Remembering the Big Picture

From the VolunteerLocal archives, an article in the spirit of raising spirits 🙂


As a volunteer coordinator, you’re juggling what feels like a million different tasks.

Your mind might be racing because you didn’t order enough t-shirts. Someone just told you they’ve got a food allergy and you’ll need to adjust the lunch menu. One of your volunteers just cancelled with less than 24-hours notice. With all of the things you’re working on, it’s easy to get preoccupied with the little details.

Take a breath.

Remember why you’re doing this important work.

At the end of the day, all of this energy is dedicated to making a difference in your community, in sometimes small and large ways. In this moment of desperation, I like to read quotes from leaders I admire, who navigated the weeds long enough to make change, and do good. I’ve transcribed a few of my favorites below. Enjoy.

“Do small things with great love.” -Mother Theresa

It’s easy to feel insignificant when there’s a mountain of work in front of you. But every task, every errand, every call you’re making is contributing to this cause. It’s important to remember that even those mundane tasks are critical to the long-term outcome that everyone on your team is working hard to realize. Each step you take, no matter how small, is a step forward for your community. 

You may not be the only one feeling overwhelmed – some of your volunteers may also be feeling the drain, too. The clean-up crew are wondering whether their work matters. Those taking drinks tickets are gazing at the long-line before them and thinking, what’s all this for?

Everything adds up, particularly the things we put care and love into. Let your volunteers know that whatever task they’re doing, it’s making an impact. Every individual contributes in a significant way towards increasing awareness, raising funds, bringing people together and making our cities and towns more cultural, vibrant and fun.

“To move forward you have to give back.” -Oprah Winfrey

Giving your time helps others, and it helps you. It’s easy to give our money, or donate our old belongings to a local thrift store – but to give our time? Our effort, hard work and (l)earned skills? These opportunities to give that part of ourselves enables us to connect with others and the mission. We can grow in meaningful ways.

“A lion chased me up a tree and I greatly enjoyed the view from the top.” -Confuscius

It’s that time of night when the spreadsheet in front of you is starting to blur. You have a giant detailed list of seemingly endless things to do. You’re tired, exasperated and just over it.

Step away from the glow of your computer screen and remember the big picture. There will always be challenges before you, and opportunities to overcome them, individually or with the collaboration of those you trust and can depend on to help see you through. If you find yourself at the top of that tree, take a look around. The view is unbelievable. 

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Technology & Events: Planning for the Best & Preparing for the Worst

This is a guest blog post from our friends at Saffire, a platform for integrated, contact-less ticketing for events and venues. Thank you to Cassie Roberts Dispenza for leading a webinar on this topic and sharing her final thoughts here!


As 2020 continues to go on (and on and on and on!) most of our friends in the event industry have been impacted in one way or another by the Covid outbreak. For almost everyone, this means cancelled events and lost revenue. At Saffire, we are constantly looking for ways that technology can afford new opportunities for our clients and this year is no different! While some of the tools available to you may not be your first choice in producing events, we’ve come to terms with the fact that in order to survive we all have to adapt to the opportunities available.

Here are just a few ways that you can use technology to turn your brand in to a revenue producing machine in 2020:

  • Ecommerce – Even if your event was canceled, there are still SO many things you can sell online. Create a “festival in a box” with goodies from your 2020 event and your sponsors. Allow patrons to support you with donations with tools like Patreon. Typically on these transactions, small gifts are given to donors, which can be a way to encourage donations. (Think like a bumper sticker for a $2 donation or a T-Shirt for a $20 donation, etc.) You can also set up virtual shopping on your website with your vendors. Drive up “to go” festival food events have also been profitable for many of our clients. You may even be able to sell tickets to next year’s event super early! We’ve seen the most success with people who offer a generous refund policy. Use your online carts to their fullest potential!

  • Socially Distanced Events – While you may not be able to manage a virtual or socially distanced event the same way as you would an in person event, we’ve seen a lot of festivals have success. In virtual races, participants are encouraged to bike or run at their own convenience on their own route. They are often still mailed a race t-shirt or medal once they’ve completed a race. Other socially distanced events are becoming popular too—you can arrange for drive thru Christmas or Fall Festival displays or drive in movies. Online registration or tickets are easy to implement through your own website, ticketing provider or services like Google Forms. Virtual events via Vimeo and Facebook Live can also generate revenue for events you may host live on social media. Even if you don’t do a password protected event, revenue can still be generated via tips or donations on apps like PayPal or Venmo. In many cases, viewers like this low pressure option to be able to donate an amount they prefer as they’re watching, rather than having to buy a ticket in advance.  
  • Social Media – Our tried and true social media accounts can serve as a way to stay connected to our loyal followers on any of the above intiatives, even if you didn’t get to see them in person this year. Invite a sponsor or two to host a contest – give them credit and give prizes to your followers! It keeps your sponsors engaged and may be a way to keep some of your commitments to them for 2020. Social media ads are drawing a lot of attention right now because everyone is glued to their devices! While many brands have held back on ads, we encourage you to move forward with yours! (Making sure your messaging is considerate of the times of course.) Since ads are not in as high of demand right now, they may actually be less expensive. Finally, make sure to utilize stories and Live features as “in the moment” content. This is what your audience is most likely feeling like they’re missing at the moment—something with human contact!
  • Software Advancements – If you are authorized to have an in-person event in 2020, it’s possible that there will be new regulations for event capacities to control crowds or more advanced selling systems to avoid the exchange of cash. Many technology & ticketing companies are offering new ways to manage these requirements with things like capacity tracking software and contactless selling terminals. Often times having these types of systems in place can help convince your local officials that you are prepared to host events safely again!

It takes a little creativity and thinking outside the box to launch safe and legal events during these times, but the extra efforts can really pay off. You may even uncover new ways to make or save money that you will carry with you in to future years of your event.

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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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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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Remembering the Big Picture

As a volunteer coordinator, you’re juggling what feels like a million different tasks.

Your mind might be racing because you didn’t order enough t-shirts. Someone just told you they’ve got a food allergy and you’ll need to adjust the lunch menu. One of your volunteers just cancelled with less than 24-hours notice. With all of the things you’re working on, it’s easy to get preoccupied with the little details.

Take a breath.

Remember why you’re doing this important work.

At the end of the day, all of this energy is dedicated to making a difference in your community, in sometimes small and large ways. In this moment of desperation, I like to read quotes from leaders I admire, who navigated the weeds long enough to make change, and do good. I’ve transcribed a few of my favorites below. Enjoy.

 

“Do small things with great love.” -Mother Theresa

It’s easy to feel insignificant when there’s a mountain of work in front of you. But every task, every errand, every call you’re making is contributing to this cause. It’s important to remember that even those mundane tasks are critical to the long-term outcome that everyone on your team is working hard to realize. Each step you take, no matter how small, is a step forward for your community. 

You may not be the only one feeling overwhelmed – some of your volunteers may also be feeling the drain, too. The clean-up crew are wondering whether their work matters. Those taking drinks tickets are gazing at the long-line before them and thinking, what’s all this for?

Everything adds up, particularly the things we put care and love into. Let your volunteers know that whatever task they’re doing, it’s making an impact. Every individual contributes in a significant way towards increasing awareness, raising funds, bringing people together and making our cities and towns more cultural, vibrant and fun.

 

 

“To move forward you have to give back.” -Oprah Winfrey

 

Giving your time helps others, and it helps you. It’s easy to give our money, or donate our old belongings to a local thrift store – but to give our time? Our effort, hard work and (l)earned skills? These opportunities to give that part of ourselves enables us to connect with others and the mission. We can grow in meaningful ways.

 

“A lion chased me up a tree and I greatly enjoyed the view from the top.” -Confuscius

 

 

It’s that time of night when the spreadsheet in front of you is starting to blur. You have a giant detailed list of seemingly endless things to do. You’re tired, exasperated and just over it.

Step away from the glow of your computer screen and remember the big picture. There will always be challenges before you, and opportunities to overcome them, individually or with the collaboration of those you trust and can depend on to help see you through. If you find yourself at the top of that tree, take a look around. The view is unbelievable. 

 

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Five Typical Festival Jobs

Every festival is its own unique little unicorn, but we all know there are a few jobs that are mandatory no matter what the festival is.

 

We’ve rounded up the top 5 volunteer jobs we know almost every festival needs and a quick tip for each one to keep your festival running smoothly.

 

Set Up

Calling all perfectionists! The best move you can make with set up is rounding up all the volunteers who are obsessed with things looking just right and then letting them work their magic. No need to hover, they won’t be happy until everything’s perfect.

 

Tear Down

You guys trying to rage? This one is for the people who like to break stuff. Gather a team of your brawniest folk and get to tearing – just make sure someone doesn’t throw out all the screws you need for next year.

 

Food and Beverage

People think the food and beverage beat is going to be the best because of snacks, but we all know that station is all about the money. Calculated, focused and responsible people will make sure everything’s taken care of and you don’t have to worry about the change drawer.

 

Wrist-Banding

Ever had a wrist band cut off your circulation while an angry person chews their gum and glares at you? Did it make you feel terrible? Yeah, it’s the worst. This spot is for the amicable, smiley folk who are just excited to welcome you to the event.

 

Green Team

The green team needs to care, plain and simple. When you don’t care, you take those plastic bottles and throw them in the trash can because it’s closer. When you do care, you carefully assess each pickup to make sure you’re filing it into the correct area according to Mother Earth’s standards.

 

So there you have it. Every volunteer is wonderful in their own way and they all have a special skill set making them perfect for a specific job. Assess your team, assign appropriately, and let everything fall right into place.

 

 

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Prepping for the Worst – Anything Can Happen

Whether you are planning an entire event yourself or you’re the volunteer coordinator within a group of planners, at the end of the day, something still might go wrong. It may be out of your control – an unexpected change in the weather or human error – but you’d best be prepared for anything.

 

There are many common pitfalls volunteer coordinators try to avoid when planning an event. Problems can come up due to gaps in communication or unmet expectations. Making assumptions is never good (come on, we’ve all heard the saying about when you “ass-u-me”) and then there’s whatever is falling from the sky, literally.

 

Here are the top ways to prepare for the worst as a volunteer coordinator:

 

Communicate effectively

Maybe you send emails or texts or meet with your volunteers regularly. Whatever form your communication may come in, there’s always a chance it could get misunderstood. The biggest thing to remember when it comes to communication is that there are two sides to it and you need to both share and listen. Ask volunteers if there’s something they need from you or if there is a message that is unclear. Connect with volunteers so they know the line of communication is open. When some sort of dispute comes up, listen to the feedback of people to get a read on the situation. Sometimes people just need to be heard. So, listen, share, and reset as much as possible.  

 

Have a back-up plan in mind

Especially when it comes to outdoor events, everyone wants a day of perfect weather. Sometimes that happens and sometimes it just doesn’t. No one can control the weather, but you can rent a tent. The point is, know what your back-up plan is in case something doesn’t go quite as planned. Perhaps that means calling a rental company for a quote or even making a reservation beforehand. Make a list of people to call “just in case” that is easily accessible on the day of the event.

 

Redefine success

Think about that epic everything-went-perfectly event and what that looks like. It’s great to aim high! But then, also create your bottom line of what success looks like. For instance, I will host an event on this day and engage with volunteers. Or, We will raise awareness as an organization, even if that means 10 new people attend.  If all else fails, know what your key mission is for the event and count the success as it happens. Some years are building years–they may not meet the high standards you hope for, but they allow you to build up to that for the next time around. Of course, it is important to debrief and assess for areas needing improvement, but make sure to also acknowledge and celebrate the wins that do happen.

 

 

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Getting Sponsorship when You’re Scared to Ask for Money

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

 

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

 

Know Yourself.

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

 

Find Sponsors that Fit.

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

 

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

 

Do Your Research.

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

 

Be Generous.

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

 

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

 

 

 

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