50 Tips for Organizing Volunteers
Whether you are a nonprofit director, a PTO president or a team leader at work planning a community service project, you will be charged with recruiting, organizing and recognizing volunteers. These tips will help make your volunteer coordination easy and successful.
Rounding up people to help with your event is one of the most time-intensive and crucial pieces of any successful event.
- Ask Early — Start asking as soon as you know the date of your event. This could be for your school’s open house, a sports team parent meeting or youth group retreat.
- Ask Often — Reach out for assistance throughout the year. If people are unable to help with your first event, they might help next time. Ask more than once, too. They might have had something change in their calendar that allows them to participate.
- Start Small — Begin by asking your own pool of colleagues and friends who have volunteered with you at events in the past. These are “trained” people who can also help to spread the word.
- Ask Directly — Ask people face-to-face what you would like them to do. It is hard to turn down someone when they have made the time to speak to you.
- Get Specific — Articulate exactly what a volunteer’s job will be. People like to know the details of what they will be doing — selling tickets, making snow cones, leading tours, etc. If special training is required before the event, communicate those time requirements clearly.
- Show Passion — Share your enthusiasm for your event, explaining why it is a good cause. Go beyond “we need the money.” Demonstrate how the cause helps the community.
- Follow up with Event Attendees — Planning for next year starts at the conclusion of your event. Attendees might take a special interest in your cause and want to help make next year’s event even better.
- Look for People Already Committed to Your Cause — Consider asking people who volunteer at similar events if they’d be interested in helping your cause.
- Amplify Your Efforts — Ask volunteers if they have friends who would like to join them or can think of any contacts who might enjoy this type of volunteer effort. Follow up by getting their contact information.
- Make the Vision Clear — Communicate the goal of the event. Understanding the big picture helps volunteers see where they fit in and advance the overall mission.
Coordinate volunteers and donors on a sign up! SAMPLE
Tools to Use for Recruiting
Maximizing your volunteer base is key to planning successful events. Ask people as many different ways and places as you can think to reach the most interested parties.
- Try Email — Go through your own email directory and send out a bulk "Let's Work Together!" message for volunteers. Share basics of the event — date, time, place, cause — and spell out specific needs such as decorations setup, concessions stand assistance or trash clearing.
- Send an Annual Call For Help — Using an annual call for help can be effective. Detail all the needs the group expects to have for the year. Consider a telephone message once a year that queries your volunteers how they can help throughout the year.
- Send a Newsletter — Many companies, schools and booster groups have a regularly scheduled newsletter. Some are electronic and others are sent via snail mail. Include your contact information so interested volunteers can follow up directly with you.
- Use SignUpGenius — Posting a sign up link on your social media page, website or via ANY channel of communication helps get the word out. The best part? All of the responsibilities and options can be laid out beforehand, so volunteers know exactly what is needed and when. Find out how to get started HERE.
- Leave a Voicemail — Many companies and schools have an automated voice messaging alert system. Ask an administrator if an "all-call" can go through this system asking for volunteers, as well as sharing information about the event.
- Create an Annual Mailing — Many groups have a bulk mailing that goes to the beneficiaries of your volunteer efforts. Place a Volunteer Request sheet — a one-page sheet that lists the volunteer jobs, time frames and descriptions — into that mailing for completion and return.
- Attend Meetings — Ask to be placed on the agenda at your business, organization or PTO meeting. Have a clipboard to gather follow-up contact information. Have your contact information printed on the agenda so that interested volunteers can contact you easily.
- Organize an Interest Meeting — Plan one or several interest meetings where potential volunteers can learn more about your organization, hear about the particular event and understand more about volunteer expectations. Most people are thankful for a template or “game plan” before they volunteer.
- Send a Feedback Form — Send a feedback form to volunteers after your event when you thank them for their help. Ask if they’d be interested in helping again next year and you’ll be ahead of the game.
- Generate a Final Report — Include the names and contact information of key volunteers in your final report. As you hand off your final report to the next leader, encourage them to look at those names for key helpers in future years. Let people know that they will be asked to help again!
Organize volunteer shifts easily with an online sign up! SAMPLE
Volunteers will come from different background with a variety of skills. Having many options available means that more people can get involved. Here are some ideas.
- Consider Technical Needs — Need a website update, contact database revamp, social media help or graphic design? If you identify a tech-savvy volunteer, make good use of that skillset! Plus, many of these tasks can be done off-site and with the volunteer's availability in mind.
- Solicit In-Kind Donations — What is a great teacher luncheon without food? A concession stand without bottled beverages? Give people the option to volunteer by providing a donated item. Provide drop-off times and sites.
- Involve Family Members — Include your family in the volunteer effort. Give volunteers the option — and make it feasible — of bringing children with them while they volunteer. Encourage their spouse to work with them.
- Offer Pre-event Opportunities — Offer a few options that require a smaller time commitment before the event. For instance, is there a paint session to make banners or an assembly line to fill goody bags? Do you need copies made?
- Provide a Cash Option — Understand that some people would rather give money than time. Offer a “buy out” from volunteer time. For example, a parent could send in a gift card for lunch instead of a covered dish for a potluck.
Collecting payments and fees is simple with SignUpGenius Payments!
- Offer the Opportunity to Learn Something New — Encourage volunteers to try something different! Just because you are an accountant doesn’t mean you have to be the ticket seller. Always wondered how the popcorn was made? Sign up for concessions.
- Create an Environment for Meeting New People — Rotate people through different jobs so they have a chance to meet other volunteers and participants.
- Put the Power of Friendship to Good Use — Give people the chance to sign up to volunteer or lead with friends. They will have social time together while spending time helping a good cause.
- Maintain flexibility Remember that people often want to participate somehow in the event even though they’re volunteering. Could they hand out programs beforehand and still participate? Brainstorm other options.
- Ask About Preferences — Remember that you need all types of people — leaders, followers, detail-oriented and big-picture volunteers. Ask about interests from the beginning so you have a mix of people and skillsets.
Even if you have an endless list of volunteers, if you don’t know how to effectively schedule and make use of them, you are sure to hit many more bumps along the road.
- Determine What You Need for the Event —
FOR ANNUAL EVENTS: Check for Past Records. Find a final report or get records from a previous year to check volunteer needs.
For NEW EVENTS: Determine Overall Goals. Make sure you have the overarching vision laid and share it with your key volunteer base. Make sure everyone understands the main goal.
- Analyze Event Logistics — Determine what areas need to have committees or chairs. For example, baseball photography could be a committee of one, while 5K Walk/Run registration probably needs a chair and three to four on-site team members.
- Create Job Descriptions — Determine what each volunteer function needs accomplished and how that will be completed. Try to condense descriptions to two or three sentences.
- Place Volunteers in Areas that Match Their Talents — Let people sign up for what they want — but ask them to switch to another area if you think they will do a better job there. For example, a good-humored person is better at selling tickets than popping popcorn.
- Provide Thorough Information — Create a website or brochure that has your contact information and key information about the event.
- Coordinate Volunteer Attire — Pick matching attire or gear to set you apart. Wear unique or color-coordinated outfits. This helps you be easily identified as a volunteer at your event, as well as create united volunteers.
- Send Reminders — Send reminders to volunteers several days before your event. SignUpGenius makes life easier by sending out automatic reminders to group members who have signed up. Bonus: Organizers can email from the site to notify your volunteers about changes or updates.
- Establish Check-in Details — Communicate a clear time and place where volunteers should check in. Reminder: Make sure volunteers know where to park their car.
- Communicate Logistics — Tell volunteers any rules they’re expected to follow, such as if they can eat or drink on the job. Let them know where restrooms are and where they will be stationed during the event.
- Write the Final Report — Begin filling in the blanks for your final report. This allows you to note improvements and successes as you go, as well as prepare something for the next person to lead.
Customized sign ups help get the right people for the job! SAMPLE
Say Thank You
Volunteers do the work because they want to support the cause, but they feel truly appreciated and valued when you take the time to THANK them! Plus, it increases the chances they will help again.
- Express Gratitude at the Event — Make it a point to go by and personally thank as many volunteers as possible during the event. That connection makes an impression and is important.
- Send an Email — Write a short follow-up email within 48 hours to give a quick and solid pat on the back. If using SignUpGenius, you can even send a thank you email directly from your sign up. Consider adding a save-the-date for next year’s event.
- Write a Note — Take the time and put pen to paper. Even in this age of technology, people appreciate the gesture.
- Include in a Newsletter — Place an article in the next regular newsletter or have a small “Shout Out” section where you can place the names of the volunteers for recognition.
- Post on Your Event Website or Social Media — If your school or organization has a website, place a THANK YOU listing of those families, parents or members who helped.
- Plan a Volunteer Appreciation Event — Host a post-event gathering to celebrate. Volunteers can share stories and reminisce about a job well done.
Hold a Volunteer Appreciation Week! SAMPLE
- Compile a Post-event Review — Gather to de-brief with your volunteers. Solicit pros and cons, and brainstorm other ideas, themes or improvements. Invite all volunteers to attend. This can be a formal affair or a quick meeting in the bleachers after the baseball game.
- Give a Traditional Gift each Year — Start a tradition of giving a gift such as a plaque, piece of crystal or framed certificate for committee chairs or lead volunteers. Even a trinket such as a charm for a bracelet will help recognize your best volunteers.
- Consider Volunteer Perks — Give volunteers extras such as T-shirts, leftover flowers from table decorations, coupons for the bounce house or a beverage.
- Hand Out Paper Plate Awards — Create a tradition of handing out nontraditional awards. Some ideas: A Silver Tongue Award for someone who had to speak unexpectedly at the microphone or The Clutch for someone who kept a silent auction table from tipping over.
Planning events and organizing people can seem overwhelming, but having a plan will save you from a lot of headaches. From beginning to end, think about your volunteers and how to best take advantage of their talents. The best way to start planning your next event is successfully navigating your current one.
Betsy Biederstedt is a retired school principal who balances her time now as the home administrative assistant for her family's many activities.