10 ways to engage your event volunteers

Heather Christie |


Throwing a successful event is hard to pull off alone. No matter the scale of the event, it’s important to have a strong team of helping hands to ensure everything’s running smoothly. There is a strong correlation between volunteer morale and your attendees’ experience so it’s important to find a balance to set the right tone for your event. Here are some simple steps to ensure that your volunteers are happy and want to come back to work the next event.

1. Value your volunteers

Treat your volunteers as if they are guests in your home. Show them around and make them feel comfortable. Introduce them to other staff members so that they have references when they are in need of help. It’s also important to recognize great service and verbalize positive reinforcement.

2. Set realistic expectations

You want to make sure that you are giving your volunteers an accurate picture of what they should expect on event day. It can be disheartening when a volunteer thinks they will be working the crowd and interacting with fans when in fact they are spending the day in a warehouse stocking swag bags. Another factor to consider is whether the job will be too physically demanding for volunteers, so it’s important to gather information ahead of time.

3. Manage your time

Be careful not to schedule too many or too few volunteers for your event. You don’t want your volunteers feeling bored or overwhelmed so finding a middle ground is key. It’s also important that your volunteers have an estimate of the time frame for their shifts. Make sure that you don’t devalue your volunteers’ time by keeping them much longer than expected. Your volunteers are unlikely to return if they’re told they will be working ten hours that week, but  instead, end up working twenty five.

4. Provide proper training

It’s essential to train your volunteers properly to avoid confusion and mishaps during the event. You don’t want your volunteers to feel frantic when they are unprepared for situations. All of this could be avoided with proper training. It’s worth noting that hands-on, interactive training is far more effective than a boring lecture, so make it fun and try to give real-life scenarios.

5. Recognize negativity

It is never a good idea to simply ignore your volunteers that are having a negative impact on your team. For example, some volunteers may only be in it for the free swag. It’s best to rid yourself of these volunteers sooner rather than later as they will affect the rest of your team. Don’t sweep it under the rug – unprofessional behavior should be recognized and dealt with before your guests are driven away.

6. Provide meaningful work

Of course, volunteers are more likely to come back if they get to do a job that they enjoy or feel has a meaningful impact. Try to steer away from giving your volunteers all the grunt work that the rest of your staff doesn’t want to do. Some volunteers love licking envelopes and filing, but it’s important that you recruit the right people for your needs. You can also let your volunteers know how they are making a difference by sharing success stories and progress reports. This is the reason most people volunteer, to make an impact.

7. Communicate

It’s helpful to assign a point of contact in your organization for your volunteers to refer to. Regular communication is a motivating factor for your volunteers, and a lack of communication can have the inverse effect. Volunteers want to feel prepared if there are any changes, so establishing a communication system (email, text, etc.) can do wonders for your team. Building on this, make sure that you are also communicating with your volunteers after the event as well to thank them for their service and participation.

8. Establish high standards

It is likely that you will have those volunteers that are over-achievers and strive to provide great service. Exhibiting a “good enough” mentality will discourage these volunteers from participating with your event, so make sure to provide some direction on your expectations and the ways you will evaluate quality of work.

9. Promote socialization

Getting people to volunteer and socialize is a great way to meet new people and create repeat participation. Providing opportunities for your volunteers to socialize while they are working will go a long way. Remember, it’s important to set high standards so communicate that there is time for both work and play.

10. Recognize the work of your volunteers

It is essential that your volunteers feel that they are appreciated for their hard work. Make sure to express your gratitude. Most volunteer coordinators are great at showing thanks, but it’s important that even your superior directors and executives also say “thank you.” Trust me, your volunteers will notice.

No event can be successful without the right people working behind the scenes. Motivated and happy volunteers are productive volunteers.