Nurturing Volunteer Relationships 

Volunteer coordinators know that developing relationships with volunteers takes time and intention.


When there are endless roles to fill, it can be important to make sure every contact isn’t an ask, and that there’s a blend of informing volunteers on developments at the organization and appreciating how much they give in the mix, too.


“I definitely see the value in reaching out to volunteers outside of asking them for something,” says Jana, a longtime volunteer coordinator at a homeless youth shelter. “We try to send birthday cards each year to volunteers and at least one other personalized note or small gift outside of that. That could be a quick hand-written note sent to them in the mail or a small gift with an agency branded mug, shirt, or other small token of our appreciation. These other touch points are usually not connected to an anniversary or milestone, rather just an opportunity to check in. I think it’s important to build a personal relationship with our ongoing volunteers, but I have the luxury of being able to do that more easily than an organization that works with thousands of volunteers yearly.”


Jana says that enlisting the help of the clients you serve can also send a meaningful message to volunteers. Think of ways the “thank you” can come from the collective voice of the organization, rather than just your position. 


“Because the majority of our volunteers work withthe kids here in the shelter, we will sometimes ask the kids who work with them to sign a card or even create their own. If we know a volunteer is ill or injured, we may send get well cards to let them know we are thinking of them. Our organization also has quarterly talent shows where the kids in the shelter perform songs, skits, live art installations, and more. We invite our volunteers to attend these shows as a way to celebrate the achievements of the kids they work with and we’ve had a great response from the volunteers who attend.”


Volunteer coordinators at non-social service organizations can also get creative. Environmental organizations might send volunteers an annual calendar with nature photography. An animal shelter could create thank you videos that get everyone’s tails wagging. Enlist your marketing and/or development team to help come up with creative touchpoints that aren’t an ask. 

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10 Truths about Volunteer Coordinating

Every volunteer coordination position is a little different than the next.

But there are some truths that are consistent across all organizations. If you are or have been a volunteer coordinator, you probably already know a lot of these to be true:



  1. Your best volunteers can turn into personal friends. You’ve spent countless hours together, so, why shouldn’t they?
  2. Finding a skilled volunteer who follows through on commitments is like finding a four-leaf clover. They expand the capacity of your organization and make a huge impact. 
  3. Seeing how passionate your volunteers are makes up for the times you’re feeling burnt out. They’re putting in time and effort because they believe in the mission.  
  4. Nobody on your team really understands how much you do until you get sick right before a big event. 
  5. Coordinating volunteers can be like herding cats, but luckily you could teach a Master’s class in cat herding. It’s all about knowing how to communicate, motivate, and organize. 
  6. Coming up with creative ways to recognize people is part of your D.N.A. From thank you notes to nominations from national awards, you know the power of appreciation. 
  7. The pay isn’t great, but the rewards are huge. You might not be pulling in a six-figure salary, or might be operating on a nonexistent budget, but you are building important relationships and making meaningful experiences. 
  8. Vintage training manuals and videos are one part terrible and one part entertaining. Word to the wise – keep those current! 
  9. Your public speaking 101 course comes in handy frequently. Whether it’s reporting on volunteer data to the board, or giving instructions to a group of volunteers while standing in the bed of a truck, you know how to deliver a message. 
  10. Volunteer management platforms trump random spreadsheets for tracking and reporting, any day. (You are reading this list on the VolunteerLocal blog, after all!) 




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Not All Volunteers Are Passionate – Here’s Why That’s Okay

Did you know that only 15% of volunteers do the majority of volunteering?

In volunteer recruitment, we often talk about how to inspire people who are passionate about your organization’s mission. But, the reality is, about half of volunteer hours are fulfilled by people who do not consider themselves regular volunteers. There are a number of reasons why people volunteer – and it’s not always their passion for your organization.


These volunteers might serve with a group from work or school, to fulfill community service hours, to attend an event for free, to try something new, and many other reasons. How do you show these volunteers the value of their contribution and maybe inspire them to come back? We have a few ideas in mind:


Find skills-based projects that make a measurable impact.

Maybe an inexperienced volunteer wouldn’t be the best person to greet guests or give tours, but they have plenty to offer behind the scenes to keep the event running smoothly. Try placing the new volunteer in a job where they can directly see their impact – maybe that’s set-up or assembly, or maybe they have more specific skills and can help with lights and sound. Maybe they help serve food and pass out swag – whatever it is, try to make sure it’s a task that has a goal outside of the overall event mission.


Create a sense of community.

People are more likely to volunteer if the work is collaborative. Try to create volunteering teams or groups to accomplish  Even if the job is more individual in nature, create space for community before and after the event. Allowing new volunteers to sign up as a group can also increase their comfort level and make it an enjoyable, positive experience.


Pair the new volunteers with an experienced volunteer.

Even if infrequent volunteers want to pair with a friend, place them with a station leader who can show them the ropes. Similar to the teamwork idea, putting less-experienced volunteers with someone who knows your organization culture will increase their comfort level in the new environment.


Increase professional exposure.

Another reason to volunteer is the networking potential! Be sure these volunteers get to meet the event organizers. Introduce them to key players in your organization and make sure they feel welcomed. Meeting corporate and nonprofit leaders can help the volunteer build their professional network.


Follow up. Everytime.

As with all your event volunteers, follow up with your less experienced volunteers after the event.Share follow up steps to learn more about your organization and remind them of upcoming opportunities.


In the end, all volunteer hours are valuable. You never know how volunteers may find your organization or event, but you can encourage them to come back, even if just for the free swag. Treat them with the same respect you would treat your regular volunteers and thank them for their service!




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Figuring Out When and How to Say “No Thanks” to a Volunteer

We love our volunteers and their willingness to contribute. Sure, we all have our days when everyone is driving us crazy or it just seems like it’d be easier if we did everything ourselves. But deep down, we know we couldn’t do what we do without volunteers!


But what about those volunteers who aren’t a great fit for your organization? Like new volunteers who don’t have the necessary experience? Or how about the volunteers that have been there forever but are bringing everyone down and holding people back? When is it time to deny a volunteer? How do you tactfully say, “no thanks”?


Consider and evaluate

First, be fair to yourself and your volunteer by evaluating what the situation is and if it’s possible to handle it. Do they need training or guidance from someone more experienced? Do they need to be reminded of volunteer expectations? Is there a way to talk with them about an issue or their attitude in a way that can solve the problem without having to ask them to leave? Is it not as bad as you think, and you’re simply having a bad day? Determine if there’s a way to resolve the issue or the reason they aren’t working well on the team. If there isn’t a way to do that, then proceed. Unfortunately, there will be volunteers whu just won’t work.


Identify and try to accommodate  

Make every effort to pinpoint what it is that doesn’t match up with your organization. For new volunteers, it might be as simple as having too many people apply for the same job. You don’t want extra people standing around looking bored at your event. If that’s the case, see if there are other opportunities for those volunteers in another area or with another event in the future. Or, maybe their application missed the deadline or their references did n’t check out. Let them know the volunteer requirements were not met and what it would take to get accepted at another point.


Maybe the volunteer didn’t have the skills you needed for the job you were looking to fill. If there are other ways they can still contribute, let them know what options may be a better match at this time. Offer up an area where you still need help, but be understanding if they choose not to participate in that way.  


If your reason for turning down a volunteer has more to do with them needing to take a break after years of work in order to give others the opportunity to serve and give a voice, make sure to do it with grace. Regardless of their situation, acknowledge the work they have contributed and how it helped get you to where you are today. Then, explain that your organization is now moving in another direction with new leadership. While you’d love their continued support, explain that this new direction requires full commitment and focus from the volunteers.  


Finally, if a volunteer acts in a way that goes against the mission of the organization or blatantly disregards the volunteer requirements, politely and privately ask the volunteer to step downl. Express gratitude for their service, but clarify how they have acted in a way that is not permitted on the volunteer team.


Thank and update

No one wants to be ghosted, so don’t just ignore the volunteer in hopes that they get the hint. Communicate clearly with volunteers and thank them for their interest and willingness to volunteer.


Regardless of the method, make sure this continues to come from a place of thanks, even if they aren’t the right fit. It’s flattering to be a sought-after organization and maybe at another point the fit will be right. If there will be more opportunities for them to volunteer in a different capacity or at a different time, let them know that you plan to contact them again in the future. And then follow through with that commitment. If this person is probably better off not returning, make a (private) note in their records, wish them well and again, thank them for their time or interest or willingness. Even if a volunteer is leaving on bad or uncomfortable terms, there’s probably at least one thing you can thank them for.

In the end, make sure your “no thanks” includes both “no” and “thanks.”



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Setting Your Volunteers in Motion Before the Event

The other day I had a conversation with a coworker about a crazy situation that happened leading up to a major event several years ago. She just said one sentence, and we burst into laughter as we recalled all of the stress and scrambling that happened behind the scenes.


Things like that have a way of growing funnier the more time passes, especially when the crisis is averted. But it brought up an interesting point. Since my coworker and I lived that stressful situation, we could recall all the details in an instant, and yet no one attending or volunteering for the event had a clue what happened. That happens a lot in our line of work, doesn’t it? Staff members put in a huge amount of hours and have crazy work experiences surrounding the event, but typically we keep the last-minute crises under wraps.


It’s often a necessary part of the job, but there are ways we can communicate with our volunteers in the days and weeks leading up to the event that can help both volunteers and staff be more efficient and prepared at the time of the event.


Transparency: Tell them what you and your team are doing

As previously stated, there are plenty of behind-the-scenes happenings that don’t need to be shared. But it can be helpful to communicate to your volunteers about the work you and your team are doing. Giving them a high level overview helps them understand the broad scope of event planning while also demonstrating how they fit into the grand scheme of things.


By sharing some of the details of your preparation and goals, your volunteers are both better ready to jump into the middle of things. They are also more prone to show grace to you and to others when the unexpected things derail the original plan along the way.


Share these details 5-7 days before the event in order to get your volunteers into the right mindset.


Preparation: Tell them what they should be doing

Let’s get practical! Communicate the necessary details that allow your volunteers to arrive with everything they need, including realistic expectations. List items to bring along, clothing recommendations, maps of the venue including meeting places, and other amenity details such as restroom locations and food and beverage options. When your volunteers show up prepared, they are more confident and eager to work while also more likely to have an enjoyable experience.


Share these details 3-5 days before the event to give your volunteers time to gather things they may need.


Teamwork: Tell them what you can be doing together

One of the best parts of coordinating volunteers in the age of social media is that you don’t have to do all the communicating yourself! Alert your volunteers of your organization’s social media posts so they can share it on their personal accounts. Or provide them with approved images and talking points, so they can create their own posts. Whatever approach you take, celebrate these little ways you can work in tandem with your volunteers before the event.


Share these details 1-3 days before the event to build buzz leading up to the big day.


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Five Typical Festival Jobs

Every festival is its own unique little unicorn, but we all know there are a few jobs that are mandatory no matter what the festival is.


We’ve rounded up the top 5 volunteer jobs we know almost every festival needs and a quick tip for each one to keep your festival running smoothly.


Set Up

Calling all perfectionists! The best move you can make with set up is rounding up all the volunteers who are obsessed with things looking just right and then letting them work their magic. No need to hover, they won’t be happy until everything’s perfect.


Tear Down

You guys trying to rage? This one is for the people who like to break stuff. Gather a team of your brawniest folk and get to tearing – just make sure someone doesn’t throw out all the screws you need for next year.


Food and Beverage

People think the food and beverage beat is going to be the best because of snacks, but we all know that station is all about the money. Calculated, focused and responsible people will make sure everything’s taken care of and you don’t have to worry about the change drawer.



Ever had a wrist band cut off your circulation while an angry person chews their gum and glares at you? Did it make you feel terrible? Yeah, it’s the worst. This spot is for the amicable, smiley folk who are just excited to welcome you to the event.


Green Team

The green team needs to care, plain and simple. When you don’t care, you take those plastic bottles and throw them in the trash can because it’s closer. When you do care, you carefully assess each pickup to make sure you’re filing it into the correct area according to Mother Earth’s standards.


So there you have it. Every volunteer is wonderful in their own way and they all have a special skill set making them perfect for a specific job. Assess your team, assign appropriately, and let everything fall right into place.



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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!


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