5 Tips for Managing Event Volunteers

Do you manage an event that relies on a committee of volunteers or employees to plan and run your event annually? 


My years of experience managing events runs the gamut of corporate, nonprofit, and social events. I love them all, but nonprofit holds a special place in my heart. I love the spirit of volunteer led events and the creativity and teamwork environment that comes from people working together toward a common goal. Volunteers have big hearts and big spirits. 


However, I won’t pretend it’s all smiles and magical moments behind the scenes. Volunteer led events can be a breeding ground for drama, hurt feelings and lack of follow through and engagement. So how do you avoid lack of volunteer engagement and drama in nonprofit and corporate events?  Here are 5 pitfalls to avoid:


  1. Your volunteer led event is really led by the same couple of people who come back year after year. While it may seem convenient to rely on your old faithfuls, the truth is, they are probably going through the motions a bit. They have a formula after a few years and the event has become plug and play for them. New ideas are often squashed for a “this is how we’ve always done it approach.” There’s no room left for creativity or improvement, and it leaves other volunteers bored, alienated, or feeling useless. The solution? Change it up! While there’s nothing wrong with last year’s event chair continuing to help, after a year or two, move them to past chair and bring in a new chair. They’ll still be there to pass down wisdom, files, contact info, etc., but the decision making will be made with someone with fresh eyes and a motivation to make a difference. 
  2. Your event committee is too top heavy. Much like the first point, this is caused by no change in leadership. Oftentimes, a clique of “doers” will form, and they’ll take all of the fun tasks of planning, managing, and decision making and then try to assign more menial or undesirable tasks to committee members. This might work the first year, but year two, other committee members start to feel a bit like unappreciated lackeys there to serve the event chairs instead of the organization. This leads to major volunteer dropout and may even affect their overall support of your organization. The solution? Create subcommittees that include both long-time and new volunteers so that all volunteers have a stronger voice in their assigned area. Tasks can be divided more fairly, and volunteers won’t feel drowned out and unable to make a difference.
  3. The event budget is unclear. While the full event budget doesn’t need to be disclosed to every volunteer, their subcommittee budget should be very clear. Not knowing their resources to accomplish their goals is a difficult position to be in and can lead to volunteers spending money out of their own pockets to pay for supplies or walking away in frustration because they feel it’s too unorganized. Sometimes organizers are concerned that if a subcommittee knows they have a budget, they’ll try to spend every dime, but especially with nonprofit fundraisers, these volunteers are here because they are passionate about your organization and want you to succeed. The solution? Give each subcommittee a clear idea of their budget and your expectations for how it will be used. They may come back with ideas for cutting the budget in some areas to make room in others, which can open up new doors you hadn’t considered. But at least it gives a starting point and some direction. 
  4. Your expectations of event volunteers are too demanding. Required meetings at 9am on Monday? Bad idea. Requiring volunteers to spend large amounts of money to be on the committee? This could exclude some of your best volunteers. Giving volunteers tasks outside of their comfort zone or that they aren’t interested in (i.e. cold calling)? Guaranteed to cause a mass volunteer dropout. The solution? Remember your volunteers are just that – volunteers. Taking too much of an authoritarian approach will cause them to walk away. Focus on reliability, such as showing up to meetings when they agreed to the time, making an effort to put in the hours they promised, following through on tasks they signed up for. And give grace. While it may get frustrating, they are often helping your organization on top of a full- time job and family commitments. Look for patterns over one time events and suggest adjustments if they seem unable to follow through or show up consistently. It's also a good idea to start with a simple volunteer intake survey, indicating their general availability, interests and areas of expertise.
  5. You forget to show gratitude. It sounds simple but showing your volunteers gratitude can be easily forgotten when you’re in the throes of planning and can go a long way toward motivating and rewarding them. The solution: Send group and individual emails, thank you notes, and texts on a regular basis acknowledging volunteers’ accomplishments and thanking them. If it’s in the budget, consider a wrap up thank you party for the volunteers where you can get feedback and set the groundwork for next year while celebrating their success! 

Planning an event with volunteers can be fun, rewarding and fruitful. Hiring a professional event planner, like Events by JEM, to manage your volunteers can ensure a smooth process that keeps volunteers coming back year after year! Call or email us today or visit my calendar to book your free consultation to discuss your event planning needs.  

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