Volunteer engagement: Eight tips for creating a good time onsite

Event volunteer engagement tipsWorking in the not-for-profit management world, we simply could not operate within the organizations we work with without volunteers. Giving your volunteers a great onsite experience by keeping them engaged and happy at your events is one way to recognize and acknowledge their time commitment, contributions and support to volunteer-run organizations – because after all, they are critical to the success of your event.

Before we run through this list, ask yourself, who are your volunteers? What do they expect to get out of volunteering at your event? We recommend doing some informal market research (simply asking a few of your key volunteer contacts in the industry might do the trick) to figure out how to engage the right group of volunteers for your event, and incorporate that into your value proposition when recruiting. While there are some amazingly engaged individuals who are eager and willing to give back to their industries, you will increase your pool of volunteers if you’re outright telling people what’s in it for them and also getting the right group onsite for each event.

Once you are armed with what motivates them to volunteer (from making a contribution, to skill development, to recognition, to name a few), keep that in the back of your mind when you’re planning what to provide your volunteers. Here are a few things to consider when planning:

  1. Don’t be last minute. Have the information that volunteers need several weeks in advance of your event. Some people get nervous if they don’t know where they’re going and what they’re supposed to be doing, not to mention the fact that they’ll be reaching out to you with questions that you may not have the time to answer. On the flip side, if you don’t communicate the expectations in advance, they may simply forget that they committed to volunteering at all.
  2. Don’t skip the orientation. It is important to communicate the expectations around the knowledge they need, and even onsite appearance. Also, consider the possibility that some volunteers won’t read your written communications at all, so a phone call or onsite orientation is strongly recommended to get your message across.
  3. Find your magic number. Making sure there are enough volunteers onsite is important, but the opposite is also true. If there are too many volunteers and not enough jobs for everyone, they’ll get bored and feel unengaged. Delegates may also start to notice idle hands.
  4. Have realistic shifts and breaks. Some of your roles may not be glamorous, such as holding a directional sign during breaks. Switch it up so your volunteers have the opportunity of experiencing some of the more interesting jobs, like greeting VIPs.
  5. Cover their meals and snacks. Make sure they know that, at the very least, they are getting a free meal and ample water or snacks. If you’re marketing your volunteer opportunity to students, this may actually be part of your value proposition.
  6. Assign leads who will take charge if they need to. You can’t be everywhere at once. Identifying strong leads is important so that they can give direction when you’re not there, or who know where to find you should a crisis occur.
  7. Show recognition. This could be anything from gift cards or dinner, to simply acknowledging them during the event or making sure they can include this experience on their CVs. Again, this all depends on what they were hoping to get out of their experience in the first place.
  8. Deliver some of the benefits of the event itself. Is it a networking or educational event? If they can get away to sit in on a session, or make a few contacts, allow them to do so. In many cases, this could be a big part of what they are hoping to get out of the event.

Cover these points early on to make way for your focus on ensuring the overall event is a success!

About the author:

As Director, Association Management & Consulting Services at Redstone Agency Inc., Maddy has worked with over 20 not-for-profit organizations located in Canada and the United States as well as an international association. She is focused on ensuring her clients always receive advice based on best practices and brings a wealth of knowledge in membership engagement, CMS and website platforms, systems and processes management as well as change management. A bilingual member of the team, Maddy also has expertise in providing board and volunteer support and structuring the annual financial reporting systems of many organizations. Maddy has published articles on Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation, green workplaces and taking control of workplace stress. Maddy was named a 2015 Top 40 Under 40 by the Association Forum of Chicagoland and USAE Weekly. This prestigious award recognizes 40 up-and-coming association and not-for-profit professionals who demonstrate high potential for success in leadership roles and exhibit a strong commitment to the association management profession. Maddy is also the 2014 recipient of the Donna Mary Shaw Award from the Canadian Society of Association Executives (CSAE). It is awarded to individuals in the not-for-profit sector with a passion for management and mentoring. Maddy sits on CSAE’s Young Professionals Taskforce and is currently working towards completing her CAE designation.

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