It’s hot, it’s humid, dogs are panting, babies are crying, you’re gnawing on a salty corn dog and you’ve just spotted a child who looks suspiciously like your seven-year-old climbing into the prize-winning pig pen.
You need a beer.
Perhaps no one understands this better than Steve Linn, the man behind-the-scenes of the infamous Iowa Craft Beer Tent at the Iowa State Fair. This year’s big event will showcase 18 of the 41 local brewpubs in Iowa. “The idea is to promote local breweries,” says Steve. “I love introducing people to great Iowa beers.” Although only in its second year, with 36 taps and over 200 volunteers, the Iowa Craft Beer Tent has become the notorious hotspot for a cold one at the State Fair.
Don’t know much about Iowa Craft Beers? Don’t worry. “Our event is not full of beer lovers,” says Steve, “it’s full of people going to the fair.” Plenty of fair-goers use the color-coded system that Steve and his team have put in place to point undecided palates in the right direction. Yellow tape means lighter beer, green tape means hoppier, bitter beer, and brown tape means you’re in for a darker brew. And this helps the volunteers, too. “The volunteers get about five minutes before they start working to taste all the beers,” Steve laughs. “But after about an hour, they’re pros–they’re explaining those beers to people like bartenders.”
This year’s volunteers also got a taste of something else: an online automated volunteer registration process through VolunteerLocal. In their first year, Steve coordinated his volunteers with what he jokingly called “the sudoku puzzle”–an excel spreadsheet with hundreds of empty and blacked out cells. “I had this PDF document that I would update every three hours,” he said. “It was a monotonous nightmare.” Steve estimates he dedicated about 100 hours to volunteer coordination for last year’s beer tent–and he was left with around 70 extra t-shirts (you can purchase one here), because he wasn’t sure how many to order.
This year, Steve ditched the “sudoku puzzle” and the guesswork. He registered all 239 volunteer shifts on his VolunteerLocal page. The much-anticipated volunteer sign-up date was scheduled for 8:00am on May 1st. “I didn’t get our live VolunteerLocal registration page linked to Facebook and Twitter until 8:05am,” says Steve. “I had people calling me saying their ‘refresh’ buttons were breaking!” In one hour, 140 spots were gone. After one day, there were only 18 spots left. Steve also customized his registration page to collect information on t-shirt sizes and colors, which means almost no leftover volunteer t-shirts this year. Money saved, zero hours glued to a spreadsheet, and happier volunteers? We’ll drink to that.