The Unsung Heroes of Gala Season: Putting Your Volunteers To Work

If you manage your organization’s gala or major special events, you’re probably all too familiar with the joys and challenges of working with a small army of volunteers. Volunteers can be a great asset to your organization, they are your advocates and the people who care enough about what you do that they are willing to work for free. While volunteers are filled with a depth of enthusiasm for your organization, other things may take priority in their lives (even at the last minute) over a commitment to your cause, they don’t always show up with the skill set you might need, and you may not have the time or resources to provide in-depth training.

Does this sound familiar? If so, we’ve got three key pieces of advice for recruiting and managing volunteers for your special events that will keep you from pulling your hair out.

  1. Identify their unique skills and put those skills to work. With volunteers who are new to your organization, this may require an onboarding phone call or coffee meeting, but the time you put into it will be worth it. Figure out what they have to bring to the table beyond simply being an extra set of hands. You may uncover some wonderful things – if the person has a legal background, for instance, perhaps they can help review your vendor contracts. Do they practice calligraphy? Have them write your place cards. Do they have expertise in digital media? Put them to work on your day-of social media strategy. Each volunteer is unique and the ways that you can put them to work are endless.

  2. Think about both ends of the volunteer transaction. Once you’ve figured out what you and your organization can get out of the relationship with this volunteer, think about what the volunteer hopes to get out of the experience. Some people volunteer simply because it makes them feel good to do so, but others may have additional motives. They might be hoping to one day work for your organization, or they may be interested in being in the same room with your honoree or special guest presenters, or they may just be performing community service hours to meet a school requirement. Having a clear understanding of both ends of the volunteer transaction can help you better manage and motivate each of your volunteers, and ensure you get the best work you can out of each of them.

  3. Be clear and communicative. Set expectations in the process of recruiting your volunteers so that you are on the same page from the get go. It is important that they understand what they are signing up for, so that they don’t feel misguided and regret it later (a remorseful volunteer is worse than no volunteer at all). Make sure that your volunteer communications strategy involves multiple channels (emails, phone calls, and/or in person meetings), keeping in mind that it often requires communicating the same set of details multiple times. And if there’s anything we’ve learned first-hand, it’s that people rarely actually read their emails from top to bottom, so don’t rely on one long email to get your volunteers on-boarded and up to speed!