Guest Post by Lisa Bennett
Special events are a great way to simultaneously achieve several goals for a non-profit cause: build an organization’s brand and supporter base, get to know your supporters and make stronger connections, and effectively fundraise a large sum of donations.
One of the magical keys to making an event successful is to have an all-star volunteer team. However, without understanding how to best utilize your volunteers, what should be a means to planning an event more efficiently can easily feel like herding cats. Here are some tips for developing and managing a strong volunteer committee:
Understand the Tasks and Processes at Hand
Before getting your hands dirty with the volunteers directly, understand what needs to be done and what tasks can be handled by particular volunteers. Here are some main categories that operate behind the scenes of a successful event:
- Sponsorship Recruitment: Finding monetary and in-kind donations from individuals and local businesses.
- Event Logistics: Finding a venue, vendor negotiations, planning the event logistics, volunteer management for the actual event, delegating event tasks.
- Finance/Accounting: Creating an event budget and fundraising projections, maintaining the books for event costs and incoming donations, approvals for and review of purchases.
- Community/Partnerships: Outreach of industry parallels, finding organizations to collaborate event efforts, finding cross-promotional opportunities and finding volunteers interested in participating.
- Marketing/Social Media: Managing social media channels (including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), planning and scheduling a social media content calendar to garner interest for the event, aggregating content for a newsletter, as needed.
These are just a handful of the most basic types of volunteer tasks that work together to create a successful event. Once you’ve decided which teams are needed, now it’s time to hunt for the manpower (or womanpower) that will fuel the effort.
Know the Strengths and Weaknesses of Your Volunteers
Creating a strong volunteer team has a lot to do with getting to know your volunteers as individuals, both the good and the bad. While you may be tempted to fill volunteers where there is a lack of manpower, your success depends on wise volunteer placement. Here are some helpful questions to consider when learning about your volunteers. And be sure to encourage volunteers to be honest in their responses.
- What type of experience do you have with events?
- What volunteer roles have you performed before?
- What roles do you have a sincere interest in learning about?
- What type of communication works best for you (phone, email, chat, etc.)?
- Are you interested in planning the event or being part of the event team on the day-of?
- How many hours of volunteering can you contribute to the planning process?
- Do you have any helpful experiences, skills or tools that you can contribute to strengthen the planning efforts?
- What are your technology and social media skills?
Understanding their experience, knowledge and commitment capacity towards the event empowers volunteers to put their best foot forward in the planning efforts. Asking the right questions will help you decide things like whether they are best as a leader or a learner, if they require more supervising because of communication shortfalls or other helpful assessments. For example, if someone is well-established in the small business community, they may be a great fit for the sponsorship team. If an individual has event planning experience but can only contribute 2-3 hours a week, they may be best working with another event planning volunteer on one simple and targeted goal, such as providing ideal venues and/or vendors for volunteers to contact.
Set Clear Deliverables and Timelines
One of the first things to discuss with your team of volunteers is an approximate timeline of deliverables dedicated to their specific tasks. The timeline of which it takes to have everything in place varies from event to event. For example, a gala should begin planning no later than eight months prior to the approximate event date, while a networking event can be planned as soon as 2-3 months prior to the event. Discuss and document with each volunteer lead when certain action items can be completed.
To streamline these deadlines, a recommendation is to establish a system of tracking action items. A cost-efficient method is to utilize Google Spreadsheets for tracking tasks and deadlines, and Google Calendar to set-up reminders. If your team is tech-savvy, there are affordable software options that can be used, such as Basecamp and Asana, which track each person’s projects and deadlines. And, while the wheels are turning in documenting action items, discuss with each volunteer where they are tracking their outreach efforts. For example, if an event person is doing research to find venues, avoid doubling the work for future events and have the venue pricing, menus and specifications stored in a certain area that is easily accessible to the team. Similar efforts should be utilized for vendors, sponsors and event volunteers.
Develop Long-Standing Volunteers
While it’s easy to just focus on the now, for the most part, there should also be a focus on how to make your volunteer efforts sustainable and duplicatable. Hopefully, your volunteers will want to make a comeback for the following year or the following event. If not, is all their work easy to access and easy to follow for the next person that picks up where they left off?
Another consideration is whether the amount of work at hand is overwhelming to the volunteer, and if so, consider helping their efforts by finding a subcommittee. Subcommittees are a great opportunity for those that want to volunteer behind the scenes of planning an event, but do not have experience and are enthusiastic to learn. Apart from making the volunteer’s life easier, the other focus point is to develop and nurture the subcommittees experience to take on bigger team roles in the future. Good team chemistry is hard to find, and it makes it even harder when the team is constantly changing. When the key focus is to develop team leaders, retention and long-standing members become essential ingredients to a well-oiled machine – your event planning committees.
Always keep in mind that volunteers are looking for fulfilment in their roles. They aim to help the organization succeed, and they also want to feel that they have made a difference. Be sure to give them the proper recognition both in person and at the event, to keep them coming back from year to year.
About the Author
Lisa Bennett is the Sales Director at, DoJiggy Fundraising Software. She joined DoJiggy in 2006 and loves her job. Prior to working with DoJiggy, she worked at several non-profits and managed special event fundraising.
Photo Credit: Gaston Hinostroza