Looking after your volunteers at events.

Earlier in March I was invited to speak on behalf of Volunteering Central at two workshops hosted by the Queenstown Lakes District Council. The audience were all event organisers and I was asked to hightlight in ten minutes the basics of recruiting, retaining and recognising volunteers who help at events.

The QLDC region has a huge amount of events. It’s such a stunning and varied outdoor environment it lends itself to a great range of events but most noticeably sports events whose organisers take advantage of the rugged landscape. Other speakers included representatives from Dunedin based Such Crowd, Health and Safety, the Council Planning Team, and Event Funding.

So how does recruiting volunteers for events differ than recruiting for on going long term roles? The importance of planning for your volunteers is the same regardless of role – a proactive organisation will reflect on volunteer input during their annual planning process and the management of the volunteer programme should receive same consideration as other major projects.

The amount of volunteers needed is irrelevant as to how you recruit and involve them. All volunteers should be well prepared and briefed for their role. Volunteers should have a clear understanding of their role and know who to contact with any questions or issues.

And most importantly volunteers need to feel that it has been worth giving up their time to volunteer – they should feel that they have been involved in a meaningful and rewarding experience.

tail_end_charlie_QT2015

(Queenstown International Marathon Volunteer Tail End Charlie)

I talked alot about the organisation’s vision is and how the volunteers fit into this vision. Managers need to plan to share this vision with volunteers and keep it at the forefront of everything that involves them – from the bag packers and the signage crew through to the people on ticketing at an arts event or those in catering – everyone needs to know that their contribution is important, valued and part of the bigger picture.

I also encouraged organisers to consider why they are involving volunteers and what they bring to the event – to recognise the fresh ideas, new skills, diversity, energy and sense of community they bring to the event – not just the fact they are saving money.

Such a huge part of being successful in recruiting volunteers is around the culture created within the organisation around involving volunteers – are they welcomed and made to feel part of the bigger picture – the wider vision, are they listened to, respected, made to feel valued by other staff and volunteers? The key elements remain the same whether you ar dealing with 1 or 1000 volunteers. They all want to feel it has been worth putting their hand up to help and that they have been involved in a meaningful, enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Anna, Lorraine, Annie and Linzi

(Festival of Colour Staff and Volunteers)

And how do volunteers want to be recognised? The most common answer we here is simply – a genuine and sincere thank you!

CW12

(Challenge Wanaka Crew and Volunteers at the Volunteer Thank You Party)

If you plan and prepare for volunteers, they are more likey to have a great experience, more likely to tell others about it and more likely to keep coming back to help out. Look after your volunteers and reap the rewards of having such as diverse, energetic and committed team supporting your organisation!

Gillian White – Senior Project Coordinator with Volunteering Central