Gearing Up for Volunteer Orientations

Volunteer orientations are often the first thing on the to-do list when a new group of volunteers joins your organization. In times of COVID-19, volunteer orientations are just as critical – if not more – than they were before. The good news is that volunteer orientations can be held on-site or virtually. For virtual orientations, lean on virtual meeting platforms like Zoom!

The most important thing to remember when scheduling a volunteer orientation is determining what the purpose of the meeting is. Perhaps you want to get to know your incoming volunteers so you know how to best lead them. Then you want to introduce yourself and the organization in order to build trust and rapport. Finally, you want to instill some sort of passion and excitement about the organization and the event in these newfound volunteers. Most of the time these are the key goals within an orientation meeting, but if your goals differ, be sure to alter the meeting as needed.

Get to know volunteers
Depending on group size, there are a number of ways to get to know your volunteers. If you have less than 10 volunteers at the orientation, you could allow enough time to go around the room and have each person introduce themselves, including their name, their connection to the organization, and something silly like their favorite restaurant downtown.

If you have a large group, you might instead have everyone wear name tags and then play a game to get to know people. The “this or that” game is a great way to get a feel for people and their preferences. To play, have everyone stand up and give two choices (like chocolate or vanilla, beer or water, rock or country), with each side of the room representing one of the choices. With each option, have people move to the side of the room they most relate to. Playing a few rounds will give you an idea of where the majority lies on both silly questions and questions related to experience and community involvement (i.e. volunteered with a race or not, lived in the area for more/less than 3 years, volunteering with multiple organizations or this is your only one, etc…) Please note, this is more easily done in person than virtually.

Introduce yourself
Believe it or not, this section of orientation often gets overlooked. While you may think there’s not much to say, volunteers better relate and trust a leader they feel they know and understand. By no means does this have to take half the meeting, but make sure to touch on some important details about yourself. Share a bit about your role within the organization, your passions or what you like to do for fun, your first volunteer moment, why you’re excited about the organization or event, your management style, and your contact information. If you asked volunteers a silly question, be sure to share the answer about yourself, too. Bonus points if you include a cute picture of your puppy.

Express excitement about the organization
Okay, now that everyone knows a little bit about each other–why are you all here?! Share about your organization, and don’t assume the volunteers know all about it just because they chose to volunteer with you. Give a brief history, but more importantly–share the impact. This is usually what hits home the most for volunteers. Whether it’s a dollar amount raised each year by an event, or the number of people in attendance, give some data to support the influence you have in the community. Then, share some testimonials as it relates to your mission, be it from a family who benefitted from the paid medical expenses, or a quote from an article that raved about the musicians hitting the stage this year.

Perhaps this is the meeting you also share what volunteers will be doing as individuals or in teams. If so, be sure to explain tasks clearly with simple steps. If this isn’t the right time for that, just give an overview of what to expect, available volunteer positions, or a timeline of when volunteers will hear from you regarding their next steps and the tasks ahead.

Make sure you provide time for these new volunteers to ask questions –about the event, about their tasks, about you, or whatever! The purpose of the meeting is for new volunteers to feel comfortable, knowledgeable, and excited to volunteer with you. Ending it with an opportunity to tie up loose ends with any questions they may have not only gives them the confidence they need, but also might inform areas where you need to give more details in future orientation meetings.

Although these orientation meetings can seem redundant to you (after all, you’ve done them half a dozen times just this year alone), remember that the volunteers are new to it. Keep positive and upbeat as you aim to inspire them toward another great experience of volunteering (and hopefully retain them for future volunteering opportunities). There’s plenty of opportunity to have fun with it as you get to know each other, so don’t let this become merely another meeting on your to-do list.

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Risks of Under-Managed Volunteers

As a volunteer coordinator, you may wonder – does all of my hustle and effort amount to much? The short answer: absolutely! The longer answer: the success of your volunteer program depends on proper volunteer management.

Without strong volunteer management you face the following risks: 

Volunteers don’t do their jobs – Plain and simple, if a volunteer isn’t clear about the task at hand or isn’t given direction, they can’t best perform their assigned tasks. That might trigger a chain reaction of loose ends, participants/patrons not getting what they are promised, and staff running around trying to fill in the gaps.

Poor representation of the organization – If volunteers don’t know what they’re doing, it will show. Instead of fulfilling their volunteer role without a hitch as hoped, they might instead make things more confusing and frustrate attendees. Your volunteers and their interactions with guests, participants, and patrons reflect on your organization – for better or worse.

Lack of volunteer retention – When a volunteer feels mismanaged or like they are wasting their time, they won’t come back. What’s worse, they might discourage their peers from volunteering in the future as well. You might find yourself spending more time recruiting new volunteers than strengthening and empowering your existing volunteer base.

Unhappy boss – If volunteers aren’t being managed properly, it is likely going to come back to you in one way or another. If you feel overwhelmed by the amount you have on your plate, make sure you equip yourself with the right tools to lighten the load (VolunteerLocal has your back!) and communicate with the right people to get the support you need along the way. 

Reflecting on this list, it is clear that there are many consequences of under-managed volunteers. This is one of many reasons why your role as a volunteer coordinator matters greatly! Your ability to lead, organize, and manage your volunteer program is what will keep everything running smoothly.

Get ahead of these potential problems by creating a plan of action for each new volunteer that joins the team. Identify their training process and their daily responsibilities. Schedule check-ins, and give volunteers proper resources to excel at their responsibilities. Finally, if a volunteer leaves the program unexpectedly, reach out with care and compassion to learn how the program could be improved. With these strategies (and your own special magic), volunteers will feel well managed, fulfilled, and happy to return each day.

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3 Principles of Volunteering

When someone volunteers with your organization, there are a number of things that happen. As the volunteer coordinator, you log valuable volunteer hours. The volunteer potentially fulfills some of their own personal goals and motivations. And finally, your organization is strengthened by the volunteer’s service, excitement, and energy.

There are three basic principles at play when a new volunteer joins the team. Knowing these principles allows you to leverage and utilize them in meaningful ways. 


When a volunteer joins your team, they receive the benefit of being affiliated with your organization. Maybe they plan on including it on their resume as a demonstration of community involvement. Or, perhaps, it is an opportunity to further collaborate with similar causes (such as other music festivals or 5Ks).

Help your volunteers understand the meaning of such an affiliation. If you are comfortable with it, you might even consider offering to serve as a resume reference. This will boost a feeling of affiliation, pride, and purpose in their volunteer work.


Some volunteers get excited to receive goody bags or free swag. Whether it is a pizza party, a collectible sticker to add to their collection, or a set of free tickets – identify which incentives matter most to your volunteers. Keep in mind – where there is swag, there is spending. Be sure to include any new incentives in your budget. (No budget? Reach out to corporate sponsors!)

There are often upsides to this type of spending. Beyond motivating and celebrating your volunteers, incentives can also serve as a new marketing strategy and/or a way to strengthen the feeling volunteer community.

Let’s take the example of t-shirts. Free t-shirts usually come with the organization’s logo, front and center. When the volunteer wears the shirt in public, they are showing support for the organization. Building on this idea, you could encourage volunteers to wear those t-shirts to all of your major events. A volunteering “uniform” will help your volunteers stand out in the crowd and feel proud of their role in the team.


Some volunteers appreciate (and deserve!) a show of gratitude to keep them motivated. There are many ways to acknowledge the work that your volunteers have done. Get creative! Here are some ideas to get you started…

  • Give your volunteers a special volunteer “status” if they have been volunteering with you a certain number of hours or years. Perks of that status might include: inviting them to participate in more important and exciting roles, gathering their input on leadership-level volunteer program decisions.
  • Hold an event in appreciation of your volunteers. A banquet or a summer field day might just do the trick! Check in with your volunteers to see if this would be exciting for them.
  • Include their name on the list of key volunteers or giving them a special thanks when they arrive and leave every day. Little gestures like this can make all the difference to your volunteers.

All three elements – affiliation, incentives, and recognition – are at play when a new volunteer joins your team. How will you help your volunteers leverage their affiliation for their benefit? How will you continue to encourage and motivate your volunteers with incentives? How will you recognize the work and impact of your volunteer team? With a bit of planning (and sometimes some extra funds), you and your volunteer team can feel fulfilled and motivated each day.

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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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Establishing Volunteer Check-In Locations

Avoiding no-shows and getting volunteers where they need to go is key when it comes to volunteer check-in locations. 

First things, first. Sometimes we forget that that in order for volunteers to volunteer, they have to get there. We’ve all had no-shows at some point or another, but then again, I know I’ve been on the other side of things, too–wandering around while trying to figure out where I was supposed to be. 

Communicate clearly 

This is a real “duh” item…but for real, communicate clearly. Sometimes in our own familiarity with the layout and all of the details we forget that many of the volunteers are coming in blind. What’s simply “in the building next door” for us, should probably more clearly be communicated to volunteers as, “On the corner of Elm St. and 1st Ave, there’s an office building next to ours. Go through the door labeled ‘Main Entrance’ and take the stairwell to the right to the second floor. There you will be able to check-in at the volunteer registration table located at the top of the stairs.” If you aren’t sure if you are being specific enough, have a trusted volunteer check your instructions and see if they can follow it perfectly without prior knowledge of the location mentioned. 

Location, location, location 

When determining where volunteers should check in, consider where they are coming from–physically and mentally. Is the parking garage on the other side of the race from where you have the volunteer check-in set-up? Will the check-in spot require a 10-step set of instructions to get there without issue? Think about first time volunteers when you determine your volunteer check-in location. You may want to station a few check-in spots in obvious corners of the event if it’s spread out or one main location that’s easy to find before sending volunteers to their posts. If you do this, just make sure they can still check in and get their time recorded regardless of which check-in station they go to. If you have a lot of volunteers for a large event, it may even be necessary to list the volunteer check-in location on the general map. Or, when you send out an email with the location details, include a dropped pin for the check-in desk so volunteers can get to you by way of GPS. Even if your event is smaller, don’t underestimate the value of a clear and easy-to-get-to check-in location. 

Distribution of information  

Sometimes, despite your best efforts in communication and strategic location decisions, a volunteer will still get lost or not know where to go. Maybe they only skimmed the email or maybe they got their left and right turns confused. Either way, make sure someone else knows where volunteers need to go to help get them pointed in the right direction. If there’s a general info tent, be sure to instruct them on where to send volunteers (or provide the info tent the list of places if the volunteer check-in changes based on the time of day or type of volunteer duty). Also, include contact info for at least two people for volunteers to contact on the big day should something go wrong. That way if the first person is busy and can’t pick up their phone, they have another person to get a hold of. This is especially helpful for new volunteers who have no friends or contacts yet to reach in case something changes or they are running late or just get lost. More likely than not, you won’t be checking emails at that time so if they don’t have some phone numbers to reach out to just in case then they may walk away in frustration if their only option is to reply to your original email. 

Unfortunately, you may still have no-shows. But hopefully you can keep those to a minimum by reducing confusion and establishing volunteer check-in locations that get volunteers off to a great start. Oh, and don’t forget to always have someone continuously posted at the check-in location! Nothing worse than having the perfect directions and check-in spot, only for it to be an unmanned desk. Keep someone there well before and after the time volunteers are to report in because you can count on having a fair share of both early arrivers and those volunteers who are always running late. 

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Managing Legacy Volunteers

There are new volunteers and then there are the volunteers who have seen it all and been there forever. Both types need you and vice versa. 

There’s always at least a few volunteers who have been there forever…the legacy volunteers. They have tons of knowledge and maybe even decades of experience. They bring a lot of value to your team, but can also present somewhat of a challenge. Whether you are new to your position and inheriting these volunteers or just trying to figure out the best way to continue working with them, here are some best practices to keep in mind when in comes to legacy volunteers.  

Show some respect. If someone has been a volunteer with you or your organization for years, give them a whole bunch of respect and appreciation. Seriously, how amazing is it that they’ve continued to commit year after year? Don’t take them for granted and be sure to let them know how glad you are that they have given their time and energy as a core volunteer. If you are newer to the event or organization than they are, then there is probably a lot you can learn from them, which is a huge asset to your team. You likely won’t have to hold their hand like the new volunteers and can trust their abilities to fulfill their duties. Perhaps they have worked in the same role for years, which can also be a benefit.

Honor their continued dedication by promoting them if they are ready. Ask them if they want to try out something new or even better–find out if they would be willing to help train and lead newer volunteers to do the same job. 

Set boundaries. While you definitely want to treat your longtime volunteers with respect, you also want to create clear boundaries. Unfortunately, sometimes these volunteers are used to things being a certain way and don’t want you to shake things up or give you some proper respect in return. Be patient with them if this is something you face, but also let them know that ultimately the decisions are yours. They may challenge you in this process if you’re new, but find ways to communicate with them kindly yet honestly about what you’re doing and what your goals are in doing so.

Instead of just cutting them loose, try to reach a common understanding because deep down, you both care for the success of this event and/or organization. If you are still having a hard time, look to some of your coworkers who have been around longer than you have for advice on how to best connect with this volunteer while also standing your ground when necessary. That said, if an agreement cannot be reached and a legacy volunteer is unwilling to budge, let them know what the expectations are of current volunteers and the boundaries they must follow under your leadership, regardless of what it was like in the past. If they can’t comply with those boundaries and expectations, then unfortunately you may have to ask them to step down.  

Ask for their cooperation. With these experienced volunteers, you both need each other. No, they may not need as many instructions or an orientation, but they do still need your leadership and direction. Likewise, you need their skills, time, and effort as a volunteer…not to mention some of their knowledge and wisdom gained from being around so long. Try to work to each other’s strengths and start by asking them to be involved in that process. You need their cooperation. Ask for guidance and advice when appropriate. Ask them to use their experience to lead others. And finally, ask for their flexibility and understanding as you make changes or have your own learning curve to face. 

No matter how long a volunteer has been with your organization, remember they are all sacrificing something to be there and all carry value. Legacy volunteers may need a different management style at times in order to give them more freedom or flexibility, but they can have a huge impact on you and your team. Hear them out, learn from them, but also remember that you are in charge. You have the responsibility and privilege of providing vision and leadership to all of your volunteers, whether they are legacy or brand-new.

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Creating Goals for Your Volunteer Base

Knowing ahead of time what you want to accomplish with volunteers sets both you and them up for success. 

We’ve got squad goals, relationship goals, personal goals, soccer goals…you name it. So can you tell me what your volunteer goals are? 

You have a number of people present and ready to help, so what’s the goal? They may have their own motivations for being there and thoughts on how they can best help, but what do you think? What are you hoping to accomplish through each individual volunteer and with the volunteer group as a whole? 

Make a plan 

Before things get crazy or overrun by too many cooks in the kitchen, outline your goals. What needs do you have? What can be accomplished by volunteers and what needs to be done by staff or by someone with a certain level of credentials? Outside of the actual assigned volunteer tasks, are you hoping to recruit and retain more volunteers? Are you trying to make a splash in the community or gain corporate partnerships? How do the goals you set out for your volunteers align with the mission of the organization? 

Ask for areas of interest 

Now that you have an idea of what you are hoping to accomplish, what is it that your volunteers want? You can’t read minds, so go ahead and ask them! Send out a survey to get to know your volunteers to understand what makes them tick. Or, include a checklist of areas they may be interested in or experienced with during the volunteer registration process. Not only will they have certain areas of interest, but volunteers may have extra motivation to be there to network or bolster a particular skill set. Be careful to align expectations and not overpromise. Sometimes you want more than anything to say this volunteer experience will look great on a resume or that they can volunteer wherever they want, but that’s not always realistic. You can only have so many social media managers on a volunteer team, or sometimes a volunteer experience will benefit the community more than their resume. 

Consider the big picture

You may have primary goals like accomplishing the tasks at hand but keep in mind secondary goals like volunteer retainment and recruitment. Sure, you need to pass out water to all the runners, but you want to make this volunteer experience a memorable and enjoyable one. Likewise, volunteers may have primary goals like learning a new skill or rubbing elbows with musicians, but if those can’t be met, make sure you give them a glimpse of the big picture, too. They need to know how their involvement makes an impact and how their primary goals can be achieved in the future.

As a volunteer coordinator, you can’t get too bogged down in the individual needs and wants of every person on the team, because it’s almost impossible to keep everyone happy. Making sure your goals and the goals of your volunteers align with the mission of the organization helps keep everyone in check with what’s to be expected and what’s realistic. 

Writing up a list of defined goals for volunteers usually isn’t a difficult task, but it does take time and thought. Make sure to take the time to think through what you want for volunteers and what they might want from you. Then, back it up with feedback from volunteers to make sure you’re all on the same page. Comparing and contrasting your goals and the goals of your volunteers might provide clarity on what your goals are and what they aren’t.

You may not hit every goal every year, but providing some benchmarks will help you plan and prepare for this year and for years to come.

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The Succession Plan: Transitioning Volunteer Coordinators

Today, you are the volunteer coordinator, but one day you won’t be anymore.

Let’s assume you love your job as a volunteer coordinator. You’ve worked hard to build trust with your volunteers, to gain respect from your leadership, and to find your perfect volunteer management systems and style. Even if you love it, there’s another thing we can assume here: one day, you won’t work here as the volunteer coordinator. 

Whether you move on to another organization or you are promoted to a new role within your current organization, eventually there is going to be a new volunteer coordinator running the show. Instead of staying in denial, prepare yourself for the possibility and begin establishing a succession plan for when that day comes. Sometimes you know the person next in line or sometimes you are long gone by the time they get started. Preparing ahead of time gives them the best shot at picking up where things left off, regardless of timing. 

Need to know 

With any position, there are core details that the next person will need to know to do the job. Make a list of all the key job responsibilities you fulfill. Then, if there are certain software systems or memberships that are included in those, be sure to include log-in information and pertinent details about how those programs are used. If anything has a standard procedure to follow or instructions that would be helpful to know, include these, too. While this document is often something created when you’re already in the transition process, it can be useful to have even now in case you’re out sick for a while and need someone to pick up the slack. Also, before a succession, this document of duties can be referred to during your annual review as you show your boss the responsibilities on your plate and how you manage them effectively. 

Things you’ve found 

As the volunteer coordinator, you know there are so many more intangible parts to the job that don’t get listed on a document of duties. You’ve likely learned certain routines or management styles that have proven useful over the years. Maybe you’ve learned which volunteers don’t work well together (but are still great volunteers separately) or which vendors have helped you out in a pinch. These are all great things to talk about with the next volunteer coordinator! That is, if they want to hear about it. Be prepared to share these things if you’re willing, but also realize that they might have their own style or plans for the future. If you have notes about some of these details, you can offer to pass them on, but if they decline or decide to do things differently, don’t be too discouraged. Of course you might think your way is best, but different people have different styles and the new person needs to have the freedom to make their own decisions. 

People to keep in the loop 

One of your primary roles as a volunteer coordinator is communicating with volunteers. So if you are leaving, be sure to let your volunteers know in the proper time. You may have to work with your boss or the up-and-coming volunteer coordinator to determine the best way and timing to tell volunteers, but don’t forget about them during the succession process. You may even make a list of who to tell in person, who to tell via email, and who tell by phone. This is another list that can help you now as you look to identify core volunteers and people who may be ready to volunteer more. 

Especially when it comes to your core volunteers, the way this succession is handled may make or break their continued commitment to the organization. Try to be as communicative and clear as possible, giving them the opportunity to ask you questions or even keep in contact with you in the future if appropriate. Within your communication, be sure to empower the next person in the role and guide volunteers in communication and confidence in the new person. Ultimately, you want volunteers to trust and respect the new volunteer coordinator as much as possible. Exhibiting this trust and respect yourself will make for a more effective transition. If you don’t yet know who will take your place, direct volunteers to whoever will be handling things in the interim. 

Succession planning can sound big or bad or scary sometimes. But remember, change can be a good thing if handled well. Starting to prepare for succession now, regardless of how far away that change may be will allow you to be as thorough as possible. At some point we all change jobs or advance our careers in a new direction, which can be really fun and exciting. But through those changes, how we manage the exit can sometimes most define our role and impact. So, do your best to hand off the baton as gracefully and respectfully as possible. 

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The Value of Volunteer Time

Volunteering is never free. 

Volunteers come to you with time, energy, and talents to share. They volunteer for all sorts of reasons. Whether it be it out of the goodness of their little hearts or because an authority figure mandated it–volunteers are there in hopes of doing good and benefiting your organization. 

At the same time, volunteers take a ton of time, energy, and talents to organize and communicate with. Heck, your entire job is to be a volunteer coordinator because it’s a lot of work! And then there’s the t-shirts, and the pizza party, and the info packets, and maybe even the volunteer management software. These costs all add up quick, so you might start to wonder if it’d just be easier (or cheaper) if you did it all yourself and skipped the volunteers altogether.

Let’s unpack some of the values that volunteers bring to the table…because even though there’s a lot of expense that comes along with running a volunteer program, often what you gain is even greater.

Monetary value 

Sometimes it feels like when the price is free that there’s no actual value to something. Instead of “free help,” volunteers can quickly be added to your mental list of “more work to take care of.” Think it’d just be easier to hire someone at minimum wage? Think again. The estimated value of volunteer time is $24.14 per hour according to the Independent Sector in 2016.  When you start to count up the vast numbers of hours contributed by your many volunteers, this really adds up to both a huge savings to you and a huge benefit to your organization. 

Brain power

When you have volunteers from all different backgrounds and experience, you gain access to valuable resources and talents. A diverse group of volunteers are going to bring new ideas and wisdom that you can’t come up with alone, not to mention connections to the community. Whether it’s through a senior-level volunteer advisory board or someone full of spunk handing out water to runners, the thoughts and enthusiasm volunteers can breathe into an organization really boosts your capabilities as an organization. Be sure to tap into this resource along the way by asking lots of questions and gathering feedback after they volunteer. 

Physical strength 

We’ve all heard the phrase “many hands make light work” … because it’s true! Yes, there’s a lot of organization required to coordinate a large group of people, but you can’t actually be everywhere at once and do all of the things. Your back would eventually go out; everyone attending the event would be hungry, thirsty, or lost; and the inflatable bounce house would be overrun with kids. When you have an army of volunteers, this can all be easily staffed to keep things running smoothly without killing your spirit or your budget. 


When you have a lot of volunteers invested in your cause and organization, you build awareness and credibility in the community. Those free t-shirts become walking billboards on the faces of people who are passionate about what you do. But more than that, the more volunteers you have, the more sponsors you might also be able to get on board. It builds credibility to have several committed volunteers active in your organization. Ask corporate sponsors to match dollar-for-dollar the amount of volunteer time spent with a financial contribution. Say you have 100 volunteers who give 2 hours of their time for your event. If you multiply that times the value of their hour ($24.14), you’re looking at $4,828. Now, if you manage to recruit 500 volunteers to work 4 hour shifts at $24.14 an hour of value, that would mean a $48,280 check! 

Yes, volunteers add work and sometimes require resources and incentives that cost money. But don’t let that overshadow the value volunteers bring. Next time you have to invest money for volunteer resources, remember the potential return on your investment. With each volunteer, you are gaining monetary value, brain power, physical strength, and community.

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Managing Volunteers Online and In-Person

You can’t be everywhere at once, but your volunteers come from everywhere. 

Your job revolves around one major (and sometimes vague) thing: managing volunteers. But, what if you can’t be everywhere at once and there’s only so much you can cram into the day (plus, you want to avoid burnout)? Using a variety of tools (ahem, like VolunteerLocal) can make your life easier, but you also want to continue to have that personal touch and strong communication with volunteers. How do you get the best of both worlds? 

Let’s talk through a few common volunteer management moments, so you can weigh what methods are best for you and your volunteers. 


In-person option: Hold an orientation event. This would mean you get to meet people face-to-face, shake hands, and easily answer questions right there. You know people heard the message, and it’s their first sign of commitment. Downside? You have to find a place to meet, set-up chairs and snacks beforehand, organize a time that works for everyone, and maybe even plan on a make-up date for those who can’t attend. 

Online option: Send a video and/or email message. Instead of scheduling several orientations or waiting until the next event, you can give people the rundown of what they need to know right away in a pre-recorded video and automated email. They can do it on their own time, and you can stay focused on whatever is next ahead of you. The cons may include wondering if they actually watched the video or losing out on a connection point and opportunity to answer questions. Maybe it takes too much time and effort for you to create a video that is easy to understand, interesting, and informative. 


In-person option: Sign people up when you see them. Whether you are at an event or activity fair, you can get people plugged in right away. Travel with a tablet or a clipboard, and you can strike when the time is right. You raise awareness about your organization, and you get the chance to meet someone before they show up for their first volunteer shift. But the bad part is it means you have to schlep a tent, an iPad, and your game face all over town, and then go back to the office and sort through what just happened. 

In a more informal setting, if you know someone personally or are simply networking, you can ask someone directly in a kind and personable way to volunteer. But, if you don’t have any of that stuff on you when you meet someone who wants to get involved, you have to try to mentally remember their details and contact them again later. 

Online option: People sign up on their own through your website. This allows you to sort out the info and necessary forms all in one central location. They can pick their areas of interest or available shifts and it goes straight to you. You don’t even have to be there! The hard part is losing out on some of the visibility and appeal that some of those in-person events or meetings provides. If they’ve never heard of you, what’s going to compel people to find your website?   

Planning meeting

In-person option: Hold a meeting with your team. Sometimes face-to-face meetings are simply more productive, and the conversation flows easier. You can sit around the same table and read the unsaid thoughts and emotions more clearly. The tricky part? Scheduling both the people and the location–be it due to timing, distance, or availability. These meetings can get long, and people may not be able to come between work schedules, kids to care for, or whatever it may be. 

Online option: Send email threads and have video conference meetings. A brainstorm via email can allow people time to consider different options and send them to the group to read on their own time. Video conference calls can allow those who live far away to still meet and communicate together all at once. The disadvantages of the online option is that those emails can get long (or worse, can go completely without response) or may be overlooked. The video call can have technical difficulty and cause frustration. 

In the end, ask: what’s going to be most effective for the volunteers and for you? More likely than not, you’ll find a hybrid combination of both in-person and online volunteer management methods will be what suits you best. What may work for you in some seasons or with certain volunteer teams may not work for others, so try to continue to be aware of what tends to be the most successful and be willing to pivot as needed.

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