Not every job is a perfect fit for every volunteer–which is simultaneously your biggest challenge and greatest advantage when building a volunteer team.
Volunteering is volunteering is volunteering, right? No, of course not! Every job, duty, and responsibility is different, just like every person who volunteers is different. The trick is finding the right people for the job. When people are working in their sweet spot, they tend to work to their strengths, have a better experience, and stick around in the future. As a volunteer coordinator, that’s a win-win-win!
If you know you have jobs to fill that require a certain skill-set, start by actively recruiting people who would be the best fit. Will you need a medical tent at your festival? Reach out to the local medical school or nursing program to see if they can help connect you with volunteers. Want a group of cheerleaders to encourage runners over the finish line? Contact the local high school to help promote the opportunity to enthusiastic high schoolers or even the cheerleaders themselves in need of volunteer hours. Having a defined role and clear need will make it easier for you to know what type of person to pursue.
Sometimes a volunteer will have a talent, skill, or trait that is not immediately obvious. Maybe that mom who just wants to help the cause currently selling tickets used to be in a band and is great at local promotion. Or maybe the person providing you with pro-bono legal advice is a skilled photographer on the side. Regardless of the age or background of the volunteer, they probably have some sort of hidden talent, so ask them about it! Whether it’s a question you ask when you’re first introduced or it’s an open field on their volunteer registration form–ask volunteers what other skills or interests they might have. Sometimes you may be amazed to find it’s just what you’ve been looking for. You might not need everyone’s extra skills all at once though, so it’s nice to build a document that lists the variety of skills represented all in one place. That way, when the opportunity arises, you know who to call.
After the job has been fulfilled, be honest–was it the right fit? Unfortunately, sometimes you’ll have someone who feels their strength is in one area when it isn’t right for your team yet or maybe they were just in the wrong role all together. That doesn’t necessarily make them a bad volunteer–it might just mean pivoting to a different position in the future. Of course, you’re also going to have dirty or less glamorous jobs that need to be filled. Sometimes that means getting creative and sometimes that means divvying up the fun and not-so-fun jobs on a rotating basis. Assess what works best through surveys or follow-up meetings with volunteers when possible to let them share their thoughts as well. Maybe you thought they were a perfect fit in the kids craft tent, but they would rather have a break from kids and sell merch instead. Realizing that you will have to continue to hone in on where a volunteer fits best will help foster a healthy and strong team of volunteers committed to their roles.
Now that you’ve got the plan for how to do it–go fill those jobs with the right volunteers! Both you and the volunteers will surely be happier for it.