When you’re using event marketing as a way to market your business, it quickly becomes clear that you need extra support to execute your project.  Many of us turn to volunteers in our times of need, but there is a harsh reality you might learn in the process: if you’re not careful, volunteer management can take the very precious time you were trying to get back!  If you are planning an event and managing volunteers, keep reading to learn some tips that will pay dividends later.

One of the truths of event marketing – and one that can sneak up on a first-time event planner – is the way the scope exponentially increases as the event approaches.  When you are months out from your event, it may feel like you have all the time in the world to get everything done.  As you get closer, you’ll begin to feel more pressure and more frequent deadlines.  Soon, those deadlines will be coming at you every day or half day.  (If this has you thinking twice, you may want to read this tip about how to evaluate whether event marketing is right for you!)

Not only does the pace of the planning increase as the event approaches, but other people suddenly start to become aware of your event.  You’ll get more and more outreach from sponsors, donors, partners, clients, venue managers, registrants, staff, vendors, personnel, volunteers, and all the other parties who have a role.  These conversations are an addition to the workload you already had.

Most events have this ramp up effect.  No matter how many years you have run your event, each task needs to be done in its own time.  The process can be overwhelming or put you on an extended adrenaline high, depending on how you look at it!

One of the ways that we can manage our workload and stress is by bringing in others to support as the deadlines build.  Some people have the luxury of leaning on paid staff or using secondment to add to the team temporarily.  But, for most events, some number of volunteers will be needed.

Volunteers are the solution to the problem that there is only one of you. #events #eventprofs #meetingprofs #business Click To Tweet

Volunteers are the solution to the problem that there is only one of you.  This problem is a very real one.  You are going to need to be in a lot of places at once during your event, and – since you can’t be – volunteers are your first line of customer service.  They are your team on the ground, doing tasks that you simply won’t be able to do when you are getting pulled away to put out fires, keep the event on track, and answer questions.

However, there is a quandary with volunteers.  Managing volunteers takes time.  If you didn’t have a plan for this, your volunteers will be the thing that keeps pulling you away from what you need to do.

Managing volunteers takes time. #events #eventprofs #meetingprofs #marketing #business #biztips #smallbusiness #nonprofit Click To Tweet

Volunteers are ultimately there to help, and it is in everyone’s best interest that they be empowered to do that.  So what are some of the things you can do to smooth out this process?

Assign Supervisors for a Larger Volunteer Team

Each of your volunteers is going to come to you with questions, a need for new tasks, and training – unless you assign them a supervisor.  How many people can you give one-on-one time to on your busiest, most stressful day?  If you have more volunteers than you can reasonably manage, assign one or more supervisors to manage the volunteers.  You can assign one supervisor overall or you can assign a supervisor for each key area.  This will be especially helpful to you during set up and the start of the event, but it has advantages throughout.

The trick with the supervisors is that you want to train THEM at least a week or two before your event.  Give them all the information they need.  Empower them to create their own system and train the volunteers who report into them.  This means that you will need to put your strongest people in the supervisor roles.

It may seem like there is not value in doing this process if you’re still going to have to train the supervisors, but the issue here is a matter of timing.  You don’t have time to answer a million questions on the day of an event!  You may have more time a couple weeks before.  If you take that time to give a good download of information to the key supervisors, they will be able to filter what the rest of the team brings to you on event day.  The decrease on pressure directed at you will be noticeable, and it will enable your team to function more efficiently and with less stress!

Plan a Task for the Early Arrivals

Someone is going to arrive early.  Very early.  Much earlier than you are ready for.  This is a great opportunity to have a task planned that is simple to do, easy to explain, and would have taken you a lot of time.  Get them set up and empower them to show the task to others who arrive early too!  They know they are early, and this gives them the option to have something that keeps them occupied.  It is moving the event forward, and it gives you the freedom to stay on the schedule you had planned for yourself.

Plan How You Will Train Them

If you start to plan out your movements for the day of the event, you will get a sense of when you have opportunities for training.  Assume that things won’t be exactly on schedule and not everyone will be exactly on time, and then ask yourself if you have adequate time to train your team properly.

If the answer is no, you still NEED to give them the information, so this means you would be wise to plan in advance.  Of course, I just recommended assigning supervisors, because your team deserves to know what they are doing, and it will be better for your event.  But there are little things you can do, too.  Drip email them in advance of the event with little tips and information to get the ball rolling.  Write out basic instruction sheets for your different key areas to make sure they know how to get started in set up.  Mark what you have set up in different areas of the room with simple tasks that will take time to do but not require a huge amount of explanation.

Of course, you want to have a personal connection with your team.  However, being realistic about how many directions you will be pulled in will allow you to prepare in advance to make sure no one feels like they are standing around when they arrive, unsure of how to be useful.

Give them a Schedule

Give some thought to the major tasks you want each volunteer to do during the day.  Events have a variety of phases, and your volunteers may have different roles at different times.  You want them to be flexible to cover whatever you need, but you can show them the flow of the event and give them a sense of where they will generally be pitching in as the event progresses.  This will empower them with their schedule!

Have a Break Area

When your volunteers have down time – and they will have down time – give them a place to spend it.  Ideally with beverages and snacks, if not a meal.  If they know they have free time coming up, this gives them a place to go to relax.  Not only does this help you know where to find them when you need them, but it may also help them to find non-disruptive ways to occupy themselves so they don’t fill the time coming to you with more questions than you can handle!

Thank Them

Whenever you have quieter moments, walk around and check in with your volunteers.  Thank them for what they are doing.  Ask them if they need anything.  They are there to help, and recognizing them is a good way to spend your time when you’re not putting out fires!

Whenever you have the opportunity to give them swag, opportunities, recognition, a meal, or something else that will feel special, do it.  Do what your budget allows you to do.  And every budget allows for a thank you after the event!  When I wrap an event, the volunteers are the FIRST people I email to say thank you and acknowledge their participation.  Thank your volunteers early and thank them often. Do that, and maybe they’ll come back again next year!

Thank your volunteers early and thank them often. #events #eventprofs #meetingprofs #nonprofit #marketing #business #biztips Click To Tweet

Volunteers are a key element to your event, and it is nearly impossible to run an event without many extra sets of hands to assist you.  Volunteer management is a double-edged sword of saving and taking you time, but hopefully these tips help you go into it with some techniques at the ready to make the most of everyone’s time!

Are you starting to plan an event and looking for more tips on what elements you’ll need to consider?  Check out this Components of a Successful Fundraising Event checklist – a good starting point even for non-fundraising events!