Summer is coming and you know what that means: conferences!
This morning I saw a great blog post from Adrian Segar about the important lessons he learned using volunteers at conferences. Read his complete article here!
He makes several great points about using volunteers in creative roles, having backup plans handy incase they must bail on their volunteer commitment, and even using volunteers as an early gauge of the event’s success and a resource for future events. Rewards and appreciation are also important, Segar mentions.
His advice is terrific and I wouldn’t change a thing about it, but there are a few things that I would add.
-Make sure there’s a distinction between paid staff and volunteers, at least among other conference administrators
The quickest way to send a volunteer away screaming is for them to be helping put out coffee supplies only to be reprimanded for something the catering staff should be aware of. It’s an easy mistake for people to make and of course volunteers still must be responsible for their duties, but chances are in the chaos of the event, several people told him or her different things and he’s just trying to figure out the right thing to do where he can be of the most service. An easy way to tackle this volunteer identification issue is a different colored shirt, a button, or a badge flag. Not only are those things a cool distinction for the volunteers themselves, but they’ll help everyone recognize that the volunteers are here to help and might not have anything to do with the planning or organization.
-Have something for them to do
It is so awkward when you make a call for volunteers and they show up and have nothing to do. This is a tough line to walk as Segar pointed out, volunteers are less dependable than paid staff. So how do you have a useful spot for volunteers whom you may not be able to depend on? Consider having paid staff there as “overseers” who can jump in if a volunteer can’t make it or is running late, and if all of the volunteers are there the paid staff can train and work on bigger picture stuff. Just keep an eye on schedules! You’d hate to have a gap in something volunteer driven but vital like an information booth or registration.
-Keep them in the loop from their commitment to the actual event
It’s easy to commit to a volunteer shift weeks or months out from the event, but that effort quickly drops out of the mind and often off the calendar. A good way to combat that disengagement from your event is to encourage likes and follows on social media and send email reminders often. Not so often to be spammy and therefore immediately deleted, but often enough that your volunteers remember your event is even happening.
Above all, though, you know your event and volunteers better than anyone and have the best idea how to deal with them both so you have a successful, amazing event. Definitely follow your instinct first!
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