Volunteers are one of the most important elements of running a successful event. Imagine having a festival with all it entails — food samples, speakers, kids activities, exhibitors — with no one to guide attendees through the event and answer questions. You also need volunteers to do all of the other behind-the-scenes tasks people don’t think about, like monitoring compost bins and transporting supplies to and from the venue.
Think about your event and what it will look like from start to finish. Plan to have a volunteer position for each area that needs staffing and don’t be afraid to have several volunteers per shift. It’s better to have too many volunteers than too few, especially when volunteer turnout is taken into account. While it would be fantastic if 100% of volunteers showed up, this isn’t realistic. That said, the Twin Cities Veg Fest has had great volunteer turnout — people really do want to help with such a huge, fun event.
The positions and shifts will vary depending on the size of the event and activities happening, but some examples include setup, greeting, tablers, speaker monitors, kids’ area helpers, maintenance (for example, monitoring compost bins), and cleanup. Having a couple people volunteer as “floaters” is a great idea so they can volunteer wherever extra help is needed or fill in for an absent volunteer.
If the event is six hours, plan to have two shifts for each position with some overlap in between to allow time for second shift volunteers to arrive. For instance, if the event is from 10:00 to 4:00, the morning greeter shift can run from 9:45 to 1:00 and the afternoon greeter shift can run from 12:45. to 4:00.
Don’t forget about pre-event and post-event volunteer needs as well, such as postering to advertise beforehand and data entry afterward.
Take a look at the 2013 Twin Cities Veg Fest volunteer positions for a more detailed example.
With such a huge event, it’s impossible for the volunteer coordinator or any other committee member to monitor all volunteers throughout the day. This is where volunteer leaders come in. Think about the positions you’ll have, and which of those are the most vital or require delegation of tasks. Plan to have a leader for each of those shifts to monitor volunteers, and have the leaders arrive about 15 minutes before their volunteers so they’re available to greet and instruct them.
For example, at the 2013 Twin Cities Veg Fest, there was a volunteer leader for greeting, maintenance, the CAA table, Twin Cities Veg Fest table, food giveaway table, and Paid-Per-View table. There was also a leader for setup and cleanup but Twin Cities Veg Fest committee members took on those roles.
Meet with leaders before the event to discuss their responsibilities or talk with each of them on the phone. Go over a rundown of the event and make sure they’re aware of the instructions for their role so they can then delegate tasks as needed to their volunteers.
Recruit your volunteer leaders two to three months before the event. Ideally, these will be active volunteers who are outgoing and knowledgeable about farmed animal issues and veganism. Send individualized emails or make phone calls to specific people you have in mind to be leaders, explaining what you’re looking for, responsibilities, and the roles/shifts available. If you know someone is good at tabling, you can ask them specifically if they can lead tabling.
About a month before the event, start recruiting volunteers. This will require a lot of communication for follow-up, confirmation and reminders. It’s a good idea to create a spreadsheet in advance to keep track of who you’ve contacted, who’s confirmed and so on, with a row for each position and shift. We’ve created a sample spreadsheet you can copy. Make sure you’re getting all the information you need from volunteers, such as phone number, email address, mailing address (to send a thank-you note after the event), and anything else you may need. For instance, at the Twin Cities Veg Fest, we were giving a festival T-shirt to each volunteer so we also asked volunteers for their T-shirt size and marked that in the spreadsheet.
Whenever possible, send individual emails (or phone calls) rather than a mass email. People are more likely to respond if it’s clear the email was sent directly to them, specifically telling them how they can volunteer to make a difference. Reference the positions and shifts available and ask them to let you know which position they’re interested in if they’re available. When people reply, thank them, confirm their position, and tell them you’ll follow up with a reminder before the event.
If someone doesn’t reply to the email, follow up with another email or phone call, but don’t stop contacting other potential volunteers as well. A few weeks before the event, send a mass email with a generic message asking for volunteers to help at the festival with a list of positions available. Don’t be discouraged if people don’t respond right away and you don’t have positions filled when you first start recruiting. Many people won’t think about volunteering a month in advance so a lot of the positions will be filled within the last two weeks before the event. And don’t be afraid to “pester” people by following up with emails and phone calls. It could be they glanced at the email one day and planned on replying but forgot. A reminder never hurts.
A few days before the event, send emails with a reminder of the event date and time, the volunteer schedule (positions and shifts), and instructions to volunteers. You should also consider sending out text message reminders the day before the event, reminding the volunteer of what shift and position they signed up for. This is a bit tedious but it will probably help ensure maximum volunteer turnout.
Your volunteer instructions should be clear and detailed but not too overwhelming. Once you have your volunteers finalized, email the instructions for each person’s role a few days before the event, with a reminder of the positions and shifts they signed up for. Do it in batches to save time (for instance, if you have 10 people doing setup and 4 people greeting, send one email with setup instructions to all 10 setup volunteers and one email with greeting instructions to the 4 greeters, and so on).
Be sure the volunteer leaders are well-informed of these instructions and have copies of them for the day of the event. Volunteers may skim the instructions in the email, but the leaders will be the ones delegating tasks to each person in their role.
Check out the volunteer instructions from the 2013 Twin Cities Veg Fest.
Managing Volunteers at the Event
In the volunteer instructions, tell them to check in with someone (most likely the Volunteer Coordinator) when their shift starts. If you have a festival table at your event, that’s a great place to have volunteers check in. The leaders should arrive first, about 15 minutes before their volunteers. Have the volunteer schedule (from the spreadsheet) printed off or a computer with the spreadsheet available to check in volunteers as they arrive. Introduce the volunteers to their leader, who will then take them to their designated area, give them instructions, and delegate tasks.
Ideally, volunteers will all arrive on time and can meet with their leader at the Veg Fest table when their shift starts. Realistically, however, some will be a few minutes late, when the leader has already gone to his or her area. When that’s the case, tell the volunteer where to go for their shift and who to look for as their leader.
If the position doesn’t have a leader (such as speaker monitor), simply check the volunteer in and tell them where to go. They should already know their responsibilities from the instructions emailed in advance, but print off copies of instructions for each role to give to volunteer leaders (or volunteers in a role with no leader).
With volunteer leaders, there’s really not a whole lot of volunteer management the day of the event for the Volunteer Coordinator. That’s why the leaders are so vital, and why it’s important they’re aware of the responsibilities for their position.