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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What Type of Volunteer Coordinator Are You?

Every volunteer coordinator takes a unique approach to managing their volunteer force, but at the end of the day, our goal is always the same: create a happy volunteer experience. Each type of coordinator has their own style and we’ve rounded up the top pros and cons of each. So take a peak below and ask yourself, am I the cool mom?

The Micromanager

We all know the micromanager. The coordinator peering over every volunteer’s shoulder with the tiniest little comment about every movement made. While it might not be awesome to be micromanaged, you can’t deny the fact that a micromanager has everything managed. You might wear yourself out keeping your eyes on everyone’s movements, but at least you’ll know each part of your event is running exactly as you want it to.

The Let ‘em Fly

Sometimes you just have to let go and let God. Not sure where to put those papers? Just find a good spot. Wondering how you should set up the food and beverage tent? You’re smart! Do whatever looks good to you. The volunteer coordinator that lets her team make the calls and run with them is always fun to work for, but might not be thrilled when she realizes the volunteers threw out all the sign-in sheets and set up the food and beverage table next to the port-a-potties.

The Cool Mom

What kind of music do you guys listen to? Put on whatever’s hip and play it REALLY loud. I love loud music! The cool mom is super cool and all those teenagers guzzling free sodas and blasting explicit music in the middle of the event think the volunteer coordinator is so chill. While the pro here is that teenagers think you’re cool, the con is everything else (also teenagers aren’t that cool and we don’t need to please them). This is the only volunteer coordinator type that we’d probably stray away from no matter what.

So there you have it, volunteer coordinators. We know you don’t all fit into these three little stereotypes, but think about how your managing style works with your volunteers and any possible negative effects. At the end of the day, do what feels right and it’s bound to work out (does that make us a “Let ‘em fly?”).

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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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Your Needs Unmet – How to Meet Them with VolunteerLocal

Before I started blogging for VolunteerLocal, I started using VolunteerLocal. At first, I was working at a small nonprofit that occasionally hosted little volunteer opportunities. I used the free version of the platform, and it helped me manage my little signups simply. When I moved to a role at a University became responsible for events that necessitated hundreds of volunteers, I knew exactly which platform I wanted to use to protect my sanity and make signing up a breeze for the volunteers. (Any guesses?) That’s right: I created a new VolunteerLocal account and upgraded to a paid version of the platform that I continue to build into my annual budget at work.

The VolunteerLocal platform meets my (every-evolving) needs year after year, and it will meet yours if you:  

 

 

Need an easy way for volunteers to sign up for specific shifts and jobs. Volunteers love not having to create a log-in with a password they will constantly forget. With VolunteerLocal, they can sign up using whatever e-mail address is most convenient for them, and they receive a confirmation message automatically. Volunteers (and volunteer managers) can see exactly how many spots are open for any given shift and job. 

 

 

Need a dashboard to track your progress. Customize your VolunteerLocal login so you can get a quick snapshot of how many shifts remain open, how many are filled and how many unique and overall volunteers you have participating in your event. It even gives you a countdown of days until the event, if you want! This is a great motivator or nerve-calmer, depending on how recruitment is going. 

 

 

Need to collect volunteer T-shirt sizes. No need to guess at sizes for volunteers and accidentally over-order a batch of XXLs. The ability to customize signup information eliminates the need to track down volunteers and individually request their size, mobile phone number, or any specialized info that you need, like whether they’re with a certain company or over the age of 13. You can build it all in, and keep it constant or change it up and make it unique for any event.  

 

 

Need an easy way to communicate with volunteers. Paid VolunteerLocal accounts allow you to send mass messages through the platform to your whole volunteer team, or customize instructions and follow-up per job. 

Need an easy way for volunteers to cancel their shifts. If you don’t want to deal with e-mails and voicemail excuses, you can allow volunteers to cancel or swap shifts. Or, if you’re like me, you can turn that function off. Social sharing is also an option, if you want your volunteers to be able to tweet out or post to Facebook about their shifts and help you with your marketing efforts. 

Need a simple day-of sign in. You can easily export your volunteer lists and data as a spreadsheet. Again, you can so this en masse for the whole group, or export batches for specific job sign-ins. You can also use the platform to check in volunteers electronically on the Grow Plan.  

Need a way to store your annual volunteer data. I like to archive my events in VolunteerLocal after they’ve happened, and then at the end of the year, I take them out of archive and collectively export the data to get a big picture of who has volunteered and how often/long. I’ll also pull a past event out of archive if I want to make volunteer staffing plans based on the previous year’s successes and challenges. 

 

 

Need other people to be able to manage different events. With various paid VolunteerLocal accounts, you can have multiple administrators who can access only the events and information you give them permission to control. This is great if you’re working with student clubs and want to give access to student leaders, but only for the organizations they oversee. 

 

 

Need an assistant. What volunteer coordinator wouldn’t like an assistant to help with busywork and data? VolunteerLocal is like a virtual assistant that can pull reports for you faster than you can grab yourself a cup of coffee. Plus, it never takes a vacation day! 

 

 

Need to talk to a person if you’re stuck. VolunteerLocal has amazing customer service. They have been a phone call or e-mail away when I’ve had rare issues, and give me pointers on shortcuts and tricks that make using the platform even more fun.

 

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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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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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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/

 

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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.

 

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