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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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!

Individuals

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.

Teams

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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Cancelling an Event

Even for the most weathered of event planners, unexpected complications can arise and result in a cancelled event. Bad weather, low ticket sales or a sudden illness can force an intricately planned program to come to a halt.

While a cancelled event is disappointing for the staff involved, it can be even harder to figure out the right way to break the news to your registered volunteers who were committed to making it a success. 

Volunteers that signed up for an event may include students that were banking on those hours for a class, mandated volunteers, or long-time volunteers who attend your yearly event as part of their tradition. Others maybe just wanted to hang out with their friends and do something fun for the day.

Whatever their reasoning, communicating quickly and clearly after an event is cancelled is critical with volunteers to ensure you don’t lose them for future events and let them know that their efforts and altruism have not gone unnoticed.

Be clear and transparent

It’s frustrating to learn that a plan has fallen through. Communicate the cancelled event in as many ways as you deem appropriate, including emails, social media, text messages and phone calls. Volunteers are going to be curious as to why an event is cancelled – give them a reason and be transparent to avoid further frustration. You don’t need to get into the nitty gritty details, but give your volunteers clarity for their own sakes – and so they can better empathize with you.

Show your appreciation

If this was a volunteer’s first time signing up with your organization, an event cancellation may leave a bad taste. To prevent this from happening, let your volunteer know (through a personalized email or a phone call) why their willingness to help continues to matter. Be grateful and appreciative in your tone. While a volunteer may not have had a chance to actually come out and help with an event yet, it’s the thought that counts. By being appreciative and communicating directly, your volunteer will feel valued and more likely to come back in the future.

Keep them in mind

You now have information for people who are willing to volunteer for your organization – use it! Communicate about other events where you need volunteers and be willing to make those follow-up emails or calls when the time comes. There’s nothing that sends a better message than a personal touch to let that person know you’re thinking of them.

No matter the reason, make sure that your cancelled event is an opportunity to speak directly with your volunteers and convey your appreciation for their dedication and time. You can use your cancellation as a time to reconnect and recruit for future opportunities. Silver lining, baby!

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Limiting Volunteer No-Shows

If you’ve ever coordinated (or helped coordinate) a volunteer event, you know one of the most frustrating parts of the job is handling last minute changes.

Unfortunately, to a certain extent, there’s not much you can do about it. There are always going to be certain situations and things that come up for people. That said, there are processes and safeguards you can put in place to limit last-minute changes. The best news? We’ve curated a top-5 list for you below! 

Think through contingency plans.

The first step is to take the time to think about what could go wrong or change at the last minute, and have a plan in place for when/if these things happen. You know there are going to be volunteers who can’t make it at the last second, so what do you do? If your event is outdoors, what is the plan if the weather turns? Make a list of “what if’s” and make sure to address them all at least a couple of weeks before the event to limit the stress of when/if they happen. 

Specifically recruit stand-by volunteers.

Volunteer no-shows are a given. Have a certain number of volunteers sign-up specifically as fill-ins if needed. Make sure to let them know how you’ll be communicating with them, and what to expect if they’re not needed anymore.

Make it known how volunteers can back out if necessary.

If something does come up last minute for a volunteer, be sure to have communicated to them the steps they need to take in letting you know. Send e-mail reminders to volunteers prior to the event, and specifically ask them to reply to the e-mail if they no longer can make it. It also can be useful to communicate a date that volunteers can no longer back out, unless absolutely necessary. 

Penalize no-shows.

It may seem harsh, but there should be accountability in place for people who agree to volunteer, especially if you’ve enacted some of the processes mentioned above. You might give people one strike, but if they continue to volunteer and then not show up, consider not allowing them to volunteer for a certain period of time, or restricting which jobs they can sign up for next time.

Print schedules for volunteers ahead of time.

Make sure things run smoothly by printing schedules and distributing them to volunteers ahead of time. This not only provides yet another reminder to your volunteers, but also helps reduce confusion the day of the event. It’s often comforting to volunteers to know exactly when and where they need to be and reduces the stress on them in addition to you on event day. 🙂 

We’d love to hear from you! How do you handle last minute changes and limit no-shows?

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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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Streamlining the Signup Process

One of the best ways to keep volunteers happy and returning year after year is by streamlining your signup process.

We’re all familiar with online forms that seem to ask for your whole life story. It’s important for volunteer registration forms to strike the perfect balance between collecting the important stuff, without asking so many questions that potential volunteers bail halfway through. 

After all the effort you put into recruiting volunteers and orchestrating your events, you don’t want your signup page to be the thing that stops volunteers from signing up. So let’s simplify!

Collect only what you need! It’s best to keep your form short, and (if you can) collect all the information at once. We recommend name, email, and mobile phone number, to start. Depending on your event, you might need to get different information from volunteers who select certain jobs. For example, do volunteers in the Medical Tent need to be CPR certified? Would an ideal ‘set-up’ volunteer have some experience using power tools? Take the time to think about your event, the specific roles you need filled, and the qualifications necessary for those responsibilities.

Less is more. Think of what positions you MUST fill to keep the event moving – check-in, ticket sales, set-up and clean-up. This will make your signup form shorter, easier to navigate, and will avoid an overflow of volunteers with too many hands and not enough tasks to fill.

Revisit, reflect, and request feedback about your process. As much as we would all love for everything to go perfectly the first, second, or fiftieth time, it often doesn’t – and things change over the years. Go back and ask your volunteers for feedback about the event and include questions about the signup process. Make sure to take notes along the way, and remain open-minded to re-working your processes in order to better support your volunteers.

Partner with VolunteerLocal. Excel spreadsheets and Google docs have long been the bread and butter for volunteer coordinators. We’re here to replace those jigsaw puzzles for you. We work with all types and sizes of events, for all different size budgets. Just like your signup process, we’re here to keep things streamlined, simply, and easy for you and your volunteers.

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Activate Volunteers Outside Your Event

As event organizers, producers, directors, etc., it is your job to observe and plan for all stages from beginning to middle and end. As you establish your checkpoints leading up to the event itself, it is crucial that you put this on your list: activate volunteers outside your event.

The urge and the philosophy behind this is one of thermodynamics: energy in equals energy out. This has to do with conservation. Simply put, the higher the note you start off with, the more you will be able to sustain that energy among your volunteers and create a positive, thriving environment. 

(Not to mention there is much to be done leading up to an event whether it is coordinating the volunteers themselves, stuffing packets, running errands, phone drives, or other logistical conundrums.)

Arrange for volunteer gatherings to help accomplish these tasks and more. Something like stuffing packets is ideal because it is the kind of work made light by many hands, and has an easy rhythm that allows for volunteers to talk, get to know each other, and even forge friendships. The mission will bring your volunteers in, but feelings of “togetherness” will keep them coming back.

Get them excited before the day of the event or a short time leading up to it with some kind of orientation, training or pep rally. Plan team-building exercises. This is a great way to build community while also ascertaining how certain people interact with each other. Who are the leaders in the group? The doers, the organizers, the observers? Work your magic to ensure that each volunteer is in the best position catered to their unique skills and interests. They will repay this effort ten-fold – when vision, values and strengths are aligned, purpose thrives.

A pre-celebration party or gathering is an incredibly festive way to begin any trial. Go as big or as small as your budget allows, but if someone threw you a party just for being there, wouldn’t you return next year, too?

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