The Most Common Types of Volunteers (and How to Manage Them)

Every volunteer team has its share of characters–gotta collect them all! 

Whether you’ve been around the block a few times or you’re new to this whole volunteer-coordinator-thing, there’s bound to be a few familiar faces on your team. It’s important to know who to expect, what motivates them, and how you can best lead them. 

The over-eager 

This person is SO excited to be here. Simply thrilled. There’s a task to be done? Got it. You were thinking about changing that? Already done. In so many ways this person can be a real asset to a team, as long as they don’t drive you crazy first. When you’ve got someone who is over-eager, try to harness that energy and enthusiasm. But also use clear communication with them to create boundaries as needed so their excitement doesn’t rub anyone the wrong way or get too out of hand. 

The hand-holder 

Ah, the one who does everything just the way you tell them to…because they won’t know what to do otherwise. This person needs and yearns for constant instructions to know exactly what they are doing and how to do it. You know you can trust they will follow orders, but sometimes this person can take all of your time or need a little too much attention. If you aren’t able to metaphorically hold their hand through each step of the process, try to pair them with a leader who can help supervise. But also, try to find ways that you can empower the hand-holder to use their best judgment to make decisions and step in to help without needing a step-by-step instruction sheet. 

The swag collector 

In it for the t-shirt, the sticker, the pens, the bag or the free food. Whenever they hear “free”, they are suddenly there. You know what motivates this volunteer, it’s quite easy to see. So make sure you pad your budget in order to offer free swag. Not only will you have some happy volunteers, but your brand is worn all over town afterwards. Think of it as cheap marketing meets free labor instead of getting annoyed that these volunteers expect something in return. At the same time, try to set expectations and find other possible motivators for these volunteers (such as the organization’s mission, the culture, the networking) so you can encourage them to stick around, with or without a t-shirt to show for it. 

The socialite 

Let’s take a selfie! This volunteer is in it for the friends, the networking, the connections. Maybe it’s a stay-at-home mom desperate for some time out of the house or maybe it’s someone new to town who is ready to meet new people. Volunteering can be a community thing, so make sure these volunteers know they are welcome! Not only will they be the ones wanting to build up the culture and have some fun with your team, but they might invite some more friends to come along with them. Just be sure to keep these volunteers on task as needed as they tend to get sidetracked talking about their latest Netflix binge or where they plan to meet for drinks later. Also, watch out for cliques forming and try to encourage an inclusive environment for all volunteers on the team. 

The time-tracker 

Can you sign my sheet? This volunteer is in it to check the box and mark down the hours. Whether it’s for high school graduation, required community service work, or corporate volunteer day, they have to be here. While this person might obsessively watch the clock, they probably still had a few choices when it came to where exactly they wanted to volunteer. Consider this volunteer as one of your biggest opportunities when recruiting future volunteers. They will do what you tell them to (because getting your signature depends on it!) but in the process, you might win them over so they want to come again next time all on their own. 

The natural leader 

The person with a plan and some ideas on how to implement it. This volunteer is a leader and they probably already know that. Maybe they are a leader in their day job or maybe people just gravitate toward them for thoughts and opinions. Awesome, you’ve been wanting one of those, right? If you spot a leader, give them a leadership role that suits both them and your needs. Sometimes your leadership positions are all filled though, so you’ve got to make sure this volunteer doesn’t step on any toes. If all you’ve got left are some mundane tasks, pair them with a hand-holder to get it done together. Later on, feel free to ask them if they’d like to apply for a leadership role in the future.  

Of course, there are variations of all of these people on every volunteer team. At the end of the day, it’s about finding out what makes them tick and how to best leverage their skills, interests, and tendencies to make your volunteer team as strong as it can be. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses (yes, even you), but instead of seeing why a volunteer is driving you crazy, seek to understand where they best fit on the team. Being a volunteer coordinator and leading the team to success isn’t always easy but coming at it with the right perspective makes all the difference. You’ve got this! 

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Juggling On-Site Operations

We spend a lot of time focusing on the people-side of volunteer management, and for good reason! But for today, let’s focus on some of the underlying support systems that make your event run smoothly. In event planning there are some basic on-site tools and procedures to equip your staff and volunteers in the ways of efficiency, safety, and communication. 

Super exciting topics? Not necessarily. But let’s think of each of these topics as a ball in the air you must juggle. To keep anything (everything) from hitting the floor, you need to keep moving, stay balanced, and show confidence. It may not be the most fun part of your job, but you can do it! Let’s dig into some of the details.


Working your way through the logistics part of your event is crucial to success. Your guests want to have a smooth, simple experience. Yet we know that the easier something looks, the more planning it usually takes. Invest some time into mapping out all the procedures and tools needed to keep things working at the highest efficiency.

1. Identify and Outline Required Tasks

Tackling all the aspects of an event can be daunting. I know I’m guilty of avoiding jobs that seem overwhelming! But get everything down on paper. Not only does this allow you get a high-level view of the work yet to be done, but it also helps you see connections among the items that need to be accomplished.

2. Organize Task Orders

Once your list is complete, let’s put them into helpful categories. When you see related items, put them into a task order that helps you and your team know where to start and where to proceed. For instance…

  • In order for guests to have a smooth check-in experience, you need to have well-staffed gates.
  • In order to know how many volunteers you need to properly staff check-in, you need to know how many gates you’ll provide.
  • In order to figure out how many gates you should open, you first need to anticipate an expected volume of guests.

Great! Now you have a starting point to move forward.

3. Delegate

You’ve put in the time and work to capture all the task information and sort it into to-do lists. Now it’s time to get really efficient and delegate! Your work has equipped your team to carry it to completion.


Ok! Your tossing one ball in the air, and you’re doing awesome! Time to go to the next level. Safety is another topic that usually stays in the background until something goes wrong. When efficiency goes haywire, people are annoyed. When safety is mishandled, people get hurt. It’s worth your time! 

Keeping people safe starts with simple things like establishing a clear perimeter through permanent structures and portable fencing or implementing a bag check. When you’re training volunteers, outline different safety procedures like directing guests to safe locations in case of severe weather or how to convert an entrance into an exit in the case of an evacuation. By putting thought and effort into these situations before the event, you are able to confidently lead your team and successfully serve your guests when the time comes.


Juggling wouldn’t be juggling without a third item hurling through the air, right? Communication—the true power that drives efficiency and safety and allows you to be an effective leader on the day of the event. 

VolunteerLocal’s Happy Volunteering Blog has a plethora of resources for interpersonal communication, but make sure you’re also outfitted with the right tools to get things done. Make sure your team has access to radios, extra batteries, and relevant contact numbers. If you’re offering public Wi-Fi, it can be hugely beneficial to set up private Wi-Fi access points to keep your digital tools working well and to keep your team’s communication moving freely. With these tools and plans in place, you’ll be able to handle whatever your event throws at you and perform like a pro! 

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Creating a Successful Volunteer Budget

Let’s face it – the typically tight budget for volunteer programs can be a little straining. After all, we know that “volunteer” does not mean “free” – but when you’re juggling coordinating an event and nurturing volunteers, there’s extra meaning to “a little goes a long way.”

When it comes to budgeting, there are a range of things to consider as a volunteer coordinator: What is the best way to spend your money? What can you do without? 

And most important of all: How do you throw a great event for the attendees and the volunteers, such that everyone is inspired to return for another year?

Get your priorities straight

Identify what you can and can’t live without, the reasons why and the consequences that will occur for either decision. Be sure to know what you need so you’re able to maintain the best practices that your organization strives to achieve for its volunteer program. That means having a plan or structure in place so you know the necessities of your program are, and what you need to achieve your goals.

Recognition is key

Even with a small budget, you can find a way to show your volunteers the importance of their work and (at the same time) say “thank you.” Consider this a necessity. Whether you throw a post-event appreciation party, provide everyone with limited-run t-shirts or some other token of appreciation, these are the actions that will help to cultivate the goodwill you need to keep volunteers coming back, year-after-year.

Two birds one stone

Volunteers help out in all different areas of an event. Can you create a line-item in your budget to nurture volunteer relationships? For example: If you’re throwing a food truck festival and charging tickets for entry, is there enough wiggle room to also allow volunteers a free pass? Communicate with your colleagues and figure what opportunities there are for a win-win scenario.

Volunteers are key to your success. Finding the right budget balance between making an event spectacular for attendees, while making sure the volunteer experience is also fantastic, is critical for an organization’s continued growth.

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