How to Plan a Safer Event

Leslie Knope is a fictional real hero of mine.

Not only is she a rare character that I enjoy watching again and again, but she’s the Queen of Preparedness. She’s the Type A, obsessive, binder making genius who has backup plans for her backup plans. (My personal favorite being her Mission Im-Pawnee-able Knope Protocol in “Emergency Response.”) I personally share very little of her unfettered enthusiasm for detail, but when it comes to thinking about the safety of your volunteers and event attendees, it’s necessary to adopt that Leslie level of commitment


Real life problems are rarely solved as quickly as in a 22-minute sitcom, but working through each possible scenario well before the event ensures that you can set an effective solution in motion quickly after the need arises. Keep reading below for some tips to keep your people safe and prepared.


Do Your Research

Warning: I’m about to use terms like ‘liability’ and ‘exhaustive list’ and other terms easily found on the Least Exciting Words list. But again, we’re talking about keeping real people safe and cared for, so hang in there with me.


When you are brainstorming topics to address in your emergency response plans, be thorough. If you’re an eternal optimist, meet up with your opposite personality to create an exhaustive list of possible problems that may arise. This can include, but is not limited to, severe weather, haphazard infrastructure, disruptive volunteers, assorted sources of violence, and general liability. Many of these topics can be categorized together and may share similar emergency plans, but listing each possibility individually helps ensure you’ve properly covered your bases.


Make a Plan

It’s time to conquer that list with a plan. Outline the action steps necessary to diffuse emergency situations, and compile your work into a central document. This document or binder should provide the details of your emergency management tactics. It’s also a great place to keep pertinent information such as contact information, event and venue details, contingency plans, permits, etc.


Share the Details

It sounds simple, but distribute the plan. Too often I’ve found myself in situations where crucial information existed but the one person who knew the plan was nowhere to be found. So frustrating! And completely unnecessary.


Place printed copies of the emergency protocols in multiple, easily accessible locations, and communicate these locations to your team leaders and volunteers. Include these details into your volunteer training events and be sure to walk through the essential details again on the day of your event. Your team and volunteers will find peace of mind knowing emergency plans exist and can perform with greater confidence if those plans need to be enacted.


Keep in Touch

As the event goes on, use your preferred communication method to keep in touch with your volunteers. As effective volunteer coordinators, you’re already doing this to encourage and manage your team. Remember to also use these lines of communications to keep tabs on any emerging situations that may need your attention.


In the end, we hope and pray these plans and protocols are completely unnecessary. We can’t all match Leslie Knope’s energy, but we do care about our volunteers just as much. In the event of an emergency, taking these steps to keep your team and your attendees as safe as possible.


Read More

Tips for a Successful Training Program

Whether you’re inventing, innovating, or organizing a training program for your volunteers, having clear lines of communication will always be your best practice.

In essence, you’re training your volunteers to be  community ambassadors. The more prepared you are for them, the more prepared they’ll be for the field.


As you consider how to do these things, think of different learning styles and abilities. Be prepared to cover the same material in audio and visual ways.


Start by asking these questions:

  • What is the break-down of roles and how do they interact?
  • What kind of personalities fit each role?
  • What will they need to communicate?


The next set of questions to ask are:

  • What is the amount of time you will have to train each volunteer?
  • How complex is their role?


If given a short amount of time, the best thing that can be done is to have some sort of training video and a practice run before being thrown into the ring. Repetition is advantageous. The more your volunteers are able to practice, or imagine themselves in the role they will be managing, the better. Videos are not as efficient as hands-on experience, but are highly economical in their ability to suit all learning types.


Also crucial is making sure that lines of communication are clear to volunteers and that they have a reference for questions that may be fielded to them. Make a contact sheet that everyone can share with important contacts. Include maps and event schedules. It is up to you when you distribute all necessary information, but present the information in a digestible way. Be mindful of information overload.


Always leave room for error, expect the worst, and hope for the best. Find ways for your volunteers to put their best foot forward and they will.


Read More

3 Times to Start a Volunteer Facebook Group

We’ve had a lot of volunteer coordinators ask: should I create a Facebook group for my volunteers? We’ve found the answer is a little more nuanced than you’d expect. At their best, Facebook groups facilitate conversation and further recruitment opportunities. However, if not utilized and maintained they can be wasted space or just another platform to worry about. We’ve found Facebook groups are most helpful when you have several engaged users.


Here are 3 reasons a Facebook group could be beneficial to you and your volunteers:


You have a group of repeat volunteers
First of all, if this is the case, congrats! Now your challenge is to keep these volunteers coming back. A Facebook group is a great way to both foster community among your volunteers as well as keep them updated on future volunteer opportunities. It also gives volunteers a space to interact with each other, form friendships outside of the events, and even decide events at which to volunteer together.


You are hosting an annual event
Annual events tend to be a big push for volunteer coordinators and organizers. Maintaining a Facebook group throughout the year can help keep the event and organization on your volunteer’s radar. Facebook is a good tool to share news and other updates in a casual way throughout the year. Then, when the next year rolls around, you can ask if anyone is interested in volunteering again.


Your event has several dozen volunteers
If you are running a large event with several volunteer stations, a Facebook group can be a great way to keep your volunteers posted on event changes, reminders, and needs as the event approaches. It also gives the volunteers a chance to inform themselves before reaching out to you with questions. (Pro tip: You can post FAQ’s, shift expectations, or any other helpful resources in the group). Finally, it provides a way for volunteers to post last minute shift change needs should emergencies arise.


Once you create a group of any of these three types, check in periodically to answer questions or post updates. In the end, you are the expert on your own events and volunteers. Ask yourself if you have enough volunteers for them to support the platform, if not it’s okay! Building a solid group takes time. A larger group of engaged volunteers provides more opportunities to build community than a small group of one-time volunteers any day.




Read More

Volunteer Coordinate Like a BOSS: Best Practices for Task Management

On Mondays you debrief the weekend’s event and facilitate a brainstorm meeting for how to do the next one even better. On Tuesdays you have three different phone calls lined up with the executive director, the city councilman, and the marketing director before hosting a new volunteer training in the evening. On Wednesdays, you wear pink.


Okay, so you’ve got a million things to do as a volunteer coordinator. You barely have the time to read this blog post but needed a quick reprieve from the many hats you wear and the ever-growing to-do list. There are only so many hours in the day, so how can you make the most of them?


How do those other volunteer coordinators do it?


Leverage your tools

There are so many great tools out there – but you need to find what works best for you. Do you love color coding your calendar and hanging it in front of you? Or do you love the ease of having it all on your phone? Do you use Evernote or Asana to keep track of your ongoing lists of ideas and to-dos or do you keep a stack of post-it notes right next to your computer for when the moment of inspiration hits? What might work for someone else isn’t always best for you, so think through what works most effectively for you and incorporate those tools into your daily routine.


When it comes to volunteer management software, we got you. For starters, we love volunteer coordinators so much that we have a free version with a TON of features. Or, as you need a more robust system, we have a few different plans for you to choose from. Either way, make sure you take advantage of the training and tutorial videos we have so you can make the most of it. The more you learn about VolunteerLocal’s software, the more you might be able to cut down on all of the things you are otherwise doing by hand (like, easily putting together a list of everyone’s t-shirt size, exporting volunteer hours fulfilled by each individual needing a signature for hours worked, or filling multiple volunteer slots with a team of people).


Delegate it

You know all of those volunteers you manage? Well, believe it or not, some of them might be able volunteer by way of managing a small team of other volunteers. You simply can’t do it all. So even if you have the most knowledge or understanding of your event, you can’t be everywhere at once. When you find and connect with dedicated and willing volunteers, promote them to a leadership role. They may find the work more meaningful, and you will have less to stress about.


While you may be short-staffed (because face it, who isn’t?), it’s important to let your co-workers know what’s going on and how they might be able to help. Maybe they’re in a slow period or have the capacity to take on a little more this week/month. Clear communication of what you need and how someone can help instead of just constantly exclaiming “I’m so busy!” will make all the difference in getting some assistance.


Whoever you delegate tasks to, remember that means you have to step aside to let them do it once the training is over. Instead of micromanaging their every move to make sure it’s done the exact same way you would do it, try to empower your volunteers leaders and co-workers to make the decisions that will work best. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised when they come up with ideas and solutions that exceed what you’ve come up with in the past.


Remember what’s important

Sometimes you’ll go through a season that just stretches you a bit – personally or professionally. You may have to push through to get to the other side, but try to remember why you do what you do. Whether it’s because you work for an organization that helps people or promotes cultural experiences or positively impacts your community, what you do makes a difference. It might not seem like it when you’re sorting through spreadsheets or licking dozens of envelopes on those thank you cards, but it does. Perhaps you are the one with the best organization skills on the team or maybe you connect with volunteers in a way that really inspires them. At some point you chose to get into this role with this organization, so remind yourself why.


Once you remember why you do what you do, it’s often easier to see how best to prioritize the tasks in front of you. Sometimes you’ll have to make sacrifices and hard decisions in order to prioritize what matters most. Keep those important things on the top of the list and the “if it works out, then great!” things near the bottom (or on another list altogether) so you don’t get too distracted or overwhelmed.


While you’re remembering things, remember that you aren’t a machine, so don’t expect yourself to act like one. You’ll probably get tired or overwhelmed every once in awhile – that’s okay. You’ve got this! Give yourself a break when you need it and try to plan for a little self-care as you can. Maybe that means sticking to your lunch break or scheduling a massage or long-overdue haircut for the week after your event. It might seem like you’re adding another task to your list, but these are the kind of things that allow you to work better and more effectively in the long-run.




Read More

How To Use Community Events to Promote Your Event

So, your event is coming up and you’re wondering how to maximize your reach outside of social media. As in, The Real World.


Without the face-to-face connection how can you be sure that the people who have RSVP’d are actually coming? We all know that outside of a faithful crowd or following, only about 10% of people really show up and what it comes down to is word-of-mouth.


First, look at your local calendars. These can be found through the city website, arts organizations, etc. Maybe there’s a regular event you yourself go to and you think your fellows would like to know what you’re throwing.


As you do your research, you’ll find that most of these events charge a booth fee. The benefit, though, is that the public turnout is huge. If you have some volunteers to spare to work the crowd, you can get tremendous returns signing up volunteers or just raising awareness. Such events would be:

  • Farmer’s Markets – when the weather is fair these can be as often as twice a week on different days for different crowds.
  • Festivals & Fairs – One-time events with huge turn outs and long run-times, like state fairs.
  • Sports Events – Such as marathons or competitions can get a lot of media coverage.
  • Other expos – specialty crafts, cultural show-cases, auctions, etc.  


If you have a small budget and you can’t afford to purchase a space, look to organizations already dedicated to community building, ie:

  • Public Libraries –  libraries are all about getting people in libraries. Period. Think about how your event might be relevant to whatever programming they’ve got going on and have some ‘literature’ ready to hand out.
  • Engage public schools – this can be daunting as public school teachers have a lot to keep up with during the year, but there’s probably an after school club or program that would love to have you.
  • Small businesses – community awareness is crucial to the vitality of small business owners. By helping you, they help themselves.


Whatever you decide to do, make sure your materials themselves are engaging. Make stickers, make t-shirts, use fun colors and interesting fonts. Smile, be aware of body language and make your rap short and sweet. You never know who you might impress or where sponsors will come from!




Read More

Three Questions to Ask a Company About Their Volunteer Program

Most larger corporations that take social responsibility seriously will have an employee volunteer program. As a volunteer manager, it’s important to get to know the contacts in your community to leverage all that workplace volunteering can offer. Some companies are very targeted in their outreach, and others offer more liberal volunteer time off/community service leave. Oftentimes, the volunteers themselves are unaware of or unfamiliar with their company’s policies. Including a workplace question on a volunteer application can help you identify opportunities to grow corporate partnerships.


If you can identify and reach out to the community relations contact, ask these three questions to maximize the potential of recruiting workplace volunteers


Ask: Does your organization offer a financial match for volunteer hours?

Some companies make an additional financial commitment if they have employees engaged as active volunteers in an organization. Many companies see value in group volunteer activities as team building opportunities and many value long-term volunteerism as a leadership development tool. If a match is offered, make sure you know how large of a group and how many hours are required to qualify, and the process for requesting it. Other companies focus matching money on board engagement. Board members might be eligible for additional funds by reporting hours on a company volunteer tracking platform. If you’re asking a workplace question in your volunteer signup, or scanning email addresses for a corporate handle, you can let volunteers know how they can help you by reporting their hours back to their company.


Ask: What’s the best way to let your employees know about our volunteer opportunities?

Some companies will post volunteer opportunities on their intranet, and others might have a separate volunteerism platform. Some might share through a newsletter, or word-of-mouth through a volunteer committee. Being able to paste the simple VolunteerLocal link to an event signup into an email can make workplace volunteer recruitment a breeze.


Ask: Can I present about our volunteer program at your company?

If your mission aligns well with a business goal (say, you offer STEM programming and are approaching an engineering firm) or your organization is very near to a corporate headquarters, look for opportunities to put on an in-person presentation for employees. Some invite speakers to lunch & learns, or volunteer fairs, or to provide a testimonial during their United Way campaign. If you have the opportunity, try to highlight people from that workplace who are already making an impact with your organization. Emphasize your shared values and how easy you make it to get involved. It’s always great when you have an event coming up that you can ask people to commit to as you close out your presentation, too.



Read More

10 Tips for Finding and Retaining Your Best Volunteer Group

One of the hardest parts about being a volunteer coordinator is recruiting reliable volunteers.


What’s even more difficult? Making sure they stick around year after year. We’ve rounded up our top tips to help you get and keep your volunteers.


Communicate clearly.

Set expectations and communicate logistics in advance.. If your volunteers know what to expect from you and the experience, they’ll be much happier and willing to commit their time.


Post in multiple mediums.

If you want to reach every kind of person you can’t just stick to social media. Try local message boards, post fliers, or get a booth at the farmer’s market.


Include everyone in the fun.

If you spend time as a group, make sure everyone is involved and not just a core group of people. Friendships will be made, but cliques can be hurtful.


Hold meetings.

Not only will your current volunteers bring their friends, but it’s a good time to set your expectations and solidify everyone’s commitment.   


Address problems head on.

Volunteers may be giving their time for free, but you’re still the boss in the situation. If volunteers are butting heads, make sure to have a sit down so everyone can talk it out.


Encourage social events.

Creating social spaces for your volunteers can create a sense of community that’s harder to cultivate during volunteer shifts. Get volunteers out and about with each other as a way to build your team.


Be a part of the community. I know, taking on coordinating volunteers for a huge event is enough work, but if you go to events in your community you will be able to network and build a reputation for your own event.


Have a presence online.

We live in a time where you need to have something online. It can be a Facebook page, or just a one-page site that tells people what the event is, how to volunteer, and who to contact with questions.




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

Choosing Your 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 – especially in event planning. 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 and are suddenly transported to a nice sandy beach before you remember your event’s in Chicago in the middle of January.

It’s  important to dream big and start a creative brainstorm, but also to stay grounded in some of the limitations and intentions behind your event. When it comes to location scouting, these are our top considerations:



There’s no sense getting your heart set on a place if it 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?



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, security or some other segment of your budget that you had allocated elsewhere?



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, think of how can you address that or add to its appeal. Consider whether this location will expand your reach so that more people are aware and interested in your event. Perhaps most importantly, decide whether this location will align with the goals of your organization.



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.



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.



What kind of impact will a certain location provide? Will it help the community and boost the local economy or cause traffic in an already busy area? Be cognisant of whether the aesthetics of the location will 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 deal breakers, 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 a location that will be the best fit for your event.


*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.



Read More