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8 min read

4 Ways to Engage Volunteers in Your Nonprofit’s Events

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The many moving parts of nonprofit events—from planning your event agenda and gathering auction items to coordinating with caterers and designing marketing materials—can leave your internal team feeling spread thin. To make your efforts more efficient and effective, tap into the power of volunteers!

Volunteers make it possible for your nonprofit to host important and memorable events. These enthusiastic supporters are passionate about your cause and thrive when they put their passion into action, whether they’re greeting your gala attendees at the door or assisting with decor.

In order for your organization to truly engage its volunteers, you’ll need to do more than create a sign-up sheet and a to-do list for them. You’ll also need to pay special attention to how you engage your volunteers with the event experience, from beginning to end.

Of course, you’ll need the right tools on your side, along with key knowledge of best practices for volunteer engagement. In this post, we’ll give you a leg up by covering four ways you can truly engage your volunteers with each of your nonprofit’s events. Let’s begin!

1. Recruit for event-specific volunteer roles.


Start by fine-tuning your approach to recruiting volunteers. You should walk through your plan for the event and identify exactly what you’ll need help with. Turn those tasks into roles that your volunteers can fill based on their knowledge and expertise, and determine how many volunteers you’ll need to fill each role.

Here are some examples of event-specific roles you might find you need to fill:

  • Social media specialists and/or event marketers
  • Set-up and/or take-down team members
  • Decorators
  • Greeters and/or ushers
  • Registration desk attendants
  • Auction item procurement specialists and/or auction assistants
  • Waiters and/or food servers (for individuals with food handlers’ cards)
  • Tech assistants
  • Personal assistants and/or runners
  • Fundraisers
  • Speakers and/or presenters

Well ahead of your event, list each role on your website’s volunteer page. Include a job description for each of them, detailing the qualifications, expectations, time commitment, and training needed for individuals to serve that role.

By including this information, you can ensure that your volunteers have the chance to sign up for duties that match their skill sets and interests. For example, an individual who loves their day job as a personal assistant might be excited to sign up as your executive director’s errand runner on the day of the event. Or, someone who has a passion for IT might find the opportunity to assist with tech to be exciting.

Make it easy for volunteers to sign up for the role they’re interested in by optimizing your registration form or application. Ensure that the form is short and easy to fill out and that it appears correctly on mobile devices. If you require additional steps to be completed before the volunteer can help out, such as a background check, make sure you provide clear instructions for them to complete that step well ahead of your event.

2. Provide thorough training ahead of time.


Even the most qualified and experienced volunteers will need thorough training before your event. Often, your internal team has a specific vision for how you want the upcoming event to run. Training volunteers gives you the opportunity to get everyone on the same page and to feel more comfortable and confident in their roles. This will also help your team present itself as unified and professional during the event.

While there will likely be role-specific training that you need to conduct–especially for more complex roles like tech assistants or auction item procurement specialists–you should ensure that everyone is properly trained in the following areas:

  • Your organization’s mission and goals: Many of your volunteers will likely be familiar with your organization and its mission, but some of them may be volunteering with your nonprofit for the first time! Provide a quick walkthrough of your organization’s mission and goals, the beneficiaries you serve, and how your event contributes to the work you do. This will help your volunteers see their duties as part of something bigger, and also prepare them to speak with attendees about your mission should the opportunity arise.
  • Event logistics: Each volunteer on your team should understand the logistics of your event, from the event schedule and the layout of your venue to the equipment or supplies you’ll be using. Having everyone on the same page with logistics will help you prepare for the unexpected. Take virtual events as an example. CharityBids recommends hosting a “dress rehearsal” ahead of time. This is your chance to not only ensure all of your tech works but that you have a backup plan in place in case anything stops working.
  • Safety protocol: Depending on the nature of your event, your volunteers may need to be trained in first aid and other emergency protocols. Even for the most seemingly risk-free events, you should ensure that your volunteers know what to do if someone becomes sick, gets injured, or is in need of medical attention. You should also cover the evacuation procedures for the venue you’re using in the case of an emergency.
  • Communication strategies: Teach your volunteers how to effectively communicate with their fellow teammates and with your internal team. You could cover strategies like writing concise emails or providing clear auction bidding instructions for attendees. If you’re using a specific communication platform to keep everyone connected on the day of the event, ensure that each team member has the access required, and knows how to use it efficiently.

To present your training, use what works best for your volunteer program and staff member onboarding. For example, you might host in-person or virtual training sessions that include interactive activities or short assessments after each session. However you decide to train your team of volunteers, make sure you’ve created documentation that they can review again on their own time if they have questions. Also, let them know who they can turn to for additional help. The more supported they feel, the better!

3. Recognize your volunteers during the event.


Often, donors are recognized in meaningful ways at nonprofit events. For example, their names might be unveiled on a donor wall, or top donors might receive special awards or commendations.

So, why not recognize the volunteers at your events, too? Making an effort to do so will not only help your volunteers feel seen and valued for their contributions but will also show the rest of your nonprofit’s community that you’re dedicated to making the volunteer experience next-level.

Here are some fun ideas for recognizing your volunteers during your event:

  • Make a “thank-you” announcement. Make a special announcement to all of your attendees, thanking your volunteers for their efforts. Whether you make your announcement at the beginning or end of your event (or even in the midst of the excitement), being personal is key. Speak about specific volunteers’ contributions, and let attendees know just how much your volunteers do, allowing them to feel recognized and appreciated.
  • Present volunteers with small gifts. These gifts might include branded merchandise like water bottles or hats, gift cards from event sponsors, and event swag like volunteer team t-shirts. Gifts are always appreciated and are a fun way to show your volunteers how much you value their time, effort, contributions, and support.
  • Play a video dedicated to your volunteers. Create an engaging video that shows photos and footage of your volunteers at work, with inspiring music in the background. Play it during your event as a way to give a shout-out to the volunteers working the event. This is a great way to showcase the work that your organization is involved with, and how exciting volunteering can truly be. Plus, you’ll also be able to showcase your volunteer program to attendees, who may feel inspired to join themselves!

No matter what role they play, everyone who is involved in your event should leave the event feeling appreciated—especially your volunteers. On top of recognizing them during the event, make sure your team takes the time to thank volunteers for their efforts as you wrap up your take-down activities. This will set a positive tone for individual volunteers that can then lead to long-term involvement.

4. Prioritize meaningful follow-ups after the event.


After an event ends, it can be tempting to move on to other projects and campaigns. After all, you’ve likely been working on (and stressing about) your event for months. But before you move on to your other pending tasks, make sure you prioritize meaningful follow-ups—not just with attendees who make donations to your organization, but with your volunteers, too!

Here are some thoughtful follow-up strategies to use with volunteers after-the-fact:

  • Send personalized thank-you notes. According to Fundraising Letters’ guide to volunteer thank-you letters, you can add an extra-special touch to your thank-you notes by personalizing them with each volunteer's first name. Reference your volunteer data for this information, and use it to guide the rest of the note, explaining the impact that each volunteer had on your event and your nonprofit.
  • Solicit feedback on the volunteer experience via surveys. Keep your focus on the future and set yourself up to improve the volunteer experience at your next event. Gather feedback from your volunteers through surveys. Ask open-ended questions like, “What would you change about your role for a future event?” or “Please provide feedback on the training process for your role—are there any ways we could improve it for future volunteers?” By gathering feedback, you can ensure you make the changes necessary to foster an even better volunteer experience the next time around.
  • Invite future involvement. This strategy is especially important for individuals who just volunteered with your organization for the first time! Identify relevant upcoming volunteer opportunities that you think they would enjoy, and mention them in your thank-you notes or in other communications. Make sure you include your volunteer coordinator’s contact information so that individuals can reach out to your organization with any questions about the opportunities.

Once you’ve engaged your volunteers through your events, make sure you can retain them for future events and other volunteer opportunities! Use these strategies to help your organization build strong relationships with your volunteers that will pave the way for future engagement.

Your volunteers are an important part of your nonprofit’s world, and their hard work can empower your organization in several ways. This is why effectively engaging your volunteers before, throughout, and following your event is so critical.

To take your volunteer engagement efforts to new heights, you might find it useful to work with event experts. The right charity event planning and production team can take care of the heavy lifting for you so that your team can focus on the important work of actively engaging your supporters and volunteers. You’ve got this!

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