I’ve been on the road for the past two weeks visiting two large conferences: The 25th World Food Prize Symposium and the Western Republican Leadership Conference. They are two starkly different events, but both are successful because of one thing: volunteers.

Ambassador Ken Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, addressed the many volunteers helping manage the week-long event.

Every day, volunteers are at the heart of many large-scale events. From marathons to music festivals, and conferences to fundraisers, volunteers end up being the backbone and carry a lot of the workload (and burden) of events.

There are some simple things that you can do to arm volunteers with the knowledge to make them mini-yous.

1. Identify your volunteer needs ahead of time

As your event is in the planning stages, make sure you map out points in which you need help. Registration, raffle or silent auction tables, pre-event packet stuffing, door greeters, etc.

Use the worst-case (or best) scenario that your event is going to sell out and you have 100% of your capacity coming.  What’s it going to take to get all the things prepared before the doors open? Make sure you think through these things, so that you’re not scrambling the night before, (or worse yet, the day of), to staff various points of your event.

2.  Arm your volunteers with knowledge

The best volunteers are those that have the most knowledge about your event and the ‘what-ifs’ that could happen throughout their volunteer experience. What if someone wants to register at the door? What if someone wants a refund? What if we can’t find someone’s registration? How long does the event last? Where are the restrooms?

Have a volunteer meeting before the event starts, and with enough time, to explain to your volunteers everything that is going on during the event. Make sure that they have one person that they can go to before and during the event to help answer their questions or speak on your behalf. You’re going to be busy enough throughout the course of the event that you may not have the time (or battery left in your cell phone) to answer minor questions that could be easily resolved. It can even be as simple as preparing a one-pager on all of the questions and answers that the volunteers need to know.

3. Reward your volunteers

Volunteers give up countless hours to help make your events go amazingly smooth.  There are some nice and easy ways to reward them for giving up their morning, afternoon, or whole day and night.

  • The easiest? Say Thank You. Even just a simple thank you to a volunteer, that is genuine and not rushed, is one of the best ways to let your volunteers know that they are appreciated.
  • Give them a momento from the event.  Whether it’s a t-shirt, some type of award, or a signed photograph of the event, it can easily make your volunteers feel appreciated and that they gave their time to something worthwhile.
  • An appreciation event is another great way to thank your volunteers.  After all of the hard work and time that was put into the event, taking your volunteers out for lunch, dinner or drinks where you can talk and share your experiences from the event is always a great way to let your volunteers know that they are were appreciated.

Preparing your volunteers and showing your appreciation will only encourage them to come back and bring more help to your event the next time around. There’s a reason why people love to volunteer a lot, (myself included); it’s because they love to feel that they are a part of something. And when they do, they’ll keep coming back time and time again.

It’s a backbone of the event that can’t be bought.