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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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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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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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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De-Briefing After Your Event

Finally – that event you worked so hard on is over. It finally feels like it’s time to throw on some slippers, grab a bag of chips and wind down with a glass of wine.

But not so fast.

While you should definitely give yourself a pat on the back, the period after an event can give you an opportunity to debrief both for yourself and your volunteer crew while the event is still fresh in your minds.

A de-briefing session can check on what worked and what didn’t for both you and your volunteers. It’s a positive opportunity to put a variety of minds together for a brainstorming sit-down. It can give you a chance to address concerns, highlight strengths and soak in feedback to better future events. And even if you feel like an event went successfully, you will want to check in with your team and volunteers to make sure you’re all on the same page.

Set aside time, have an agenda and get ready to review your goals both for yourself and your team.

 

Questions to ask yourself and your volunteers:

  • Get bigger and better

What are things that can be done to make the next event an even bigger success? Think about both the physical planning of the event and the analyzation of your attendee engagement. Could registration go more smoothly? Do you need more parking? Likewise, is there a way to get more attendees to your event? How was your social media language?

  • The good, the bad and the ugly

Take steps to congratulate yourself, acknowledge what could be improved upon and what needs to be thrown to the wayside. Acknowledge yourself and your volunteers for a job well done, but also discuss what didn’t work and how it can change. 

  • Listen and learn

What kind of feedback did the attendees provide – both explicitly and not explicitly? Brainstorm ways to get attendees to provide direct feedback, but also discuss what was observed. Did people struggle finding things? Was one activity particularly popular?

  • Let’s take action

Create a priority list and determine what actions can and should be done. Making a plan of action sets the tone for both yourself and your volunteers that the feedback they provide will be considered and utilized to make future events even better.

 

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How to Manage Volunteer Expectations

It’s a rare event that doesn’t rely on some kind of volunteer support.

They’re the backbone of any non-profit, along with a surprising number of giant races and multi-million dollar festivals.

Volunteer help is important, but are you getting the people you need? To make sure you are, you need to lay out information clearly for your volunteers.

Make sure you’re open and upfront about what will be expected of your volunteers. Have people sign up for jobs like distributing race packets or checking IDs at the beer tent. A generic “volunteer” option means they don’t know what to expect, and you don’t know what their skills and interests are. That’s a good way to squander talented individuals or end up with an overload of people with similar interests in the same area.

Write up a description for each position, with general information on what is expected. This will make it easy for potential volunteers to find the right fit and stay busy. It also provides a good starting point for super volunteers who may be able to go above and beyond what you’re asking. 

How many times have you visited a website, then went elsewhere because it wanted you to create an account? Sending someone from your website to their email account for verification is inviting huge dropoffs in users. No one wants to remember another password or enter a bunch of information that isn’t relevant to your event. Does your half-marathon really to know the maiden name of everyone’s mother?

Keep it simple and volunteers will come pouring down the funnel.
If they start thinking “Do I really need to do this?” you’re already losing them.

Don’t make anyone dig for information. Have everything a volunteer might need to know in a central place.  Where should they park? Put it on the volunteer page. Where should they check in? Put it on the volunteer page. What should they wear? Who should they get in touch with if they can’t make it? Put it… you get the idea.

 

Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself what you would want to know before waking up on event day. It may feel like second nature to you, but you’ve been planning the event for months. The easier you can make the process for them, the more likely they’ll be to volunteer again.

 

 

For more tips and tricks on how to keep your volunteers happy and create a pleasant nonprofit culture, check out this article on how Your Nonprofit Culture Can Be Ruined by These 3 Common Traps.

 

 

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Diagnosing and Curing “Volunteeritis”

Volunteer management is a significant part of my community relations role at a medical school. Our students are incredibly brilliant, generous, and hardworking people. I’m fortunate to have a highly motivated volunteer pool, but I have come to realize that my success in coordinating them corresponds closely with the other stressors in their lives (biochemistry tests, for example).

If we have a big event on the eve of an exam, there is likely to be an outbreak of “volunteeritis,” as I’ve dubbed the disease of last minute “something came up” cancellations from my volunteers. Here are a few tactics I’ve come up with to prevent this event-crippling disease:

Photo Credit: GettyImages
  1. Pad your volunteer slots – slightly. Deciding upon the right number of volunteers in a job is as important as administering the right dose of a medication. Too many in a position and your volunteers feel like you’re wasting their valuable time and might not feel they’ve had a good experience. Too few and you’re in panic mode. Volunteer atrophy happens, so adding an extra spot or two can help offset last-minute cancellations. I also keep e-mails from people who are interested in volunteering but didn’t have a chance to sign up before the slots filled as a virtual waiting list.

  2. Send a couple rounds of volunteer detail messages. An outbreak of volunteeritis typically strikes a few minutes after I send out the details confirming where to check in, what to wear, etc. I like to have all of the details before I communicate them to volunteers, but sometimes everything doesn’t come together until a few days before the event. I’ve begun to send volunteer details a little more than a week out, whenever possible, and then a second e-mail a day or two before the event that’s been fine-tuned to address questions that have come in, or offer a better map or additional information on the event hashtag, etc.

  3. Set expectations on finding replacements. I’m fortunate that my volunteer base is well-connected with one another, both in person and in a Facebook group specific to sharing campus volunteer opportunities. I try to set up an expectation that volunteers seek a replacement whenever possible. I think this also sets student volunteers up to have stronger professionalism skills when it comes to making career commitments.

I’ve begun to address “volunteeritis” at our big orientation meal packaging event training, which is a kickoff to service for the school year. The med students humor me by laughing when I tell them I’m going to share information about a secret disease they won’t find in their medical school textbooks, but addressing the issue at the start of their experience at school has definitely helped me as they seek out opportunities to make a difference in the community.

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Choosing Your Event Location, Location, Location

The location changes everything when it comes to event planning.

 

Talk to any realtor (or any normal person quoting a realtor) and you’re bound to hear the phrase, “Location, location, location.” Why? Because it makes a difference. Be it a house, a business, or an event, location plays a huge part in its success. The location sets a tone, affects outreach and visibility, and determines overall accessibility and appeal.

 

When the sky’s the limit, you ask, “Where should this event take place?” You dream a minute. Suddenly you’re on a nice sandy beach in your mind before this winter cold snaps you back to reality. Okay, so it’s important to dream big and start a creative brainstorm, while still staying grounded in some of the limitations and intentions behind your event.

 

Top things to consider when planning an event:

 

Availability

There’s no sense getting your heart set on a place if isn’t available how or when you need it. Is the maximum capacity there smaller than your projected attendance? Are there enough rooms that suit your needs? Is it perfect but you’d need to change your date?

 

Cost

More likely than not, you’re working on a budget, maybe even a tight one. What is the cost of all of the possible locations under consideration? Will the cost put too big of a dent in your budget? Is there room in the budget to cut down on costs in another area so more funds can be available for the location? Or, will the location provide food or security or some other segment of your budget that you had allocated elsewhere?

 

Outreach

Is this an area with high visibility? Or a location that is highly desired? Does it carry a “wow factor” that may draw more people? If not, how can you address that or add to its appeal? Will this location expand your reach so that more people are aware and interested in your event than before? Does this location further the mission and align with the goals of your organization?

 

Sponsorships

You may have others who have skin in the game here and therefore a few thoughts on where the event should be held. Be open to suggestions, but also be willing to make an ask. Sometimes business can obtain a sponsorship designation by way of providing the location and features for the event. Not only does that help you in finding a venue, but it broadens their reach in the community as well.

 

Distance

Consider the drive time (as well as public transportation and/or walkability) it takes to get to the event for your target audience. Will a faraway destination provide appeal or deter people from coming? What other local businesses and amenities are nearby? This goes for both the people attending the event and the people volunteering at it.

 

Impact

What kind of impact will a certain location provide? Will it help the community and boost the local economy? Will it cause traffic in an already busy area, making locals dread your event and their longer commute time? Will the aesthetics of the location cause a distraction to attendees or be a source of inspiration? Think about the positive and negative impact the event location will have on attendees, volunteers, staff, and the local community.

 

While we all have certain ideals and dealbreakers, you may have to compromise on some things. Know where you can and should be flexible with your expectations. Prioritize these different elements as best you can to find the location that will be the best fit.   

 

*No control over the location? Sometimes you have say in where your event takes place and sometimes you don’t. But even if the streets for your run are already approved or the conference rooms are already booked–you do still have a lot of control over the location of where your welcome desk is, where the volunteers check in, and what the flow of your event consists of. Be sure to make a new map to reflect the changes so everyone knows where to go. Maybe you’re stuck in the same location as you’ve always been, but there’s a way to be more efficient or effective with the setup of the route, the food, or the volunteer stations.

 

For more information on how to plan an event, check out The Complete Event Planning Guide.

 

 

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