Perks for You and Them: Making the Most of all that Volunteer Data

Managing volunteers looks different for different organizations and may shift from season to season or event to event. But at the core of the job are three phases: recruiting volunteers, managing jobs and relationships on the day of the event, and recording the work that’s been accomplished.

Today let’s take a look at that last piece—recording what’s been done. 

Setting up a volunteer hour tracking system and training your volunteers to use your system gives you a huge advantage and infuses some fun competition among your volunteers.

Creating the right system for your organization does take an investment of time from you as a volunteer coordinator. But keeping things as simple as possible for both you and your volunteers reaps great benefits! Just remember to keep it to the essentials. 

Your volunteers don’t want to spend extra time tracking trivial aspects of their role, and you don’t need superfluous data to deal with after your event is completed. Just asking for the necessities is a big win for everyone!

Perks for You

Instant Feedback

I love running events! There’s so much camaraderie and adrenaline as you navigate and the highs and lows. But there have been times I’ve been asked at the end of the day, “How did it go?” And I had been too busy to know how to answer. Anyone else have that problem? 

Taking the time to collect volunteer data after the event and through a proper system helps volunteer coordinators gain the proper perspective to reflect on the event as a whole and celebrate successes.

Demonstrate Value for Others

When the Board of Directors, donors, or sponsors asks for a report on the event, volunteer data is a great place to start! It offers concrete numbers that helps to demonstrate investment from the community and the reach of your organization.

Perks for Them

Let’s be honest, tracking hours isn’t the most fun thing to do, whether you’re getting paid or volunteering. Use your tracking statistics to showcase your high level volunteers!


When creating incentive programs for your volunteers, think about how to reward those certain individuals who go above and beyond the typical level of volunteer commitment. These might be people who have played a major role in an event for multiple years in a row or it may be someone who commits to volunteering multiple hours each week. Assessing the data may show some surprising trends!

The incentive may be as simple as posting a volunteer spotlight in a prominent place in your office. Or if you have the resources, recognize your top volunteers at a volunteer appreciation night.


Want to really play up the competition aspect? Encourage people to recruit their friends or coworkers to volunteer together in a volunteer team competition! The team with the most volunteer hours tracked wins. This works especially well when your organization is frequently hosting volunteer groups from companies who offer Volunteer Time Off. 

In similar ways to individual recognition, these teams can be recognized by something as simple as a social media post or as involved as creating a traveling trophy or a specially designed t-shirt for the winners.

Volunteer tracking is a simple tool that creates a significant impact, not just for you, but also for the people who work alongside you to bring success to your organization!

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Tackling the Big Hurdles

Congratulations! You’re in charge of organizing an event! Whether it’s your first time or your fiftieth, there are certain challenges that can disrupt your planning process. But have no fear! There’s always a solution or another way of looking at things. 


We each tend to have different things that intimidate us, and other items that don’t stress us out at all. Below are some typical categories of stressors you may encounter. Let’s take a look at some of these major obstacles and how you can set yourself up for success!



I have vivid memories of recruiting volunteers during my first event. For me, defining volunteer job descriptions was an easy task. Coordinating volunteers and building relationships with them before, during, and after the event seemed to come naturally. But where in the world do you find these volunteers? That was the piece that seemed insurmountable. 

Thankfully my organization had an existing volunteer database that I could use as a starting point, and over time I learned how to extend and leverage my professional network to make recruitment a little easier. What assets are at your disposal? List them out to help you see your strengths as well as the gaps you need to fill.

No matter what part of volunteer management is tripping you up, VolunteerLocal has likely covered it! Take a look at some of these top posts. As with most things in the world of volunteer management, investing in solid strategies pays significant dividends in future years.


Event Attendees

Some people have a knack for resolving issues with guests or participants on the day of an event. For others it takes more planning ahead of time. Think through communication strategies to efficiently alert the necessary people of developing complications. Identify as many possible problems that may arise and have standard responses for each. As you incorporate these strategies and responses into your volunteer training, you can gain confidence and experience when the actual event arrives.




Location is everything! But it’s also not worth being paralyzed about the decision. Before securing space, define the scope of your event as far as number of guests, type of atmosphere you’re hoping to create, etc. This list is now your wish list! It helps limit your search and focus on the essentials when visiting potential venues. Though there are times we have the means to get our dream venues, be sure to note which items on your wish list are negotiable. Many times simple décor and lighting tweaks can enhance ambiance; the location and number of bathrooms, however, cannot be adjusted. Think about the big picture and get creative!



Once you secure a location, there’s usually still a myriad of vendors to select: catering, concessions, DJ, printers for marketing items, etc. Again, be sure to list out all your needs before you start calling potential vendors. Knowing what you’re asking for gives you more confidence and makes for more effective communication.



Budgeting & Sponsors

Where would we be without the numbers? Creating budgets and securing sponsors make a huge difference, yet these two topics come with the biggest intimidation factor, at least for me personally. We have some great resources on this topic, as well, but be assured: research in this area really pays off! 

Just as with other categories of challenges, taking the time to fully define what you’re asking for makes a difference. Know your financial boundaries. Know what you’re looking for in a sponsor partnership, and know what you have to offer in return. 


Tackle the hard things, and you’re bound to have a great event!


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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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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.


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How to Grow Your Volunteers into Brand Ambassadors: Part II

Let’s keep talking about brand ambassadors! In our first post on growing brand ambassadors, we talked about putting together intentional steps to help move your volunteers from people who work with you occasionally into people who are fired up about what you do and talk about you even when they’re not volunteering. (If you missed the first post, go ahead and catch up! We’ll be here when you’re done.)


Today we’re talking about letting go. You’ve done the hard work of instilling knowledge and experience. Now it’s time to give a little guidance and let them do their thing! On the day of an event, you have the unique opportunity to observe your brand ambassadors in action and cheer them on. Take a look at a few ways you can set them up for success.


Offer Final Instructions

Repeating organizational language and ideology is extremely important as you communicate with your brand ambassadors in between events. As an event approaches, think through how your values and mission statement are played out in this specific instance and share that with your volunteers. This way they can visualize your mission in action.


This is also a great opportunity to give last minute guidance before the event begins. Think through the probable situations your volunteers may encounter and train them with best practices before they head out to work. For instance, my current employer throws a three-day fall festival each year. The first night is reserved only for families who have children with special needs. It’s a special night of celebration, and volunteers are usually eager to get involved. However, it also requires a few tips to help them be prepared to do their jobs well. We offer examples of positive phrases to use, ways to modify activities, people to contact if they need help, and reminders to slow down and enjoy the night together. These final pieces of information make your event better while also empowering your volunteers.


Give Official Gear

When asking volunteers to step into a broader role, help them get into a confident mindset by giving them official apparel to wear throughout the day. There’s just something about wearing a uniform, right? It makes us remember why we’re here and helps us stay engaged throughout the long event hours. This can be as simple as creating lanyards or creating volunteer shirts and hats. If your budget allows for new apparel every year, gift these items to your volunteers! Just another way to remind them of the great work your organization does after the event is completed.


Be Encouraging

When you see your volunteer embracing the role of brand ambassador, tell them as soon as possible! Call it out in person, text, or email to reinforce those great actions and attitudes. If you’re running a group text thread for your volunteer team, send encouragement and affirmation there. These little comments don’t take much time, but they help create a culture of encouraging each other and grow camaraderie among your team. Plus it offers an easy medium to address problems as soon as possible.


These steps are simple ways to equip your volunteers and release them into their role as brand ambassador. As they grow in their skill, experience, and passion, you’re able to shift into a support role and watch them be awesome—a true win for you both.


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How to Grow Your Volunteers into Brand Ambassadors: Part 1

There’s an abundance of buzzwords in our industry, and brand ambassador is right up there on the list. But don’t look past this one! Spend some time and resources on the concept of brand ambassadors, and you’ll maximize your volunteers to the great benefit of your organization.


Word-of-mouth is still one of the most effective ways of spreading your message and increasing awareness of your organization, and yet there’s not a lot we can do to control what people talk about. That’s where brand ambassadors come in. The idea is that people get fired up and passionate about your organization—what you’re doing and how you’re doing it—and they can’t help but talk about it and share the great work with others.


Like so much in the world of managing volunteers, it takes intentionality. But here are a few steps you can take to grow your volunteers into brand ambassadors.


Repetition, Repetition, Repetition.

When you’re asking volunteers to buy into your vision and mission and share it, you’ve got to make sure they know it. Even when it feels like a broken record, keep repeating your central language. Include it in your email communication. Infuse it throughout your conversational language. Ensure every training or meeting includes a focus on your mission statement or on a specific organizational value. The more your volunteers hear it and see it, the more they will use the same phrases when talking you up to their friends!


Increase your Access

While being intentional with your language is important and necessary, seeing really is believing when it comes to converting your volunteers into brand ambassadors. Do your volunteers have access to seeing your organization in action?

Brainstorm with your team to develop ways volunteers can see more of you. Perhaps this looks like having an open door policy or office hours when volunteers can stop by. Or maybe it looks like inviting an individual or family your organization has served to a volunteer appreciation night. If privacy is an issue for the population you serve, think of ways you can create a simulation, so your volunteers can get a grasp of how things work firsthand.

These experiences give depth and meaning to the knowledge they’ve gained from working with you. As they see you demonstrate your effectiveness, they’ll share what they’ve seen!


Make Space

As you train and invest in your potential brand ambassadors, be intentional about giving them space to grow. As you look at your organizational structure, do you have high-level volunteer roles available and waiting for your brand ambassadors? Think through social media options, guest experience positions, etc. and identify a track for your brand ambassadors to grow. Planning specific roles that promote ownership and responsibility is key to helping your people see they are a part of the team.

As your volunteers continue to buy into your organization and gain knowledge and skill, you have already provided space for them to utilize their passion and to help your organization be more effective.


As volunteer coordinators, we understand how much preparation goes in before volunteers arrive. Creating brand ambassadors is no different! A little intentional planning makes for a smooth path to equipping your volunteers!




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Make Your Race Stand Out

Planning an endurance event is a lot of work!

And we know you’re working hard to make your event amazing. Runners have a multitude of race options to choose from these days, so how do you make yours attractive to new registrants and memorable enough for repeat participants? The same things that attract runners tend to attract great volunteers. What elements of an event make it a positive experience for everyone? Take a look at the categories below for a little inspiration.


Sometimes separating yourself from the pack is as simple as giving away great stuff. (I’ve personally decided between two races based on the design of the medal received at the end. Shallow, I know, but hey! Whatever works!) Look at your budget to decide if there’s an area or two you can spend some extra resources on great take-home items for your runners and volunteers. If you always give away a t-shirt, perhaps this is the year you spend extra on a softer or better fitting shirt or on a higher quality design for your apparel. Or maybe you’d like to branch out from t-shirts and include other branded items such as socks, bags, or towels.

Think of these items as an investment in future races. The more your runners and volunteers use their freebies, the more your race stays on their minds!


Many runners like making their miles count by joining a race that has partnered with a charity or local non-profit organization. Giving back to their community or to a greater cause helps motivate them in their hard work. The same goes for volunteers! How you can you incorporate some meaning into your event? If you have an existing partnership for the event, how can you further integrate it into your planning?

Think specifically about pre-race or post-race activities. Perhaps you can show a video telling a story of someone impacted by your partner or your organization. Or create a display for participants, fans, and volunteers to interact with during down time. A race is a great opportunity to communicate the importance of your mission.


At the end of the day, both runners and volunteers want a well-planned race with a fun atmosphere. Revisit your logistics each year to keep improving how you serve your participants, fans, and volunteers. By anticipating their needs and making their experience simple and enjoyable, you keep building their positive memories and the desire to come back.

These areas surely don’t cover all the ways you can make your race stand out, but use these topics as a starting point in your brainstorming! No matter what length of race you’re planning —3k, 5k, 10k or longer—you can create a memorable experience that keeps your people coming back.




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Budgeting Basics

The world of volunteer coordinators is often fluid. When working with a free work force, you quickly find how to deftly roll with the punches and adapt to whatever circumstances arise. The same strengths that help you excel at your position often make it difficult to tackle tasks that appear rigid and fixed, tasks like creating a budget. Learning how to enter into the mingling of boundaries and flexibility is essential for both your organization and your event to thrive. So let’s take a look at some basic principles to help you get started.


Understand the Numbers

No matter your financial literacy, take time to fully understand the numbers for your event. The number one goal of your fundraising event is just this: to raise funds. If you produce the most innovative, entertaining, meaningful event, but it costs more money than it raises, you’ve still failed at your primary goal.


Take meetings with your financial team to understand the annual budget, the amount of resources earmarked for your event, and the variety of ways your event is planning to bring in income. As you list the forms of income (ticket sales, pledges per mile of a race, concessions, sponsors, etc.), be realistic in your estimations.


If this is your first event, reach out to organizations that have run similar events to see where their income levels began. If this is an established event for your organization, look through the budgets from years past to see the annual amount of growth per year to appropriately project this year’s numbers. Fundraising requires a high level of optimism and aspiration, but building your budget is a place to stay grounded in the information available to you.


List Expenses

If you’re a relational person, this may seem like another step that seems like a drag, but stay with me. Work through each aspect of your event and list all definite and probable expenses. Unexpected costs always pop up, but what can you anticipate? Authors Stan Hutton and Frances Phillips list the following categories as a good starting point for you and your team:

  • Location (space rental, site use permits, security guards, portable toilets, tents, cleanup costs)
  • Advertising and marketing (save-the-date postcards, photography, posters, invitations, event programs, publicist costs, postage, event website with a ticket purchase feature)
  • Production (lighting and sound equipment, technical labor, stage managers, auctioneers)
  • Travel and per diem (for guest speakers, performers, or special guests)
  • Insurance (for example, liability insurance in case someone gets hurt because of your organization’s negligence, or shipping insurance to protect donated goods)
  • Food and beverages (including permits for the sale or serving of alcohol, if necessary)
  • Decor (flowers, rented tables and chairs, linens, fireworks, banners)
  • Miscellaneous (prizes, awards, talent treatment, name tags, signs, t-shirts)
  • Office expenses (letter writing, mailing list and website management, detail coordination)
  • All other staff expenses


Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize

Now that you have the basic budget of cash coming in and going out, it’s likely time to make cuts. You’ve done the hard work of getting everything down on paper, and now it’s time to choose what is most important and most necessary. Brainstorm with team members to utilize multiple perspectives. In the end, help your team understand your decisions by discussing those priorities and the realities of the financial limitations.


Get Creative

Just hearing the word “budget” can conjure up feelings of conflict and restriction, but you don’t have to feel stuck. The budget provides parameters, but you can get as inventive as you’d like within them. Necessity begets creativity! Think of alternative solutions and partnerships that can help you achieve your goal. To maximize your marketing budget, perhaps existing sponsors are willing to use their social media channels to promote your event. To save on food and beverage expenses, look into your volunteer base to see if there are existing connections that may offer catering discounts. A solution is likely still present, even if it looks different than your first choice.


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Getting Sponsorship when You’re Scared to Ask for Money

Before we get started, let me be honest: I’m not great at asking for money. Talking about money makes me uncomfortable. Asking for money makes me uncomfortable. But at the end of the day, we in the nonprofit and event management business can’t avoid it. Procuring and developing sponsorship relationships is essential to success.


So let’s consider this a scaredy cat’s guide to asking for sponsors. We can do this! In many ways, the same principles that make an effective volunteer manager also make a prolific fundraiser. Take a look at four simple ways so secure sponsors.


Know Yourself.

There’s a theme throughout many of our posts at VolunteerLocal, but it’s that important! Know the vision behind your event. Know how your event fits into the overall mission of your organization. Know how your event provides value and benefits for the local community and for the sponsor. Nailing down great answers to these topics is incredibly helpful for recruiting volunteers, and it’s no different when thinking about sponsors. Knowing the details gives you confidence and helps potential sponsors put their trust in you.


Find Sponsors that Fit.

In the same way that there are people best suited to volunteer for your event, there are certain sponsors that are a good fit! Consider your vision and the mission of your event. Then research companies and organizations that already align with you. These potential sponsors are most prone to listen to you, and you likely have the most to offer them in return.


Look at local businesses and organizations. Examine your list of previous volunteers and identify any business owners or groups of people working for the same company. Assembling a list of warm prospects keeps building your confidence and eases some anxiety.


Do Your Research.

Develop your presentation with each organization in mind. Just like when you’re talking to different sources of volunteers, this is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Get to know your audience well, and demonstrate this knowledge by tailoring your pitch to show why investing in your event is the right choice. This takes a lot of attention to detail and extra time, but it makes all the difference!


Be Generous.

Many companies and organizations are willing to use their resources to invest in good causes, but they are still looking for the best return on their investment. Get creative in how you can give them high value exposure before, during, and after your event. Include sponsors in promotional material, add logos to event swag, offer high level investors to sponsor an entire section of your venue, find spots in your event schedule to integrate sponsor representatives into the festivities, send out post-event summaries to show them how much exposure your event generated on their behalf. In the same way volunteers are grateful for perks, your relationship with sponsors continues to grow as you find creative, meaningful ways to bring them into the event and repay their generosity.


If you’re like me and you find asking for money intimidating, don’t let it cripple your progress. Just focus on these essentials of fundraising. You can do it!




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Avoiding Volunteer Fatigue

You know that one person? The one who only ever talks to you when they need something? The one you see coming and then you immediately look for another person to talk to or an exit strategy? You start running through your mental schedule looking for the excuses to give when they inevitably ask you for your time or other resources…again. Eventually you just learn to be a completely avoidant person when they’re around just to be sure you don’t get sucked into another one of their projects. You know that guy? Is it just me? Don’t be that guy.


Volunteer fatigue and burnout are very real things. It can’t always be avoided, but there are ways to foster relationships with each of your volunteers to help them understand they are far more than just a warm body filling a role during events. Take a look at a few ideas below to see what strategies work best for your team.


Celebrate the Wins

It’s easy to joke about the people who ask for things all the time. But think through your volunteer emails. Are they always asking for more volunteers? It’s an easy trap to fall into. How can you diversify your email communication? Use your emails to share your latest accomplishments or interesting statistics. Send videos communicating organizational impact to your volunteers before you post them publicly. Of course there’s such a thing as sending too many emails, but strategic sharing with your volunteers demonstrates that you see them as part of the team and helps them gain a greater understanding of the work you are all doing together.


Acknowledge Each Volunteer

Find reasons to celebrate and connect with each of your volunteers in some way outside of your normal volunteer communication. This can be as simple as writing a birthday email or card for your volunteers. (VolunteerLocal’s birthday reminders make this easy!) Or set up a rotating schedule of writing thank you notes to your volunteers. Perhaps you are able to reserve one day a month to take different volunteers out to lunch or coffee. These face-to-face, casual interactions not only help your volunteers feel valued and affirmed, but they also help you know more about your volunteers and the lives they lead outside of your interactions.


Celebrate Together

Some of my favorite coordinator moments involve volunteer appreciation events. It does take some extra effort, but assembling your volunteers together to celebrate is a special way to say thank you and acknowledge the outstanding work of people who often go unrecognized. This is also a great opportunity to publicly promote high performing volunteers to volunteer captains or to hand out special awards, whether serious or otherwise. Volunteer certificates are a nice added touch and are available at VolunteerLocal! Regardless of how many volunteers are under your care, hosting an appreciation event is a fun way to show your gratitude and grow camaraderie among your team.

These are only a few of the ways you can nurture relationships with your volunteers, but each organization can tailor these methods to fit your volunteer culture. Take a few steps to elevate your communication beyond the ask and ensure you’re never that guy.




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