Tackling the Big Hurdles

Congratulations! You’re in charge of organizing an event! Whether it’s your first time or your fiftieth, there are certain challenges that can disrupt your planning process. But have no fear! There’s always a solution or another way of looking at things. 

 

We each tend to have different things that intimidate us, and other items that don’t stress us out at all. Below are some typical categories of stressors you may encounter. Let’s take a look at some of these major obstacles and how you can set yourself up for success!

PEOPLE

Volunteers

I have vivid memories of recruiting volunteers during my first event. For me, defining volunteer job descriptions was an easy task. Coordinating volunteers and building relationships with them before, during, and after the event seemed to come naturally. But where in the world do you find these volunteers? That was the piece that seemed insurmountable. 

Thankfully my organization had an existing volunteer database that I could use as a starting point, and over time I learned how to extend and leverage my professional network to make recruitment a little easier. What assets are at your disposal? List them out to help you see your strengths as well as the gaps you need to fill.

No matter what part of volunteer management is tripping you up, VolunteerLocal has likely covered it! Take a look at some of these top posts. As with most things in the world of volunteer management, investing in solid strategies pays significant dividends in future years.

 

Event Attendees

Some people have a knack for resolving issues with guests or participants on the day of an event. For others it takes more planning ahead of time. Think through communication strategies to efficiently alert the necessary people of developing complications. Identify as many possible problems that may arise and have standard responses for each. As you incorporate these strategies and responses into your volunteer training, you can gain confidence and experience when the actual event arrives.

 

PLACES

Venue

Location is everything! But it’s also not worth being paralyzed about the decision. Before securing space, define the scope of your event as far as number of guests, type of atmosphere you’re hoping to create, etc. This list is now your wish list! It helps limit your search and focus on the essentials when visiting potential venues. Though there are times we have the means to get our dream venues, be sure to note which items on your wish list are negotiable. Many times simple décor and lighting tweaks can enhance ambiance; the location and number of bathrooms, however, cannot be adjusted. Think about the big picture and get creative!

 

Vendors

Once you secure a location, there’s usually still a myriad of vendors to select: catering, concessions, DJ, printers for marketing items, etc. Again, be sure to list out all your needs before you start calling potential vendors. Knowing what you’re asking for gives you more confidence and makes for more effective communication.

 

THINGS

Budgeting & Sponsors

Where would we be without the numbers? Creating budgets and securing sponsors make a huge difference, yet these two topics come with the biggest intimidation factor, at least for me personally. We have some great resources on this topic, as well, but be assured: research in this area really pays off! 

Just as with other categories of challenges, taking the time to fully define what you’re asking for makes a difference. Know your financial boundaries. Know what you’re looking for in a sponsor partnership, and know what you have to offer in return. 

 

Tackle the hard things, and you’re bound to have a great event!

 

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Requesting Feedback from Volunteers

What do you do after the race as been run, the kegs are empty, and the unsold art is safely packed away? 

Receiving feedback can sometimes be scary, but it is vital to improving our events and the volunteer programs that make them great.

It would be nice to have a break and not think or worry about your event for a few days, weeks, or even months. Maybe a few other things in your life have suffered as the event moved closer and your attention shifted to full-focus as you prepared for the big day. Before you can dust off your hands and say, “see ya next year,” we think you should consider one last item on that to-do list: get feedback.

Why is attendee (and especially volunteer) feedback so important? To help you uncover those blind spots. To make simple changes that can significantly impact the experience of all your volunteers on-site. To make the volunteer program more fun, accessible and impactful. To keep your best volunteers coming back, year-over-year.

Let’s dive in. There is more than one way to get feedback from your volunteers and you might find a combination of a few gets you the best information. No matter what you decide on make sure you read the responses and work to incorporate their feedback. 

 

Informal Questions/Chit Chat 

This includes conversing with volunteers as they check-out of their shifts, or at the post-event party. It can also include asking staffers or colleagues for their thoughts back at your desks, after the event is over. Sometimes, asking for feedback in this way (casual, informal settings) can produce the most honest, in-the-moment results – but you may not get the most thoughtful responses with this method.

Pros 

Cons

  • This doesn’t have to happen at the end of the event and could help inform some of your choices along the way. 
  • You can get feedback right away. It is easy for people to forget about what they would make comments about. 
  • Not everyone will be honest in an informal situation. 
  • You could get heat of the moment comments that aren’t accurate to the whole way someone feels

 

Digital (or Paper) Surveys

We recommend using a free service like SurveyMonkey or SurveyPlanet, but if you want to get fancy, you might consider a more advanced solution like Qualtrics. Online and paper surveys tend to have the highest submission rates when an incentive is offered to complete them – you could randomly choose one recipient to receive a free festival “basket” (leftover merch, anyone?!) or a set of passes to next year’s event.

Pros 

Cons 

  • People are more likely to be honest and they can think of how they want to word things. 
  • Can take place over week or two giving people time to think and give thoughtful feed back. 
  • There have to be a set of questions so it doesn’t leave much room for discussion or elaborating. 
  • You can’t force anyone to fill it out so you might not get as much information as you want. 

 

End-of-Year Meeting

This may entail bringing everyone together (staff, volunteers, and captains) in a conference room or – if you’d prefer a more open setting, a post-event party – to share ideas and feedback in a collaborative, discussion-oriented way. Virtual meetings count, too! Think: conference calls, Google Hangouts or Skype sessions.

Pros

Cons

  • Good time for everyone to get together after the event is over and maintain relationships
  • allow for more discussion on topics that are important to everyone. 
  • Not everyone is comfortable with conformation and may be less inclined to speak up about an issue. 
  • Happens at the end of the event so you can’t change anything during the event. 

 

Suggestion Box/Continual Feedback 

The old classic. It never hurts to have a brightly colored box stationed at check-in/out, with bits of paper and pencils nearby to deliver anonymous feedback in real-time. Sometimes, your biggest detractors (with the most valuable feedback) won’t take the time to complete an online survey, and certainly may not feel inclined to join the post-event gathering. An Honesty Box is a simple, low-cost and low-fi investment that is guaranteed to deliver.

Pros

Cons

  • Your volunteers will have the ability to be heard right away instead of waiting until they are called upon to deliver feedback, either virtually or in-person.  
  • You can start collecting feedback before the event occurs, and make changes leading up to the big day to ensure everyone has the best time possible. 
  • Feedback isn’t digitally stored or tracked in the cloud, so if you want any kind of reporting, you’ll have to manually enter this data into a system online.
  • If it is all anonymous it can lead to more of a venting tool than getting constructive feedback. 

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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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Ten Myths About Managing Your Volunteers

Volunteer coordination is hard work, and there are a lot of misconceptions about what the role entails (and how to be successful along the way). We’re here today to de-bunk some of the most common myths we hear about volunteer management.

  1. You’re on call, 24-7. If you’re passionate about your job, managing volunteers could turn into an all-day, every-day gig. But with established communication protocols and an active team, you can (and should!) unplug. 
  2. You can’t solicit volunteers for donations. Many volunteers see their time as their primary contribution to an organization, but if there are costs associated with onboarding (background checks, etc.) asking them to cover those fees is a good path into the donor pipeline. 
  3. Volunteer trainings need to involve slides and manuals. Sure, you should cover compliance and protocols in an onboarding, but bring the mission to life with role-playing, behind-the-scenes tours or other activities that engage and inspire volunteers. 
  4. You should be happy with whoever you get. That old “beggars can’t be choosers” philosophy could really disrupt your organization. Screening volunteers is critical. They should be a right match for the organization, and placed in a role that maximizes their skills.  
  5. There’s no professional development for volunteer managers. So many people fall into this line of work. Seek out a support system of other volunteer managers who can share best practices through your local United Way, nonprofit professionals network or online forums. They can also recommend conferences and webinars to grow your skills. 
  6. Volunteer programs are free. While a volunteer program can bring great value to your organization, they’re like a garden that needs attention and investment to yield the best results. Don’t forget to build recognition materials, management software and other supplies into your budget. 
  7. Your organization should jump on every Day of Service opportunity or group volunteer request. Saying ‘no’ to someone (or lots of someones) who want to contribute to your organization can seem crazy. But if the activity is out of scope for your organization, a ‘yes’ can lead to confusion and cause more harm than good. 
  8. You’re the only one recruiting volunteers for your cause. Partnerships – with corporations, colleges and universities and other civic organizations – can create productive volunteer pipelines. 
  9. Liability and insurance isn’t your territory. Make sure you are working closely with your organizations’ compliance arm to ensure both volunteers and the organization are not putting each other at risk. 
  10. Measuring volunteer impact is impossible. With proper tracking of volunteer hours and assignments, your organization can put a relative dollar value on volunteer power. And by collecting stories of volunteer initiatives and outcomes, your leveraging powerful anecdotes to support your cause.

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