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. 

Community 

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. 

Orientation

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. 

Scheduling/Registration 

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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The Biggest Pain Points for Volunteer Coordinators (And How to Handle Them Pain-Free)

Volunteer coordinators are awesome, positive people committed to mission-driven organizations. But they aren’t above a few pet peeves. Here are a few things that might bring even the most upbeat among us close to becoming a #headdesk gif. (As told by real volunteer coordinators.) 

Pain Point: “Trying to find a balance between maintaining volunteer enjoyment while not straying from the mission of the organization.” 

How to Handle It: If you have a volunteer who is excited about an idea or project that isn’t a good match, there may be ways to redirect that energy without stomping out the volunteer’s enthusiasm and losing them forever. Before you give an outright “no” – try to ask a few questions to get to the heart of why the volunteer is so pumped about the idea. Can you channel the core concept that gets them fired up in a way that better aligns with your needs? Encourage them to pilot a smaller version of a concept before sucking your organization into the logistics.  Maybe the golf tournament fundraiser turns into an evening at the driving range the first year? 

Pain Point: “Internal employees and/or leadership not valuing the role of volunteers and investing appropriately.”

How to Handle It: If you’ve been making your case with metrics and data, maybe switch to testimonials and storytelling (or visa versa) to find the language that resonates with different members of your team. Put faces to names, to help connect your paid staff to your non-paid volunteer base.

Pain Point: “Volunteer turnover. You will always have one-off volunteers or people wanting to use their VTO, but they still have to go through the same protocol and training.” 

How to Handle It: Yes, it’s frustrating to bend over backwards to offer a volunteer training in the evening and then have three quarters of the volunteers in attendance ghost on you within a month. Try to determine the sweet spot where you get a return on investment from training new volunteers (maybe around 25 hours of service). Try to see if an employer will create a “dollars for doers” match grant for volunteers who reach that threshold and set an expectation that as many people as possible can. Create different kinds of jobs for those one-off or large group projects that don’t yield long-term relationships but provide important exposure for your organization.

It’s OK to feel the frustrations of your role – especially when you can look at them critically and consider how to make changes that will benefit your organization and your avid volunteers.

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Reaching Prospective Volunteers

Recruiting volunteers is a part of your job, but it can still be interesting and fun for both you and your future volunteers. 

Ever feel like, “Here I am, the volunteer coordinator, now where’s all the people?” If so, then it’s time to recruit some new volunteers! You already know all the basic (and sometimes boring) ways to try to recruit volunteers, so why not have a little fun with it? 

Talk about it. 

Everyone knows word of mouth is powerful. So get out there and really talk about volunteering with your organization! College campuses, corporate lunches, PTA meetings–wherever you can go that might have the type of volunteers you need. But don’t stop there – create a nice informative video or simply turn on Facebook live/Instagram stories and tell the top five reasons people should sign up to volunteer. If you have the budget, promote it further on social media by paying for a sponsored post. (Even better, encourage some of your media and corporate sponsors to do the same on their social media channels.)

Jazz up your fliers. 

Start by removing corny words like “jazz” (unless of course this is some sort of musical production). Yes, the basic information can and does fulfill the need when it comes to getting the word out about your organization. But it could also look like an epic band poster or have the style and design of a trend setter. Collaborate with the coolest screen printing shop in town to create them or simply ask yourself…would this be hip enough to wear as a t-shirt? Aesthetics matter, which means the coffee shop, retail space, and local business will be even more inclined to hang your poster when it looks good. 

Find a friend. 

Involve the volunteers already serving with your organization and promote benefits if they find a friend to join in as well. Maybe you can’t give a referral bonus or half-off their gym membership, but incentivize current volunteers by offering first dibs on the most sought out volunteer shifts or an extra ticket for the music festival for every extra pair of hands they bring. 

Raise the stakes.

Similar to the find-a-friend method, encourage people to seek out the most volunteers in a certain time period. Award the best volunteer recruiter with a goofy trophy and some extra incentives. Sometimes having a little friendly competition will help people up their game. 

Give away free stuff. 

Ears always seem to perk when hearing the word “free!” So pass out stickers, launch t-shirts out of cannons, hold a luncheon or interesting seminar, host a meetup at a local coffee shop, give away yummy cookies…the possibilities are endless. Just make sure those free things come with more info about the organization and ways to volunteer. 

A big part of being a volunteer coordinator is making sure you have enough people to fill your volunteer team. While recruiting can seem daunting at times, make it your own and get creative with it!

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5 Typical Jobs for Race-Day Volunteers

Time to divvy out the duties for volunteers helping with your race.

It’s race time, and you’ve got dozens of volunteers needing jobs! No, hundreds! No, MILLIONS! (That escalated quickly.) However big your run or volunteer base may be, here are five main jobs to assign to volunteers ready to help.   

 

Set-up/tear down crew 

Okay, so maybe you’ll need to come up with a creative name here, but this is fairly straightforward. Regardless, it’s an important job. No matter how big your muscles are, this is not something you can do alone (Note: Make sure the volunteers in this team are physically fit enough to do the tasks required). It takes a team to put up the tents, get the tables arranged, get the water bottles in coolers, unfold chairs, unroll the finish line. And then when it’s all over, you need an even bigger crew willing to stick around and take care of the trash and recycling, store unused t-shirts for next year, return equipment to vendors, and countless other small things. If you have a big crew for either of these, make sure it’s clear who volunteers report to as their direct supervisor if it’s not you. 

 

Check-in team

These are your early risers. Coffee? These people don’t need coffee, they live off of sunshine and happiness. This is an important part of the event as this team greets runners and/or volunteers, makes sure they have everything they need, and answer any questions. It’s a fun and friendly role, perfect for someone who identifies themselves as a “people-person.” Whoever works with the check-in team has got to be someone excited to be there, so don’t try to force anyone onto this team. The people who love it though usually rock this job. (Note: Don’t actually forget to bring the coffee, ever. Or else.)

 

Water station 

Now we’re talking essentials people. The body cannot live without water, and runners will be glad to see a water station as they round the corner. Volunteers in this station will hand out water (Note: If volunteers holding cups from the bottom it’s easier for runners to grab it in a hurry), pick up and throw away the discarded cups, and cheer on the runners. Not only that, but this can be a fun and goofy place to encourage runners passing by with signs, decorations, and support for their journey left ahead. 

 

Course marshall 

For the volunteers who like telling people what to do or have always imagined what life might be like for a traffic cop–this is the job for them. Positioned throughout the course, these volunteers make sure runners stay on course and provide them with direction, be it with a megaphone, sign, or giant foam finger. Especially around a corner or at an intersection, course marshalls help runners know where to go without having to pack a map. Course marshals may also keep an eye out for runners’ safety and shout out encouragement. (Note: Discourage volunteers from saying the ever so-vague, “Almost there!” as runners pass–if it’s a long race, “almost” is never close enough.)

 

Finish line 

This group basically gets to do ALL of the jobs but during the best and last moment for the runners. So make sure the volunteers cheer people on, hand out water, pick up trash, tell runners where to go next, and help them with whatever may arise. Near the end is where more friends, families, and fans of the runners tend to congregate, so watch out for dogs, strollers, and over enthusiastic supporters! (Note: Make sure these volunteers are equipped with some basic info to assist runners, like where the nearest bathroom is or where to pick up their medal.)

 

All of these jobs are important, but can also be a ton of fun! The more the merrier as far as volunteers go. Just be sure to give volunteers clear communication about their goals, duties, and who to report to. And, if you really do have millions of eager volunteers, buy yourself some earplugs because that cheering section’s gonna be LOUD! 

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Identifying a Volunteer’s Niche

Not every job is a perfect fit for every volunteer–which is simultaneously your biggest challenge and greatest advantage when building a volunteer team. 

Volunteering is volunteering is volunteering, right? No, of course not! Every job, duty, and responsibility is different, just like every person who volunteers is different. The trick is finding the right people for the job. When people are working in their sweet spot, they tend to work to their strengths, have a better experience, and stick around in the future. As a volunteer coordinator, that’s a win-win-win! 

 

Recruit

If you know you have jobs to fill that require a certain skill-set, start by actively recruiting people who would be the best fit. Will you need a medical tent at your festival? Reach out to the local medical school or nursing program to see if they can help connect you with volunteers. Want a group of cheerleaders to encourage runners over the finish line? Contact the local high school to help promote the opportunity to enthusiastic high schoolers or even the cheerleaders themselves in need of volunteer hours. Having a defined role and clear need will make it easier for you to know what type of person to pursue. 

 

Request

Sometimes a volunteer will have a talent, skill, or trait that is not immediately obvious. Maybe that mom who just wants to help the cause currently selling tickets used to be in a band and is great at local promotion. Or maybe the person providing you with pro-bono legal advice is a skilled photographer on the side. Regardless of the age or background of the volunteer, they probably have some sort of hidden talent, so ask them about it! Whether it’s a question you ask when you’re first introduced or it’s an open field on their volunteer registration form–ask volunteers what other skills or interests they might have. Sometimes you may be amazed to find it’s just what you’ve been looking for. You might not need everyone’s extra skills all at once though, so it’s nice to build a document that lists the variety of skills represented all in one place. That way, when the opportunity arises, you know who to call.

 

Reflect 

After the job has been fulfilled, be honest–was it the right fit? Unfortunately, sometimes you’ll have someone who feels their strength is in one area when it isn’t right for your team yet or maybe they were just in the wrong role all together. That doesn’t necessarily make them a bad volunteer–it might just mean pivoting to a different position in the future. Of course, you’re also going to have dirty or less glamorous jobs that need to be filled. Sometimes that means getting creative and sometimes that means divvying up the fun and not-so-fun jobs on a rotating basis. Assess what works best through surveys or follow-up meetings with volunteers when possible to let them share their thoughts as well. Maybe you thought they were a perfect fit in the kids craft tent, but they would rather have a break from kids and sell merch instead. Realizing that you will have to continue to hone in on where a volunteer fits best will help foster a healthy and strong team of volunteers committed to their roles. 

 

Now that you’ve got the plan for how to do it–go fill those jobs with the right volunteers! Both you and the volunteers will surely be happier for it. 

 

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