding in some fun, remember to make sure the tone matches the organization you are sending it from as well as matching the message itself.

Keep it brief. Short and sweet, those are the messages most read. If it can’t be read in a minute or two, maybe this shouldn’t be communicated in an email.

 

Highlight key points. Sometimes there’s no way around it, there’s a lot of content that needs to go out at once. Instead of overwhelming people with one big chunk of text, make sure to highlight a few areas that are most important. You can make a list (like this one!) or put a few key bits in bold so it really stands out. Of course, highlighting the entire email makes it all unreadable, so make those key points count.

 Make a video. Depending on your budget and time, video can be a great way to communicate with people. It doesn’t have to be fancy – just make sure the message is clear. To do so, plan ahead what you’ll say and check that your audio is clear. If this is a message you’ll be sending out continuously (for instance, basic ground rules for volunteers or background information on the organization or event), it may be worth investing in making a more professional video that can be used again and again.

Meet face-to-face. Sure, this isn’t always a viable option (hello, there are only 24 hours in a day), but when it is–go for it. As the volunteer coordinator, volunteers are looking up to you for advice, encouragement, and instruction. Having a personal presence can give them the extra confidence they need to do the job right. So, perhaps this means using emails and texts to let them know when the next informational session is or to send follow-up notes after your in-person meeting with them.

 

Whatever it is that you are communicating, we want to help you make it as effective as it can be. So, feel free to shoot us an email if you’ve got questions on how the VolunteerLocal features can make your life (and your emails) a bit easier.

Read More

Choosing Your Event Location, Location, Location

The location changes everything when it comes to event planning.

 

Talk to any realtor (or any normal person quoting a realtor) and you’re bound to hear the phrase, “Location, location, location.” Why? Because it makes a difference. Be it a house, a business, or an event, location plays a huge part in its success. The location sets a tone, affects outreach and visibility, and determines overall accessibility and appeal.

 

When the sky’s the limit, you ask, “Where should this event take place?” You dream a minute. Suddenly you’re on a nice sandy beach in your mind before this winter cold snaps you back to reality. Okay, so it’s important to dream big and start a creative brainstorm, while still staying grounded in some of the limitations and intentions behind your event.

 

Top things to consider when planning an event:

 

Availability

There’s no sense getting your heart set on a place if isn’t available how or when you need it. Is the maximum capacity there smaller than your projected attendance? Are there enough rooms that suit your needs? Is it perfect but you’d need to change your date?

 

Cost

More likely than not, you’re working on a budget, maybe even a tight one. What is the cost of all of the possible locations under consideration? Will the cost put too big of a dent in your budget? Is there room in the budget to cut down on costs in another area so more funds can be available for the location? Or, will the location provide food or security or some other segment of your budget that you had allocated elsewhere?

 

Outreach

Is this an area with high visibility? Or a location that is highly desired? Does it carry a “wow factor” that may draw more people? If not, how can you address that or add to its appeal? Will this location expand your reach so that more people are aware and interested in your event than before? Does this location further the mission and align with the goals of your organization?

 

Sponsorships

You may have others who have skin in the game here and therefore a few thoughts on where the event should be held. Be open to suggestions, but also be willing to make an ask. Sometimes business can obtain a sponsorship designation by way of providing the location and features for the event. Not only does that help you in finding a venue, but it broadens their reach in the community as well.

 

Distance

Consider the drive time (as well as public transportation and/or walkability) it takes to get to the event for your target audience. Will a faraway destination provide appeal or deter people from coming? What other local businesses and amenities are nearby? This goes for both the people attending the event and the people volunteering at it.

 

Impact

What kind of impact will a certain location provide? Will it help the community and boost the local economy? Will it cause traffic in an already busy area, making locals dread your event and their longer commute time? Will the aesthetics of the location cause a distraction to attendees or be a source of inspiration? Think about the positive and negative impact the event location will have on attendees, volunteers, staff, and the local community.

 

While we all have certain ideals and dealbreakers, you may have to compromise on some things. Know where you can and should be flexible with your expectations. Prioritize these different elements as best you can to find the location that will be the best fit.   

 

*No control over the location? Sometimes you have say in where your event takes place and sometimes you don’t. But even if the streets for your run are already approved or the conference rooms are already booked–you do still have a lot of control over the location of where your welcome desk is, where the volunteers check in, and what the flow of your event consists of. Be sure to make a new map to reflect the changes so everyone knows where to go. Maybe you’re stuck in the same location as you’ve always been, but there’s a way to be more efficient or effective with the setup of the route, the food, or the volunteer stations.

 

For more information on how to plan an event, check out The Complete Event Planning Guide.

 

 

Read More

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.

 

For tips on finding the best volunteer management software for your organization, check out Wild Apricot’s Top 10 Free Volunteer Management Software Tools.

 

 

Read More

The Pursuit of Happy Volunteers

Every year our country remembers the acts and declarations of our forefathers. And every year, 30,000 runners take in the sights and long-standing history in the city of brotherly love. As George Washington once said, “Let’s run this thing!”

The Philadelphia Marathon was founded over 60 years ago and is consistently listed among the top ten courses in the country. While the theme changes every year, the course and the people remain favorites among the runners trotting along the water and through downtown Philly.

Photo cred: racingtoregister.com

Christine Waite is the volunteer coordinator for the ~3,500 volunteers it takes to make this race happen each year. Between the Kids Fun Run, 8K, Half Marathon and Marathon, she says the event could not be the success it is without these volunteers.

While this is a long-standing event with many repeat participants and volunteers, the process to get there has been far from seamless. In fact, they have switched volunteer registration processes three times in the last three years.

Photo cred: blog.citysports.com
Photo cred: blog.citysports.com

With the ability to send confirmation emails to volunteers, customize volunteer roles, and run up-to-date reports, the Philadelphia Marathon has finally found their perfect match with VolunteerLocal. Waite says, “Compared to last year’s system, it is 100 times better!”

It’s not too late to help these founding runners!

To life, liberty, and happy volunteering!

Read More