As volunteer month comes to a close, I have been thinking back to the many volunteer experiences I have had personally over the years and the many volunteers I have worked with and encountered. I grew up as the youngest of 5 and one thing I think about often is how volunteering with my parents was simply a way of life. They had their own personal organizations that they were passionate about, and they used the skills they had and gave their time, and still do to this day. As kids, we went with them to everything, learning what it means to volunteer your time for a cause until we were old enough to pick and choose which opportunities and organizations we were passionate about. I have always incorporated volunteering on the side into my adult life and have been lucky enough to incorporate it into my work.

Here are some quick tips on working with (and managing) volunteers at your events:


Whether or not you have an individual or group of volunteers assisting you they all have different reasons for coming together. Typically, there are 2 major themes that contribute to why someone volunteers: what the organization does and the individual’s urge to give back. When there is time, I really like to hear more about each person’s “why” and really take the time to hear what they have to say. I also always ask what they do for a living and for fun. Simple conversations like these give you some insight into what skills they have or what will keep them engaged on the event day. Lastly, I always ask for feedback even if they have never volunteered before. I want to know what their experience is and feedback directly from the volunteer is worth its weight in gold. Volunteers can teach you a lot about what is working and what isn’t if you really listen closely. Feedback like that can teach you a lot about how to grow in volunteer management, event planning, future ideas, and so much more. Many of the volunteers you work with are some of your biggest supporters, sometimes just listening is enough to take your events to the next level.

Use Their Time Wisely

We all know that time is precious, and it is incredible that people decide to use their time to help others. When someone has volunteered to help me in the various stages of event planning or event day, I like to make sure I am prepared to make the best use of their time. For example, if someone is helping to do a round of mail pieces, printed materials should be printed and ready to go, stamps purchased, labels printed, and so on. The more you can plan ahead of time and the less time they have to wait around, the happier they will be. Another example could be working with a moving company donating their time and resources to move you for an event. I like to make sure I have most things staged in an easily accessible area, packed up, and ready for them to move the items quickly and efficiently. Event setup can be a daunting task and typically has many more moving pieces than tear-down does. Having a list of things that need to get done and knowing the steps that need to be done so it can be quickly explained to a group of people will help you keep volunteers consistently busy during the time you have them for. Volunteers need breaks occasionally, but they also don’t like to just stand around doing nothing. The list of tasks helps you be able to keep them moving as they check one thing after another off the list. For example, having pre-printed name tags in alphabetical order or organized in folders with the program by bidder number means you only have to explain to your volunteer where you want these items and how they should be laid out. If you set one table as an example, then your volunteers can come back to that and mimic it throughout the room.


Whether you have met your volunteers prior to their shift or not, offering each volunteer an option is a great way to help both of you be flexible on event day. If someone shows up with a broken leg, having different jobs available will allow you to pivot in the moment. Having them carry centerpieces from table to table may not be realistic, but they could sit at a table and unpack and assemble items for other volunteers to move out to the various tables. Offering options can also get them more excited about the task they will be doing and can help you quickly find out what skills they want to utilize instead of just placing them in an area they don’t want to be in. Like having to use a computer in registration vs. grabbing name tags, or walking around selling items to guests vs. standing at a table having guests come to you.

These suggestions are simple but can be a great reminder to take a step back and think through the process before you interact with the volunteers.  It is great to prepare as much as you can in advance to stay one step ahead of them and keep them busy. Most importantly, slow down and take the time to listen. Focusing on these tips will help keep your volunteers happy and make them want to come back year after year!

-Brenna Wood, Event Director