Community & Current Events

How to get enough good volunteers

By: Nancy Angus

Author: Canadian Living

Community & Current Events

How to get enough good volunteers

By: Nancy Angus

One of the great problems of special events is the shortage of volunteers. Events do take a lot of labour-power. A small board can be overwhelmed. Staff alone can never keep up. If you hire people to run the event, the costs go through the roof. You may not know any now, but you can recruit them, more easily than you think. Here are the secrets.

1. Do the homework of special events fundraising. Find out how to organize the event. What jobs will you need to create and recruit individuals for? Do this homework by reviewing the plans and results of previous events of a similar nature. Look at the experience of your own organization. Examine events hosted by another agency in your community. Experienced organizers will alert you to essential volunteer roles you might not discover you need till it's too late!

2. Create an organizational chart. An organizational chart is helpful for two reasons:
• First, you will have a chance to clarify roles and relationships between various players in the special event organization.
• Second, you have a tool to use to recruit and orient others. Then everyone knows how he/she fits into the big picture. You may want to include a Volunteer Recruitment Coordinator in your plan, so that there's someone designated to recruit others.

3. Do a basic calendar of organizing. Plot a schedule. Base it on your research, your own experience and your planning skills. Work backwards from the date of the event to be sure you have enough lead time for each activity. Allow time for mistakes, delays and a little procrastination by your organizers.

4. Develop job descriptions for each task within the plan. Before you recruit volunteers, you must know what they have to do. In addition, people are entitled to know what's expected of them before they agree to take on a task. Including the purpose and responsibilities of a job is fundamental to good volunteer management. Include notes on:
• time required
• length of commitment
• qualifications or skills required orientation or training provided
• benefits to gain.

You can sometimes find example in files of past events. Or perhaps you can ask someone who has done the job before to write down what the task involves. Get it on paper.

5. Recruit the best possible person for each job. Make sure everyone knows you need help. Post the job descriptions on public bulletin boards in your office. Include "help wanted" ads in your newsletter. Contact the Volunteer Centre in your community and ask for help in these activities.

Volunteer Job Fairs are being held in more and more communities. Here's how they work. Several non-profit groups get together on the same day with tables displaying information on their work and their need for volunteers. The public is invited to browse among the booths looking for a volunteer opportunity that suits them. These can be sponsored by a volunteer centre, or a corporation. ManuLife Insurance, for example, has held them in the cafeteria of their main office building.

Volunteers can also be recruited from specific groups. The Junior League, a national service organization of women, for example, has an excellent training programme to improve its members' skills. They place members on the boards of non-profit groups to help them improve their systems. Retired people are another source of extraordinary talent. In some communities, you can recruit with the help of organized senior citizens' associations. There are also special interest seniors' groups, such as the Canadian Auto Workers Retirees Club, or the Retired Rotarians. Open recruiting like this is the process of telling the world you need help and waiting to see who will apply. It's fine for the troops who do all the day-by-day work.

For specialized skills and campaign leaders, you need a different technique. Face-to- face recruitment is the most successful way to get the people you need. While thinking of the qualities you need for each job, go through a list of your members, supporters and contacts. Include outsiders who might be friendly. Consider who might be the best fit. Make a list of potential candidates for each job, prioritizing the names to contact.

6. Encourage the event's leaders to contact the potential candidates. The chairpeople of the event should interview the potential candidates, just as if they were hiring for a job. Even if there is only one possible candidate, this communicates your seriousness. It usually makes the task more attractive. Use the job descriptions, calendar and organizing chart. The chairperson's goal is to determine if the person is interested, able to do a good job, and available.

7. Immediately recognize the recruitment of volunteers. Send each volunteer that you select a letter confirming his/her appointment. Include a copy of current plans for the event. Invite him/her to an organizing meeting.

8. To be effective, volunteers must have information and perspective. Keep in contact with volunteers. Be sure they are fulfilling their responsibilities -- and catch any problems early. Help them if problems do occur. Encourage their creativity and commitment. Keep them apprised of the overall picture.

9. Confirm everyone's involvement before the Big Event. Have a pre-event coffee meeting the day before the event to be sure all will go smoothly. Halifax organizer Ray Pierce says, "Don't trust anybody! If you haven't checked it, it hasn't been done."

10. Recognize hardworking volunteers -- at the event itself and afterwards. Recognition consists of both saying "thank you" and being open to constructive criticism. Remember these people came to know the realities of a job. Collecting their comments soon after an event improves the event next time.

What jobs do you need to fill?
There's nothing more frustrating than discovering at the last minute that you forgot to fill a crucial job. There are hundreds of different volunteer role in all the. different types of events. It would be impossible to list every one of them. But it is possible to suggest a few you should consider.

Here is a list of types of volunteer activities you may find useful in organizing your special event:
• Overall Event Co-ordinator;
• Beer/Wine/Liquor Co-ordinator;
• Car Parking Organizer;
• Clear up Crew;
• Decorations Co-ordinator;
• Emergency Crew (in case of no-shows);
• Entertainment Co-ordinator;
• Financial Management/Accounting/Banking;
• Food Co-ordinator;
• Graphics Designer (ensure coordinated theme);
• Media Liaison;
• Patrons/Head Table Co-ordinator;
• Person to get licenses, permits, check laws;
• Production Co-ordinator;
• Program Committee;
• Publicity Co-ordinator;
• Secretary;
• Security people;
• Signs/Directions;
• Aide Solicitors of in-kind donations;
• Souvenir Supplier;
• Special Arrangements Aide;
• access for the disabled;
• child care;
• sign language interpretation;
• Technical Equipment Aide;
• sound equipment, lighting equipment;
• Ticket Sellers;
• Union clearances for musicians, actors for serving staff, if needed;
• Ushers/Hosts;
• Volunteer and Donor Recognition Co-ordinator;
• Volunteer Recruitment Co-ordinator;
• Welcoming Committee.

Not allowing enough time to prepare for the event is one of the most serious mistakes. It's also one of the most common. Successful events are months in the making. Many start six months to a year ahead. Major conference organizers now book hotel meeting rooms up to five years in advance.

Some events can come together more quickly, with luck and experienced people. Excessive speed may be an invitation to disaster, however. The length of time needed varies depending on the type of event, of course. No standard recipe can cover all situations. Here are some tips on developing your event's unique calendar accurately:

1. Don't set the date until you analyze the time required. Too often groups establish the date of an event first. Then they realize how much work it requires. They try to compress the time needed for each task to fit into an impossible schedule. It seldom works. Sometimes you must meet an externally imposed deadline. If that is the case, simplify the event to something possible in the time available.

2. Involve several people in planning. Don't expect any one person to anticipate all the tasks that need doing. A team is more likely to catch the missing elements. You can make a game of the brainstorming sessions. Set up teams of 2 to 5 people. Encourage the teams to think of all the tasks they can. Then compare notes and combine the lists. Break each task into bite-size chunks, to make sure nothing is overlooked. Define the action steps needed. Write each task on a separate Task Card. Large removable Post-It Notes2 are excellent tools for this task. Next, challenge the group to get them in the right order.

3. Estimate the time required for each task. Mark the estimated hours right on the Task Card. Note if it is one person doing the whole job, or several. Sometimes it doesn't matter if you have a group involved - but occasionally it matters a lot.

For example, a task could take 6 person-hours. If the task is stuffing invitations in envelopes, it could be done equally well by 6 people working 1 hour, or by one person working 6 hours. Carrying a piano up several flights of stairs, however, will take 6 people at least one hour. One person cannot do it in six hours.

Don't underestimate the time. In fact, most people recommend you increase the time estimates by a minimum of 20%. Many suggest you double the estimate. If you overestimate, and finish ahead off schedule, it is unlikely to cause problems.

Allow a few extra days between stages, in case of delays. When stuffing invitations, for example, make sure the printer's deadline calls for deliveiy of the finished product a week before. Then, if they actually arrive a few days later than expected, you have built-in protection.

4. Determine inter-dependent tasks. Note which tasks must be complete before others can begin. Make sure the people doing these key tasks understand the consequences if they are late. The people who will mail the invitations, for example, can't do their job until their predecessors have:
• prepared the address list
• booked the hall
• confirmed the entertainment
• settled the price printed the invitations
• purchased envelopes and stamps.

5. Post the schedule on the wall and give everyone pocket-size copies. Everyone should be able to see the progress quickly and easily. Problems should be instantly obvious.

Use flip chart paper, rolls of newsprint, or blackboards to create a master calendar. Put the weeks across the top. Down the left side, list the key work areas such as publicity, printing, entertainment, food, ticket sales and so on.

Mark specific work to be done in the week it must begin. Then mark the due date. Showing only the date the work is due leads to last-minute panic. Make a small copy, and give one to every person involved. Highlight the tasks that involve them personally with a coloured marker. In another colour, highlight the tasks that cannot be done until he/she successfully completes his/her tasks.

If the schedule changes, make new copies for everyone. It may be a lot of work, but it will save annoyance. Date each new edition, so everyone knows they're working on the same version.

Encourage everyone to book the time they'll need in their persona] day-planning books.

6. Determine "Do-or-Die" Dates. Establish deadlines for essential tasks. Mark these in red on all calendars. If they are not done on time, cancel the event.

• Know what commitments make it impossible to cancel. Once you've booked the hall, it may not be possible to cancel without enormous penalties or losses. Even re-scheduling may be impossible.
• Establish contingencies for less critical problems. "If X doesn't happen, then we can't do Y. As a back-up, we'll do A or B."
• Don't wait to figure out what you'll do at the time of the crisis. It may seem like a waste of time to sort out all the alternatives in advance, but it is an essential step.

7. Check progress before delays become a crisis.Determine when work should begin, to be completed on time. Set benchmarks at intervals to see if the work is on schedule. If there is a problem, you must know about it before the deadline is upon you.

• Check progress along the way. Don't just trust people. With the best of intentions, they may not follow through. There are two good methods: The first is to give one person the responsibility of checking progress. As a gentle nag, the right person can do wonders. Knowing it is an institutionalized role reduces the emotional stress for both the nagger and the naggee.
• Alternatively, assign crucial tasks to two people, as co-chairs. Encourage them to use the buddy system to check progress. Be careful the work doesn't fall between the cracks, as each co-chair thinks the other is responsible. In either case, he or she should call well in advance of due dates as a reminder. Say, "I see you'll be halfway through the invitation list next week. How's it going? Anything you need help on? Will they be ready for the stuffing-party September 15th? If there's a problem let me know now!" If the invitation stuffers expect to go to work September 15, for example, here are some of the previous benchmarks. Your time allowances may vary, of course.
• July 7 All leaders agree to provide names and addresses for list
• July 7 Budget approved
• July 25 Text and rough design approved (will anybody you must consult be away?)
• Aug.1 Material sent to the printer
• Aug.1 Typing of list begins
• Aug. 20 Final approval of printed material (allow extra time for vacations and the long weekend)
• Aug. 20 List half-done
• Sept. 7 Back from the printer
• Sept. 7 List ready

8. Assign personal responsibility for tasks.
• Make sure one person feels personally responsible for every crucial task. Don't assign a task to a committee -- it may fall between the cracks.
• Find out what support your leaders need to get their tasks done. Don't give people responsibility without the power to do the work.
• Schedule the date by which you must have a capable person in each role. These are critical "Do-or-Die" Dates. If no one is available, you may have to pull the plug.

9. Anticipate the follow-up work. After the event is over, a great deal of work always remains. Have your work crews in place for these tasks well in advance. A last-minute scramble can cause trouble. Don't ask people who are tired from doing all the other tasks. Have a fresh crew ready. Some of the tasks that get overlooked include:
• Clean up after the guests have left.
• Count the income and make the night deposit.
• Return rented supplies or excess inventory.
• Send receipts for donations and thank-you letters.
• Send thanks to volunteers and supporters.
• Close off the account books.
• Evaluate the event and produce a report with recommendations for next time.

10. Have a flying squad of troubleshooters. Inevitably, some aspects of the work will be overlooked. Have a team of skilful generalists who will look after any emergencies. Give them the authority to act. Make sure everyone knows who to call, and how to reach them night and day.

11. Reward people for jobs well done. Provide incentives for getting the job done ahead of schedule and under budget. People do respond to rewards, even though they may think they will not.

For example, offer a prize for the first person to sell their allotment of tickets. On a team-work night, schedule the job to finish by 9 pm and order pizza for delivery then. At the event itself, mention people who deserve extra recognition for their work. Ask a hotel to provide a free room, and have the volunteers vote for the person who deserves a reward most. If you want to submit a Fridge Story or article, keep your entry to 800 words or less. Stories should feature a volunteer as a lead character or a volunteer opportunity as the story setting.

Share X
Community & Current Events

How to get enough good volunteers