How to Recruit, Prepare, & Thank Your Event Volunteers

There’s a saying that strikes fear into the hearts of event planners around the globe: “You get what you pay for.”

This saying is bone-chilling because, for most events, volunteers are essential to a smooth-running operation. However, hastily assembled or untrained free labor can cause more problems than they solve.

 When properly prepared, a team of volunteers is an important aspect of ensuring that an event is accomplished perfectly. The job of making sure those volunteers are ready falls to you. You can’t just have people show up the morning of the event and expect them to execute your plans flawlessly. You need to make a plan to recruit, prepare, and thank your event volunteers. Do so, and they’ll perform their duties impeccably and may even return for next year’s event.

 Creating a Volunteer Program

The absolute first step in recruiting volunteers for an event is to know what roles you need filled. For that, you need a plan.

Start by creating a list of every job that can be filled by a volunteer. Be sure to include a detailed index of the job’s responsibilities. Now, convert these expectations into job descriptions, so it is clear and easy to understand the exact responsibilities for anyone who steps into this role.

At this point, you may also want to consider the personality types and physical profiles you would want to fill these roles. For example, people who interact with attendees will need to be outgoing, while a job that requires lifting heavy boxes will need somebody who can do so.

Next, create a volunteer structure. This is a grouping of all similar jobs. You determine these groups; there is no right or wrong way. It could be all jobs near the entrance are grouped together, or anyone who is in charge of crowd control on the show floor is together. Organize the jobs in a way that makes sense for your specific event.

Then, come up with a reporting structure. Who do these people turn to should a problem occur, and how do they find that person quickly? You will also need someone who is overseeing the department, ideally a full-time employee, but a seasoned, trusted volunteer could also fill the role.

Come Up with Incentives

You already understand that hosting an event is a lot of work. Since you have the volunteer job descriptions completed, you also understand precisely what you are asking of them. Even if you just need someone on the show floor for three hours, that is time spent on their feet, likely hustling around, smiling and interacting with attendees. It can be exhausting, and they’re doing it for free.

Find some way to thank your volunteers for their effort and commitment to your event. To do this, you will need to ask yourself why someone would volunteer for your specific event. What are they hoping to achieve?

If you are putting on a music festival, perhaps they would like to see a specific act or be allowed backstage. For business functions, volunteers may like time off to see a particular speaker or presentation. Perhaps a certificate of the time they spent as a volunteer or a letter of recommendation would be appreciated.

Finding the correct incentives that appeal to your crowd can go a long way toward discovering the best volunteers for your event.

Finding Volunteers

Now that you know what you need and the benefits you can offer, it’s time to find some volunteers. You can begin by crafting promotional messages about your volunteer opportunities. Be sure to create a variety of promos, so they adapt to different social media platforms and email.

These promos need to perform the delicate dance of being both informative and concise. Essentially, you need to sell your event and the benefits of the volunteer opportunities as concisely as possible. For anyone interested, you can include a link to more detailed information (this is where those job descriptions you created come in). Information to include in the promotional messages: what is the event, when is the event, where is the event, what volunteer positions are needed, and the benefits they will receive.

Next, send those messages into the world using the social media platform most likely to appeal to your desired audience. If you’re not sure which platform to use, try as many as you can. As you begin to notice where the majority of your responses are coming from, you can continue to utilize those channels and dial back on the others.

Other possibilities for finding volunteers on are the web. There are several sites dedicated to matching events with volunteers. Not all of them will sync with your event, but likely a few will. Also, if you are hosting a business event, check with nearby colleges. Many students will welcome the opportunity to attend an event that aligns with their chosen career. They may even be able to gain some class credit for their volunteer efforts.

Be sure to create a volunteering page on your event’s website. This could also be the landing page for the link you insert in your social promotions. Include a survey with questions that ask about the position they are interested in and why they believe they are a good fit. You likely don’t have time to interview everyone who volunteers for a position, so this survey should help you identify the best candidates. Then you can have a quick phone conversation with the top applicants to solidify the positions.

Training and Communicating

People cannot successfully perform a job if they are not adequately trained. It does not matter how “easy” the job is; your volunteers need guidance. Let’s say someone agreed to sell merchandise for a few hours, and you simply show them to the table. How do you want them to address customers? When do they get a break? Can they eat and drink behind the counter? Are they allowed to make changes? How do they use that credit card phone thingy?

While training is essential, it does not have to be laborious for you. Cut down on the hassle by creating a video that volunteers can watch online at their leisure. In addition to job duties and itinerary for the event, include information about the dress code, when they are expected to arrive, how to interact with attendees, where to report problems, where to park, and all other pertinent information. If incentives are tied to their performance (i.e., adherence to the dress code, arriving on time, etc.), then you need to make that known, as well.

Another option is to hold training sessions virtually using a service like GoToMeeting. This makes it easier for everyone to attend, but they do need to commit to a time, unlike with the video option. Still, having everybody in one place to discuss issues and raise questions is beneficial. You should have at least one all-hands-on-deck meeting before the event to be sure that all volunteers are still willing to perform and understand their roles. Also, let them know how they can reach you and their supervisor should any questions or issues arise.

Be sure that you understand the labor laws both nationally and specific to your state. For example, you may be required to provide volunteers with a break after a specific number of hours. Also, if you are in a union state, there are jobs that union contractors must perform. Make sure you are familiar with these roles so you don’t accidentally ask a volunteer to perform a task that could cause issues.

Once the event is over, send a thank you note to your volunteers telling them how much you appreciated their help and that you would enjoy seeing them again next year. By treating your volunteers well, you should earn their (brand) loyalty for events stretching well into the future.