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.

Read More

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?

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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!

Read More

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.

Read More

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?

Read More

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! 

Read More

Event Production Tips to Produce a Flawless Multi-Day Experience

If you made the brave and perhaps daunting choice to host a multi-day event, we at VolunteerLocal applaud and support you! Coordinating volunteers for one day is crazy enough, and you have added a whole other layer. This can double the number of shifts, alongside the number of volunteers needed to fill them.

Here are some things you’ll want to consider as a means to keep everyone from burning out before the final shift has ended. 

 

1. Location changes – If you are coordinating for a charity race there could be a marathon one day, and a 5k the next, or maybe a kid’s race. Chances are the main event hub will stay in the same location but you might have a different starting or end point. Don’t forget to add or subtract those shifts. A good way to keep yourself from getting spread too thin is delegating one of the smaller tasks to a volunteer and having them help you coordinate.

 

2. Overnight Security – Are you leaving the merch tent over night? It would mean no unpacking and repacking the next day. It’s probably better to hire out security instead of recruiting volunteers. You need to coordinate and make sure the security company knows exactly what you need, but they should be able to handle the rest.

 

3. More Shifts – It’s a no brainer that more days equals more shifts which probably means more work, but it doesn’t have to mean getting overworked. Delegating is a great way to keep everything moving quickly and keep your sanity. You physically cannot be everywhere at once, so don’t try

 

4. More Volunteers – More shifts (hopefully) means more volunteers. This is a great place to use delegation too. Maybe you can organize a few tiers of volunteers, one tier would be daily volunteer coordinators. They would see that all the shifts on their day are filled. Another tier could be morning and afternoon coordinators. Having levels broken down would free up more of your time to focus on big picture issues and not get bogged down by filling every single shift.

 

5. Watch Out for Micromanaging – It is really easy to get wrapped up with having to know exactly what every volunteer is doing, or how many shifts everyone is signed up for. Communication will help everyone understand the mission and tasks for the event, so if you have communicated well, it’s time to let go and trust your volunteers.

 

Are you feeling overwhelmed by all you have to do? Make sure you take care of yourself and your passion. No matter how much you love your cause and working with volunteers if you don’t allow yourself any grace you could burn yourself out.

Check out our blog with strategies to make sure you keep your passion for volunteer coordinating alive: https://blog.volunteerlocal.com/volunteer-coordinator-burnout-and-how-to-avoid-it/

 

Read More

6 Ways to Promote Transparency With Your Volunteers

Transparency is a word that’s thrown around a lot these days – from self-help books, to articles on workplace culture, to relationship goals – and for good reasons. One of which being that people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. Transparent managers are proven to foster better workplace relationships, better employee alignment with company vision, and higher performance & engagement rates.

 

Now that I’ve sold you on all the reasons you should want to be transparent (I totally did that, right?) let’s take a step back. Transparency means “easy to perceive or detect” and, when describing an organization, “open to public scrutiny.” (That second one might sound a little frightening – don’t worry, we’ll get there.) In other words, being clear and open with your volunteers.

 

Here are six ways to promote transparency with your volunteers and encourage all the great community-building benefits I mentioned above:

 

1. Explain Your Decisions

Many of your decisions may seem implied or obvious because you have the advantage of knowing the big-picture. But to your volunteers, a decision may seem sudden or leave them feeling like they don’t know where they stand. When possible, concisely explain what prompted the decision or what specific event or organization goal you hope the decision will help accomplish. This will contextualize the decision for your volunteers and also reinforce your broader mission.

2. Define Volunteer and Staff Roles

There are few things more frustrating than showing up to volunteer at an event and not knowing what you will be doing. Try including role descriptions in the signup process. These can be brief, but give an idea of what the person will be doing during their allotted time. Then, send a follow-up email explaining relevant information like: where to go, who on staff will be available prior to and during the event, and any other things your volunteer would benefit from knowing.

3. Personally Acknowledge Your Volunteers

Make it a point for you or another staff member to check in with volunteers throughout the day. Greet them when they arrive. Ask them how the day is going. And when you see a volunteer doing a great job – tell them! People like to know where they stand with others, especially their supervisors. Make an effort to let your volunteers know they are seen, heard, and appreciated.

4. Make Yourself Available 

Make it easy for your volunteers to contact you or other event organizers and staff members. If there are multiple staff working on the event, include who to contact for different questions or concerns. And finally, include ways to contact supervisors the day of the event for last minute clarifications. 

5. Encourage (and Invite) Criticism

Criticism is not always bad and it doesn’t have to be scary! (Here’s where that “open to public scrutiny” comes into play.) Positive and negative feedback is just that – feedback. Give your volunteers a way to talk about their experience and provide criticism. Then, allow yourself to depersonalize their thoughts and consider them without getting offended. There are so many ways you can make it easy for people to do this: send out a survey, ask them in person, follow up via email and ask what could be improved – however you want to ask, just make sure you do it. 

6. Own When You Are Wrong

Whew! I saved a tough one for last but trust me, how you fail is so much more important than the actual failure itself. Admit that you were wrong, address the shortcoming with the offended party (in person or on the phone if possible), and genuinely express your intent & plan to correct course. 

 

There you have it. Transparency doesn’t happen overnight, but with time, as you model these practices, you will increase trust and retention within your volunteer program.

 

Read More