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!

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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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Diagnosing and Curing “Volunteeritis”

Volunteer management is a significant part of my community relations role at a medical school. Our students are incredibly brilliant, generous, and hardworking people. I’m fortunate to have a highly motivated volunteer pool, but I have come to realize that my success in coordinating them corresponds closely with the other stressors in their lives (biochemistry tests, for example).

If we have a big event on the eve of an exam, there is likely to be an outbreak of “volunteeritis,” as I’ve dubbed the disease of last minute “something came up” cancellations from my volunteers. Here are a few tactics I’ve come up with to prevent this event-crippling disease:

Photo Credit: GettyImages
  1. Pad your volunteer slots – slightly. Deciding upon the right number of volunteers in a job is as important as administering the right dose of a medication. Too many in a position and your volunteers feel like you’re wasting their valuable time and might not feel they’ve had a good experience. Too few and you’re in panic mode. Volunteer atrophy happens, so adding an extra spot or two can help offset last-minute cancellations. I also keep e-mails from people who are interested in volunteering but didn’t have a chance to sign up before the slots filled as a virtual waiting list.

  2. Send a couple rounds of volunteer detail messages. An outbreak of volunteeritis typically strikes a few minutes after I send out the details confirming where to check in, what to wear, etc. I like to have all of the details before I communicate them to volunteers, but sometimes everything doesn’t come together until a few days before the event. I’ve begun to send volunteer details a little more than a week out, whenever possible, and then a second e-mail a day or two before the event that’s been fine-tuned to address questions that have come in, or offer a better map or additional information on the event hashtag, etc.

  3. Set expectations on finding replacements. I’m fortunate that my volunteer base is well-connected with one another, both in person and in a Facebook group specific to sharing campus volunteer opportunities. I try to set up an expectation that volunteers seek a replacement whenever possible. I think this also sets student volunteers up to have stronger professionalism skills when it comes to making career commitments.

I’ve begun to address “volunteeritis” at our big orientation meal packaging event training, which is a kickoff to service for the school year. The med students humor me by laughing when I tell them I’m going to share information about a secret disease they won’t find in their medical school textbooks, but addressing the issue at the start of their experience at school has definitely helped me as they seek out opportunities to make a difference in the community.

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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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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.

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Volunteer Coordinator Burnout (And How To Avoid It)

When you’re new to your role as a volunteer coordinator, you are excited to dive into the work, impress your colleagues and build, build, build an incredible volunteer program.

 

If you love your job, it’s not as if those ambitions fade, exactly. But as time goes by, you might feel like your patience is thinning, your stress is rising and – is that a smell of smoke in the air? You’re headed for burnout. Pump those breaks!

 

 

Get over your 24/7 do-gooder guilt. Your volunteers work for free, so you shouldn’t feel stressed about supervising events every evening and weekend, in addition to weekdays at your desk, right? Wrong. Your organization benefits from dedicated volunteers giving of their time. But as an employee, sustainability is important. Talk with your supervisor about taking flex time, if you have to be at events outside of your typical work hours. Make sure as you’re building your volunteer empire, you’re training others for management roles so you don’t have to be present at every event. Zoom out on your quarterly calendar to identify the high-stress times and block out some recovery time to take care of yourself and your needs.

 

Regularly seek support. When you’re headed for burnout, it’s difficult to see solutions clearly, and anxiety can take over. Attend that monthly meeting of volunteer managers hosted by your local young nonprofit professionals chapter. Join a Facebook group for people in the social sector. Hit up the hive mind on your organization’s list serve to solicit suggestions from others on how to tackle a tricky issue.

 

Reconnect with your mission. Combatting cynicism is an important burnout prevention tactic. If you’re feeling cranky and bogged down with everyday tasks, try to set up a meeting with a colleague or client to talk about what is meaningful about the work being done now, or exciting about the future of your organization. Re-read those thank-you notes you’ve stashed in a drawer. Look for ways to remind yourself how your daily tasks contribute to the bigger picture.

 

Switch up your routine. Seek out a morning to work off-site at a coffee shop. Take a lunchtime stroll. Schedule a tour of another organization that might inspire your work. Check out a business book and try to read a chapter a week.

 

Celebrate what you’ve accomplished. Reflection is a critical component of learning and growing. Don’t just plow through a to-do list with check-marks. Check in and recap what you did, why it mattered and how it’s connected to the future. If you can’t make time to celebrate your own accomplishments, build celebration into your recognition of others.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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