Running a successful event requires a large staff to ensure that things go smoothly. But unless your budget has no bounds, you may not be able to afford to pay all the staff you need.

Event volunteers are the perfect solution to help you increase manpower and stay within budget.

Of course, recruiting and training volunteers does take some effort. But — with the right strategy — it’s effort that will pay off.

How to design your event volunteer program

Start with your event needs. When planning an event, think about all of the areas for which volunteers would be a great help. Do you need people to work registration tables, usher people to seats, give out swag, or sell merchandise? Also, consider how many people you will need for each role.

Come up with a set of event volunteer requirements. What skills and attributes would your ideal volunteers should have? For instance, if lifting or climbing stairs is part of the job, make sure you’re upfront about the physical requirements. Or, having bilingual volunteers may help if many of your attendees speak Spanish, Chinese, or another language.

Also, consider if you prefer volunteers to be over 18 or 21 for legal reasons or if volunteering to serve alcohol. Being clear about your requirements will help you find good matches.

How to recruit event volunteers

Once you know your volunteer needs, it’s time to find the right people to represent your event brand.

Start with your attendees. People who are on your mailing list or who have registered in the past are already excited about your event. Get in touch to gauge their interest in volunteering.

Utilize the community. If there is a community group involved in the event already, reach out to ask for volunteers. You can also contact local colleges to see if you can share the opportunity with students, and post flyers around the neighborhood.

Use social media. Post a call for volunteers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to reach followers and fans who might not also check their email. If your event is for a good cause, you can also promote the event on sites like VolunteerMatch.

Offer perks. If you want people to volunteer their time, you should offer them an incentive. It might be that they earn a special level of event access once their shift ends, a discount on merchandise, or a cool giveaway. The idea is to make volunteers feel special and appreciated.

How to get your volunteers ready

Once you’ve selected your event volunteers, it’s up to you to get them up to speed so they understand their duties.

Pre-qualify volunteers. Make sure you’re not just finding people who want to volunteer, but those who can actually do the job. Set up a simple survey to make sure they meet basic qualifications, ask about their interests, and find out how much time they can commit.

Create an orientation program.  Whether it’s in person or online, overview what volunteers should expect on event day, and what will be expected of them. Share details about what to wear, what to bring, where to meet, and what time to report on the day of the event. Provide a contact person that volunteers can reach out to with questions.

Provide training. Build in some extra time to train volunteers so that there is no confusion or last-minute stress the day of the event. The last thing you want to do is make your volunteers feel like they are flying solo.

Choose staffers to lead volunteer teams. Your volunteers should have a point person on your staff that they can report to on the day of the event. In fact, depending on the size of your event, you might group volunteers by activity, and designate a team leader for each.

Show some gratitude. On the day of the event, take a few minutes to get volunteers pumped up and excited, and thank them for their service. At the end of the day, ask volunteers to share their thoughts and provide feedback on their experience. Follow up after the event with a heartfelt thank-you message.

How to avoid event volunteer fails

Coordinating a team of volunteers can be challenging, even if you follow the steps above. Here are a couple of common mistakes to avoid.

Don’t get into legal trouble. The US Department of Labor actually has specific rules that distinguish between volunteers and employees to make sure you’re not taking advantage of anyone.

Ask volunteers to agree to a code of conduct. Spell out your expectations to eliminate confusion later on. Some key points can include dressing appropriately, being respectful to other volunteers and attendees, and how to report potential problems or safety hazards.

Have a backup plan. It’s always better to have a few extra volunteers than not enough, so sign up a few extra to account for no-shows.

Volunteers are only as good as the people finding and training them. A strong volunteer recruitment and training strategy can make all the difference.

Volunteers are just one part of your onsite operations. To make sure every aspect of your event runs smoothly, download this checklist to foolproof your event logistics.

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