An Interview with Lisa Barnes, of Summer of the Arts

It’s July, and summer is officially in full gear! Across the Midwest, that means picnics, road trips, and short nights. For Iowa locals, that means Iowa City Summer of the Arts. We couldn’t think of a better time to reach out to Lisa Barnes, the Executive Director, to hear more about her organization.


Since 2005, Summer of the Arts has created an incredible summer of entertainment, right in the heart of Iowa City, IA. Events include family-friendly festivals and weekly events like the Friday Night Concert Series and the outdoor Free Movie Series (bring lawn chairs!) As an Iowa City local myself, this organization has made summers come alive in a truly special way. 


How did Summer of the Arts get started originally? Is there a mission or vision that has guided you as the organization grows? 

Summer of the Arts was formed in the fall of 2005 as a way to bring together three long-running events (Iowa Arts Festival, Iowa City Jazz Festival and Friday Night Concert Series), and to share resources including fundraising, marketing, operations, etc. In 2005, there was a pilot program for the Free Movie Series, which became the 4th event added to the organization.


Our mission is to build community by bringing people together in the heart of Iowa City to experience, learn about, and enjoy free arts and cultural programs.


How have the events and festivals changed over the years?  

Over the years we have produced additional events (Downtown Saturday Night/Saturday Night Concert Series, Sand in the City, MusicIC, Celebrate the Season, Landlocked Film Festival), and in 2013 we started producing the Iowa Soul Festival, which is now the Soul & Blues Festival.


With the four core events, each year we review the event and discuss ways to change or improve the event. A lot of this comes down to layout and programming and what our community wants to see. We are constantly striving to bring changes and something new to each event, while maintaining the quality people have come to expect.


Do you know how many people usually attend these festivals? Which festivals seem to be the most popular? 

Since we don’t have tickets or primary entrances, it’s impossible for us to accurately estimate how many people attend each event, but based on what we’ve seen, we estimate a total of 100,000 people throughout the course of the summer. 

It’s hard to guess which event is the most popular as they all have their own niche – jazz fans LOVE the Jazz Festival, movie fans enjoy the Free Movie Series, general community members who enjoy live music love to get together and dance and experience the Friday Night Concert Series, families and all backgrounds enjoy the diversity of things to do at the Iowa Arts Festival and our diverse community embraces the passion of the Soul & Blues Festival.


How many volunteers do you usually have for an event and how are they involved? 

The only event we produce which doesn’t have volunteers is the Friday Night Concert Series. For the Free Movie Series, we typically have around 5 volunteers who are needed to help set up our inflatable screen. For the Arts, Jazz and Soul & Blues Festivals, we have anywhere from 25-250 volunteers who help in a variety of areas like setup/teardown, staffing hydration stations, bike parking, merchandise booth, beverage garden, Eco Stations, etc. We also have our year round volunteers who serve on our board of directors and the various festival committees.


Are there any festivals or performers that you’ve been particularly excited about this


For me personally, each festival brings something fun and different. I am very excited about Friday night at the Jazz Festival with The Nayo Jones Experience (vocalist) and Jane Bunnett and Maqueque (all female band with a Latin flair).


Thank you, Lisa! For more information about the Summer of the Arts, please visit .



Read More

An Interview with Beth Salinger of Fort2Base

At VolunteerLocal, we are always impressed by the outstanding endurance events and races put on by organizations across the country.


Today, we interviewed Beth Salinger – the Race Director and owner of Fort2Base. It was a pleasure
learning from Beth the true impact volunteers have on the annual Fort2Base race in Illinois.



How did Fort2Base originally get started? How old is the race now?

2019 will be the 9th annual run.


I grew up near Fort Sheridan, which is where the 10NM (Nautical Mile) starts, and I knew there was another base just north of it. I thought it would be fun to run between the two.


When we originally pitched the idea to the base, they asked us to finish on base to help them celebrate their 100th anniversary. The first Fort2Base run was on 9-11-2011, the 10th anniversary of 9-11. It was a fun and sobering day.


How long does it take to prepare for your event in August?

We prepare year-round for the event and start recruiting volunteers about 2 months prior.

In preparation, we work on the course, marketing, and speaking with the various cities we run through. And the fun part – designing participant giveaways!


We communicate with our volunteers and participants year-round, especially at Thanksgiving and New Year’s. We always want them to know we appreciate them and are thinking of them.


What are some of the roles your volunteers have within Fort2Base?

We use volunteers in every aspect of the event – from course marshals, helping with packet pick up, water stations, medical volunteers, and pacers. Volunteers also help throughout the year, to assist at expos and spreading the word!


Could you tell us a bit about your Event Ambassadors?

We have about 20 ambassadors who help us throughout the year. They help us get the word out about Fort2Base.


We do a lot with social media and look for ambassadors with a strong social presence. We also go to a lot of expos, so the ambassadors help us there as well. Some ambassadors are really involved in local running clubs, so they organize fun runs and pass along extra discounts and swag.

Anything we can do to encourage people to sign up. Generally once they run, they really enjoy the experience!


How would you describe the energy at your races?

It is amazing. On the final stretch, we have military volunteers cheering on the runners. Military personnel hand out our medals, and about 30% of our registrations are military. It is a very patriotic feel!


Final thoughts about the event and the volunteers that help make it happen?

Many of our volunteers are young sailors – they recently left home for the first time and are in school at Naval Station Great Lakes. To see their sense of pride, wearing their Navy gear and supporting other military personnel is really special. Our last two water stations are often all military, and our course marshals are all military.


A few years ago we had a gentleman walking the 10NM and was the last participant by far. The kids were cheering him on, but then as he passed them, they got in formation behind him to support him. By the time he crossed, both water stations and all the course marshals had filed in behind him and were chanting. When he finished, we found out he was a retired Navy Chief, which made it even more special – there was not a dry eye in the house.



Truly, volunteers can change the entire look and feel of your event!


Read More

An Interview with Kim Scott from Illinois Marathon

At the tail end of her 2019 event planning, we caught up with Kim Scott from Illinois Marathon to learn more about her role with this major event.

Illinois Marathon is an event loved by locals and visitors alike. Thousands of runners, volunteers, and fans gather each year to support and celebrate the race. This year, the marathon took place April 25-27, 2019


The triumph of this event was largely in thanks to Illinois Marathon’s very own Volunteer Coordinator, Kim Scott. In the midst of event planning, she took a moment to chat with us about the event history, her role, and the joy of working with Illinois Marathon volunteers.


What are Illinois Marathon’s origins? How did it originally start?

Kicking off in 2008, the Illinois Marathon is now about 11 years old. The marathon was originally founded to encourage health and wellness in central Illinois. Since then, the event has attracted participants from all corners of the country, as well as internationally. In the last 10 years, Illinois Marathon has certainly made an impact, with over 175,000 registrations and over $1.3 million donated to Illinois charities.


How did Kim get involved as the Volunteer Coordinator?

Kim was initially involved with the marathon as a runner. After enjoying the event so much, she sought opportunities for further involvement – as a volunteer! She jumped right in with a committee position, in charge of Packet Pickups. Shortly after, a Volunteer Coordinator position opened up. “It was a bit unexpected, but I had been interested in doing more at the time – so it was a great opportunity,” Kim recalled.

Kim is now enjoying her 5th year as Illinois Marathon’s Volunteer Coordinator. “It gets better every year,” she said.


What does Kim enjoy most about working with Illinois Marathon volunteers?

In the thick of event planning and coordination, Kim had a lot of praise to share for marathon volunteers. “I love their enthusiasm,” she said. “They always offer more, they’re always willing to do extra.” Much like her own story, she noted that volunteers often return every year. She commented, “Volunteers really have fun with it, and they tend to stay.”

There are many roles that volunteers play throughout the event – hydration, medical team, and course volunteers. From crowd control to medal hanging, they have their bases covered. Even local high school students get involved, jumping to action the day after the race to clean the course from start to finish.


Illinois Marathon’s Guest Legend? Do tell!

Each year, Illinois Marathon adds another level of excitement to the race by inviting a Guest Legend. This year, they invited U.S. Olympian and World Champion, Craig Virgin. Through special talks, speeches, and even radio co-hosting, Craig kept the crowd engaged and inspired throughout the event.


To wrap up our chat, I asked Kim if there was anything in particular that she was looking forward to as the event approached.

She explained how much planning is involved behind the scenes of every race. With that in mind, go-time is her favorite time: “When we get to the Expo, it means we’ve done everything we can do, and it’s time to shine”.


Although this year’s race is now behind us, be sure to set a calendar reminder to register for next year’s event, either as a runner or a volunteer! For more information, visit their website at .




Read More

An Interview with Sharon Pollock from Rebuilding our Community Sonoma County

At VolunteerLocal, we’re lucky to work with organizations making a real difference in industries, countries and cities all over the world.

Today, we’re spotlighting Rebuilding Our Community Sonoma County, a group providing much-needed support in Northern California. We caught up with Volunteer Coordinator Sharon Pollock to hear more about how her organization is helping to coordinate recovery efforts for survivors of Sonoma County fires.


When did ROC Sonoma County begin working with fire survivors? What prompted your founders to start the organization?

In response to the devastating Sonoma County fires of October 2017, Rebuilding Our Community (ROC) Sonoma County grew out of the catalytic efforts of many local agencies that had the experience with communities facing the impacts of disasters to understand the resources needed to promote long-term recovery. These agencies included VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters), FEMA, CA Office of Emergency Services, and many others.

The founders of ROC Sonoma County saw the need to establish and maintain a network within and on behalf of non-profit, governmental, faith-based, business, and other organizations and agencies to provide a coordinated recovery effort for Sonoma County fire survivors. The ROC Resource Center is a hub from which fire survivors can access a direct path to these local human service entities.


What are some of the roles your volunteers play in your organization?
Our volunteers support the ROC Resource Center in these roles:

  • Client Intake and Resource Specialist: These volunteers gather initial information from fire survivor clients, enter client information into the tracking system, assist clients with paperwork, and refer clients to local resources for assistance. They reduce the intake and referral tasks for disaster case managers, which enables those manager to spend more time assisting clients and improving program effectiveness.
  • Data Entry: Data Entry volunteers mainly enter client information into the tracking system. This is a key part of maintaining client records, which assists all organization members that access this information.
  • Reception/helpline: These volunteers greet visitors, answer phones, provide basic resource guidance, research client status, assist clients with paperwork, and schedule appointments. The benefit of having volunteers performing these administrative tasks is that it enables staff members to spend more time assisting clients and improving program effectiveness.


What most inspires you about your volunteers?
Their dedication and passion to assist fire survivors, their enthusiasm in learning complex systems and processes, and their willingness to devote their time for the long term.


Anything else you’d like to add about your organization?
Since the ROC Resource Center opened in July 2018, its staff and volunteers have assisted more than 1,000 community members that were affected by the October 2017 Sonoma County fires. In addition, the Resource Center serves as a central meeting place for ROC committees and partner agencies, hosting more than 30 meetings per month. As the community continues to recover, the ROC Resource Center will continue to serve as the hub that provides a direct path to the assistance our neighbors need to return to the lives they had before the fires.



Read More

Tips from USA Triathlon’s Caroline Robinson on Filling Volunteer Shifts

Here at VolunteerLocal, we get asked pretty frequently for advice about how to recruit volunteers more effectively. Especially in the case of triathlons and other endurance events using our platform, those tough-to-fill volunteer positions can sometimes start as early as 5am, and they often span through the early to mid-afternoon.

So we decided to ask the experts: our friends, customers and partners at USA Triathlon.

Meet Caroline Robinson, Event Services Coordinator at USA Triathlon. She helps USAT produce events that range from 900 to over 5,000 athletes – and she works with thousands of volunteers throughout this process in cities across the country.

“Our four National Championships are all very different,” says Robinson. “The smallest event only needs 200 volunteers, but the largest needs nearly 1,000.” Along the way, she’s learned some valuable lessons about volunteer recruitment, retention and communication.

On getting creative.

When it comes to filling volunteer shifts, Robinson is anything but shy.

“We say, reach out to high school kids, collegiate clubs, sports management programs at local colleges and universities, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, local community volunteer databases (online), and tap into those corporations that offer Volunteer Time Off,” she laughs as she adds, “I don’t ever think there’s a group you can’t ask. The worst they can say is no.”

Robinson recommended flexibility and creativity as a part of a comprehensive approach to fill volunteer positions. “If you need to set-up a booth at a local festival, go out and do that. Have the face-to-face contact, speak to a college class for ten minutes.” She cautioned, “Don’t be afraid to go out into the community to speak with these people.”

We think she has a point. It’s a lot tougher to turn down a volunteer ask in-person.

Keep it simple.

Robinson explained that because one of the Championship events will be produced in Cleveland this year, she has to rely heavily on outside groups to provide volunteers. “There’s only so much we can do from Colorado Springs,” she says. “So we try not to overburden our groups with a complicated sign-up process.”

For Robinson, it’s as simple as saying, ‘we’re looking for volunteers, here’s the date, here’s the link’ – and she likes to begin her outreach with certified Coaches, Race Directors and other officials who aren’t working the event.

In this regard, Robinson strongly recommends leveraging the USA Triathlon Race Director database to find expertise, mentors and (of course) volunteers in your area.

Read the room.

“It’s about knowing your audience,” says Robinson. “That means knowing your participants, and adjusting accordingly.” She explains that for her larger events, athletes usually bring family members along with them – and these auxiliary attendees can be a great resource for volunteer shifts. Alternatively, when community members understand (and support) the impact that an event like this can have, they are more easily incentivized to get involved as a way to be a part of the magic.

“That’s what’s exciting to me about getting volunteers for these events we have going on,” explains Robinson. “It’s being able to adjust as needed, and supporting these communities every step of the way.”

Read More