How to Recruit and Retain Volunteers for your Event

Running a successful event usually requires a large staff to ensure that things go smoothly. Your attention will likely be focused on speakers, presenters, and other talent, and you can’t be everywhere at once. But unless your budget has no bounds or you’ve managed to obtain sponsorship, you may not be able to afford to pay all the staff you need.

Event volunteers are the perfect solution to help you increase manpower and stay within budget. Knowing how to recruit and retain volunteers takes a combination of hard work and clever strategy. Not only will you need to find volunteers, but you’ll also need to convince them that it’s worth contributing their time to your event. Finding volunteers for charitable organizations can have an advantage in that people may feel more comfortable donating their time to a non-profit than to a for-profit enterprise.

After you’ve learned how to get volunteers and once they’ve joined your team, you’ll need to master volunteer management – which can be its own animal – and consider volunteer retention strategies so your team sticks with you through the end of the event. But none of these challenges are insurmountable. With Eventbrite at your side, it’s easier than ever to create events that are successful at attracting volunteers from the word go.

How to design your event volunteer program

Your volunteer recruitment strategies should begin as soon as you know how many positions will need filling. You’ll need to have an idea of how much staff your event will require and whether you’ll need volunteers to supplement your staff.

Start with your event needs. When planning an event, think about all of the areas for which volunteers would be a great help. A smooth-running event will typically require positions such as:

  • Setup. Chairs, tables, sound systems, video controls, banners, decorations, and kiosks all need moving in and arranging.
  • Door entry and ticket selling/registration. Position this person at the main entrance.
  • Ushers. They escort people to their seats and are typically used in more formal presentations.
  • Swag handler. If you’re giving out sponsor-donated swag or other gifts, you need someone to do the giving.
  • Merch seller. Selling t-shirts, coffee mugs, or other branded merchandise? You’ll need a cashier.
  • Cleanup. Once the party’s over, it’s time to clean up and pack out, and help is always appreciated.

Come up with a set of event volunteer requirements. What skills and attributes should your ideal volunteers have? For instance, if lifting heavy items or climbing stairs is part of the job, make sure you’re upfront about the physical requirements. Or, if you expect many event attendees who speak Spanish, Chinese, or another language, you may want bilingual volunteers. Also, consider using volunteers who are over 18 or 21 for legal reasons or if alcohol is being served (check your local regulations). Being clear about your requirements will help you find good matches.

How to recruit event volunteers

Once you know your volunteer needs, it’s time to learn how to recruit volunteers so you can find the right people to represent your event brand. Successful volunteer recruitment strategies often include as many avenues of pursuit as possible to increase your pool of potential volunteers.

  • Start with your attendees. People who are on your mailing list or who have registered in the past are already excited about your event. Get in touch to gauge their interest in volunteering.
  • Utilize the community. If there’s a community group involved in the event already, reach out to ask for volunteers. You can also contact local colleges to see if you can share the opportunity with students, and post copies of a volunteer recruitment flyer around campus.
  • Post socially. Using social media to recruit volunteers is the new frontier. Post a call for volunteers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to reach followers and fans who might not also check their email. If your event is for a good cause, you can also promote the event on sites like VolunteerMatch.
  • Offer perks. If you want people to volunteer their time, you should offer them an incentive. It might be that they earn a special level of event access once their shift ends, a discount on merchandise, or tickets for a cool giveaway. The idea is to make volunteers feel special and appreciated.

How to get your volunteers ready

Once you’ve got some recruits, it’s important to know how to manage volunteers successfully. The first step to successful event volunteer management is knowing how to train volunteers for an event so they understand their duties come showtime.

It’s important to be aware of the different requirements virtual and hybrid events can have compared to live-only events. Festival volunteer management of chat rooms and other online communications will be needed, including monitoring to ensure civility and technical smoothness, so volunteers should have a working familiarity with Zoom, Vimeo, and other streaming platforms.

  • Create an orientation program. Whether it’s in person or online, review what volunteers should expect on event day and what will be expected of them. Share details about what to wear, what to bring, where to meet, and what time to report on the day of the event. Provide a contact person whom volunteers can reach out to with questions.
  • Provide training. Build in some extra time to train volunteers so that there is no confusion or last-minute stress on the day of the event. The last thing you want to do is make your volunteers feel like they’re flying solo.
  • Show some gratitude. On the day of the event, take a few minutes to get volunteers pumped up and excited, and thank them for their service. At the end of the day, ask volunteers to share their thoughts and provide feedback on their experience. Follow up after the event with a heartfelt thank-you message or gift.

How to avoid event volunteer fails

Coordinating a team of volunteers can be challenging, even if you follow the steps above. Your volunteer management strategies need to include how to avoid falling into the most common mistakes.

  • Don’t get into legal trouble. The Department of Labor actually has specific rules that distinguish between volunteers and employees to make sure you’re not taking advantage of anyone. Be sure to check those out.
  • Ask volunteers to agree to a code of conduct. Spell out your expectations to eliminate confusion later on. Some key points can include dressing appropriately, being respectful to other volunteers and attendees, and how to report potential problems or safety hazards.
  • Bust the ghosts. It’s highly possible that some volunteers won’t show up after all. People lead busy lives, and volunteer commitments tend to be dropped when life happens. It’s always better to have a few extra volunteers than not enough, so sign up more to account for no-shows.

Volunteers are only as good as the people finding and training them. A strong volunteer recruitment and training strategy can make all the difference. This will help with retention, too. If your volunteers feel you have invested in them and they have been treated well, they’ll be more likely to return.

Find volunteers now

For big events especially, it’s important to know how to attract volunteers. But to find volunteers for your event, just break down the steps:

  1. Determine the roles you need volunteers for;
  2. Recruit volunteers from past attendees, social media posts, colleges, and the community;
  3. Screen and train your volunteers;
  4. Show some appreciation with some special swag just for them.

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