event volunteersIf you’ve worked with event volunteers, you’ve no doubt experienced this at one time or another. You’ve spent countless hours and all of your energy planning an awesome event. You need volunteers to staff it; in fact, they are a critical part of its success.

So, you reach out to several groups to help you recruit folks to help. They claim they’ve got a great group together and can’t wait to see you.  But, the day of the event, only half of the volunteers show up. Now, you’re left scrambling to try to make it work. Ugh.

But, rest assured, there’s plenty you can do to set yourself (and the volunteers) up for success next time.  Here are a few things you can do.

5 Ways to Ensure Event Volunteer Follow Through

1) Get It In Writing

When you’re collaborating with others to supply event volunteers, be sure to have them sign a partnership agreement or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that details the goal for the event, who is responsible for what, what happens if there is a problem or accident, how communication will occur, and who are the primary contacts.  If they have made a commitment to provide a certain number of volunteers, include that in the agreement.

Also, ask for a contact list of volunteers, if they are not registering with you directly, at least two weeks before the event.  You’ll need this list to sand them reminder emails and a thank you note after the event. This also makes your partner accountable for following through on their part of the arrangement.

2) Ask Volunteers to Choose Their Own Shifts

It seems obvious, but simply the power to choose, results in more follow through.  In a now famous experiment, researchers at Harvard ran a lottery with two groups:

Group A was randomly assigned a lottery number. Group B was asked to write down any number they would like as their lottery number.  Then, the researchers offered to buy back the tickets.

Which do you think was the more expensive ticket?

The rational answer might be Group A because there is less chance of duplication in  randomly assigned numbers. But, nope – researchers found that they had to pay five times more for those where the participants wrote their numbers. When people choose, they are five times more committed to an outcome.

3) Treat Volunteers Like the VIPs They Are

If volunteers are essential to your success then it only follows that they should be ensured an exceptional experience. Model the five-star customer service you expect volunteers to deliver to your event guests by treating volunteers like VIPs, not indentured servants.  

Consider providing the following and be sure to let them know about the special treatment they’ll get before the day of the event:

  • Set Aside a Parking Area – Offer free, easy access, or a shuttle service,  so volunteers don’t have to struggle with event traffic.
  • Make Their Special Entrance Easy to Find – Make sure signage is posted and directions are sent
  • Ensure Quick Entry – Make sure sign in sheet is already printed out with their contact info OR have a tablet where you can sing them in with a click
  • Be Prepared for “Plus 1s” – VIPs like to bring a wing man/woman, be prepared to match and deploy they extra helpers.
  • Anticipate Special Needs – Ask ahead on volunteer registration form for mobility, accommodations, or dietary needs.
  • Include Special Touches – Providing water bottles or other items that they might need on the job.
  • Create a Special Lounge Area – Set aside a comfy, private area for breaks, include snacks
  • Give Swag – Offer t-shirts or other items that are exclusively for the event volunteers; if you don’t have the budget, see if someone will sponsor or donate them.

4) Communicate Early & Often

People often worry about sending too many emails to event volunteers, but if your emails are fun and full of valuable information, they won’t mind opening them.  Consider sending an automated (or drip email) series that offer helpful information and lets them know how excited you are to work with them. Here’s an example.

  • Save the Date! Confirmation Email — Send when volunteers sign up. Be sure it includes a downloadable invite they can upload to their personal online computer. The invite should include the event address and a contact person for event day.
  • What to Expect Email — Send this out one month before the event  and include the special treatment volunteers can expect as well as early gratitude for their service.
  • Logistical Details Email — Send this out about one week before the event. Include a list of frequently asked questions and a map of where to park and check in.  
  • Last Minute Reminder Email — Send this email the morning before event day with any last minute instructions and key reminders. Let them know you are counting on them and excited to meet them in person.

5) Don’t Rely on Email Alone

Although email will get you most of the way, a phone call will close the deal.  Set up a phone bank of volunteers to make reminder phone calls the night before the event.  Volunteer peers promote social proof and thus will be more effective than you will ever be.  So, don’t be afraid to delegate this task.

These calls should be friendly, gentle reminders of the day and time of their shift. Volunteer callers should also be trained to ask for any questions and be able to provide clear answers around the logistics of the event.

Try these five things, and you will be sure to see better follow through in the part of event volunteers.  Plus, they’ll have such a great time, they’ll want to help out next time, making each event easier and easier to run.

Happy event planning!