By Robin Shapiro

Even with the most thorough preparation, unforeseen circumstances can make your event morning feel chaotic. One of the things you can do to make the event run as smoothly as possible is set your volunteers up for success. They should know where to go, what to expect and what to do before they even arrive. Inclement weather, construction, and other potential event day challenges are no match for a well-prepared volunteer team. Here are a few suggestions for making sure your volunteers are ready to serve as soon as they arrive on site.

Before Your Event

  1. Tell your volunteers what they will be doing and when they will be done. Share a timeline and specific responsibilities for each volunteer job or team. We all know that not every volunteer job is glamorous or exciting. Bust out your creative language skills to make every job sound fun and explain how each volunteer contributes to the overall success of the event.
  2. Clearly outline the requirements for each job. It’s frustrating for everyone when a volunteer shows up for a job that requires lifting 50 lbs. only to find out that she can only lift 10 lbs. Include both physical requirements like lifting, standing for long periods of time, etc. and cognitive requirements like the ability to read a map, use GPS, etc.
  3. Tell your volunteers what to wear (closed toe shoes, clothes they don’t mind getting wet, etc.), what they need to bring (water bottle, sunscreen) and what supplies you will provide. For example, we provide our volunteers with size large work gloves. We know size large doesn’t work for everyone, so those who need other sizes should plan to bring their own.
  4. Consider appointing a captain to lead each volunteer team. Hold a training call with each captain to review expectations, volunteer team responsibilities and site/route specifics. The call doesn’t have to be long; five to ten minutes will be enough to make sure they have all the information they need to successfully lead their team. It might seem like a crunch to fit these calls in the weeks leading up to your event but holding them in advance will ensure better training and will free up precious time on event morning, so you can attend to other responsibilities.
  5. While you are selecting volunteer captains, identify 3 – 4 volunteers to staff Volunteer Check-In. Hold a short pre-event training call with these volunteers to review check-in reports and procedures. They should plan to be the first volunteers to arrive on event day and should be ready and willing to take responsibility for deploying volunteers to their assigned tasks.
  6. Consider using text messages and social media rather than email to send your final event reminders. Many people, particularly younger generations, don’t check their email regularly, so important last-minute information could get missed or ignored. Keep it short and to the point. The goal is to remind them when and where to show up! Make sure to link to your website if they need to reference additional information. We find that texting is a handy tool for sending final reminders as it keeps the message top of mind and also offers the opportunity for volunteers to quickly confirm that they will or will not be there.

On-site Volunteer Check-in

  1. Your Volunteer Check-in team should be the first to arrive. Make sure they have all their supplies and are ready before checking in any other volunteers, including Volunteer Captains. You’ll probably have a few eager volunteers waiting to check-in first thing. It’s ok if they wait for a few minutes while you get your Volunteer Check-in team ready to go. If your check-in team isn’t completely ready before they start, you’ll feel like you are running behind all morning long. Once you have your check-in team ready, turn over the entire check-in process to them, so you can focus on getting your volunteer captains in place.
  2. Volunteer Captains should be the second group to arrive. Once they have checked in, review any final event details or changes with them, then give each of them a sign with the name of their team prominently displayed. The captains should disperse around the check-in tent and hold up their signs to begin welcoming volunteers. Once volunteers have checked in and received their assignment, they can gather with their captains and teammates away from the Volunteer Check-In Tent.
  3. Empower Volunteer Captains to do the more detailed training for their teams. Based on the pre-event training call you held with each of them, they should know how many volunteers to expect, when to deploy their team, where to go and what to do. Allowing the captains to lead the training will free up you and other members of the staff for other responsibilities and will position the captains as the point of contact for volunteers throughout the day.
  4. Finally, rather than having all volunteers arrive at the same time, allow volunteers to arrive based on the time their jobs will start. This will keep the Volunteer Check-In Tent from being overwhelmed at any one time, and it will prevent you from wasting your volunteers’ time. Nothing is worse than being asked to arrive at 6 am just to stand around for an hour and a half before you’re needed. The route team will probably need to be in place before the festival team. Have your route volunteers arrive first and let your festival volunteers arrive a little later. This will prevent your festival volunteers from having to stand around or worse, wander away while you deploy volunteers to the route.

Some of these suggestions might seem obvious but you’d be surprised at how many times I’ve volunteered for an event only to feel like the staff was not prepared for my arrival and that my presence and contribution was an afterthought. It’s important to remember that while you create the structure for your event, it’s the volunteers who provide the muscles that bring the event to life. Taking the time to design detailed volunteer processes and thoughtful pre-event communication will benefit everyone in the long run. Your volunteers will feel valued and your event will run more smoothly.

As Manager of Local Operations for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day®, Robin gets to combine her love of volunteerism and leadership development with endurance events. She currently volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Girls on the Run, and +Swappow PLUS Foundation.

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