Assigning Volunteer Roles? It’s All About the Ask

Somewhere out there is an alternate reality in which we all live in perfect weather with views of both the mountains and the ocean, a faraway land full of unicorns and rainbows and people with all sorts of extra free time who ask how they can help. In that lovely place, we all have an abundance of volunteers for our organizations and events and the margin to think intentionally about where each volunteer can best serve. What a world!


But seriously, effective volunteer management requires not only filling roles, but also filling the roles with the right people. We don’t always have the flexibility to put our volunteers into their most ideal spot, but how can we use our tools and resources to help others feel like they’re using their talents and abilities?


It’s all about the ask.


Get to know your volunteers by asking more than just the bare minimum questions. Ask about their hobbies and interests. Ask about their favorite movies or music. Ask about their family, their favorite restaurant, their experience serving with you and with others. Ask them about the things they know they’re not good at. Whatever information gives you insight into a good fit for your volunteers, make sure you ask it!


In addition to getting to know your volunteers, provide helpful and intentional information for them, as well. List out the roles you need filled and give the opportunity to self-identify the top spots they’d like to serve.


While your internal volunteer job descriptions are likely thorough and detailed, be creative in ways to present a summary of the description for your volunteers.

  • If you need administrative help: Do you alphabetize your bookshelves? Do spreadsheets make you happy? We have a spot for you!
  • If you need greeters: Do you like talking to strangers? Are you labeled a Chatty Kathy/Kenny? Use your power for good!
  • If you need floaters: Do you believe variety is the spice of life? Do you like the unexpected? We need you!

By taking some time to be intentional in this process, you start building rapport with your volunteers and growing their enthusiasm even as they sign up!


VolunteerLocal allows you to customize your volunteer registration form to include fun and helpful questions that help engage your volunteers. You can also send a survey over email or set up face-to-face meetings to help get to know each other beyond a name and email address. As you think about the number of volunteers you’re managing and the variety of roles you need filled, choose the method that works best for you!


After all of this information gathering, it’s time to put that information to work for you! Gather your team and start assigning roles as a sort of Volunteer Draft Day, and have fun with it! Volunteers want to be wanted, and as your team divvies up the available workers, you’re planting the first seeds of team unity. Your team leaders start getting excited about the people they’re working with, and your volunteers start getting excited about the event. It’s a win-win that sets you up for success in the immediate future and retention in the years ahead.




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The Best Ways to Manage Local Volunteer Recruitment

We talk a lot about the value of local. We eat local. We buy local. And we know how important it is to recruit locally. What are the best ways to leverage the presence of local volunteers?

Reaching out to community organizations is essential to both enlisting enough volunteers and incorporating your event into the hosting community. Schools often have incentives for students to pursue volunteer opportunities. Certain sororities and fraternities have service built into their bylaws. Service-minded organizations such as Kiwanis, Rotary Club, and Lions Club focus on community improvement and have great potential to partner with you.

By recruiting from a variety of entities, your volunteer base grows in diversity and gives you an effective snapshot of the city, suburb, or neighborhood you’re planning to reach. Each individual offers a unique understanding of the local context and can provide insight as to how to successfully tailor your event to the event location. Now let’s make the most of it!

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1. Give Some Form

Before asking your volunteers about event details, gather as a staff to decide the aspects of your event that are most core to your mission and vision. You know your organization and its goals the best! List the qualities and methods that are central to who you are as an organization or to the event itself. These are your non-negotiables and therefore not up for discussion or debate with your volunteers. This may sound harsh, but by providing this structure before you talk with volunteers, the conversation remains focused and your volunteers better understand the overall goals of the event and organization.

2. Give Some Freedom

Now that your non-negotiables are in place, decide what is flexible! There is often a difference between “the way we’ve always done it” and “the way we should do it this time.” Your volunteers can help you bend and shift on these topics to maximize your overall effectiveness. Take a look at your logistical decisions, local marketing strategies, or any other areas that need to adapt to different locations, and bring in your volunteers! Utilize email surveys or plan volunteer forum opportunities. Identify key volunteers who seem most in-step with your work and invite them to planning meetings. It’s not wise to incorporate every idea, of course, but intentionally communicating with your volunteers helps you adapt to event locations and helps your volunteers invest in their work on a deeper level.

3. Get Some Feedback

While we strive to integrate great methods before the event, sometimes the best ideas come afterward. After an event, continue your volunteer communication to gather ways you succeeded and ways you can improve in the future. Keeping notes about what worked and what should be modified helps create an even better experience when you return and shows your volunteers that you’re listening!

Incorporating the voice of your volunteers may take patience and creativity, but the end result elevates your event from good to great.

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5 Ways to Help with No-Show Volunteers

We all know recruiting and developing volunteer teams is necessary and effective to run events of any size. Yet depending on a workforce with no official obligation to show up on time (or at all) means last minute flakes are often inevitable. What can you do to handle these no-shows?

1. Pad Your Numbers

As simple as it sounds; account for last-minute dropouts while you’re still in the planning stage of the event. If you know you need 10 volunteers to cover a specific area, work to recruit 12-15 people. To be more accurate, take a look at data from previous years to calculate an average attrition rate tailored to your event culture and demographics. (Hint: VolunteerLocal gives you great tracking data!) Planning to overestimate your volunteer recruitment helps cover no-shows on the day of the event.

2. Create Floater Positions

While you’re preparing your volunteer plan, create a floater position. The job description for floaters is simply to fill in the gaps for absent volunteers or areas that have a higher degree of need than anticipated. This again requires a higher level of recruitment, but it also makes for a smoother experience during the event.

3. Keep Paid Staff Off the List

Your paid staff members are invaluable not only to the event but also to your volunteers. As you promote your event and recruit volunteers, resist the inclination to count your staff people in your volunteer numbers. When they are not locked into a certain area, they are free to provide leadership to volunteers and cover gaps created by a lack of volunteers or by crises that may arise.

4. Track Your Volunteers

Find the tools that make your job easier! VolunteerLocal helps you in each stage of planning, recruiting, and event management. Collecting your data in one place allows you and your team to see potential areas of concern, locate teams that are running low on volunteers, communicate with volunteers before and after the event, and keep track of who has checked in and who not arrived. Knowing your need is half the battle in keeping your event running smoothly, and VolunteerLocal makes it simple.

5. Practice Gratitude

The easiest way to fix the problem of no-show volunteers is to make sure volunteers show up in the first place. Most volunteers are willing to serve but also are looking for perks. How are you thanking your volunteers? Look for ways to give them behind-the-scenes access, exclusive merchandise, or special experiences that demonstrate your appreciation and provide an incentive for them to show up. Keep treating your volunteers well, and watch your no-show rate drop from year to year!

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