Volunteer Coordinator Tips & Strategies (Tutorial, Guide, 101, Trade Secrets)
Here are some volunteer coordinator tips and strategies. Based on Tim Bradley's experience as a volunteer coordinator for several years.
- Combine as many small shifts as you can into big shifts. For example, combine Packet Pickup, Shirts, and Volunteer Check In into one shift called Expo. This has numerous benefits.
- Use a x2 buffer (assumes 50% no show) for volunteer shifts
- 4-5 hours is the ideal shift length
- Volunteers don't mind long shifts. I did a survey one time and 50% responded with a number 5 hours or higher.
- Weekday shifts (Friday expo) are hard to recruit for. High school students are in school.
- Combine your 2 short weekday expo shifts into 1 long shift so you don't have to recruit as many volunteers.
- Shifts before 6AM are slightly harder to recruit for.
- Shifts before 4AM are extremely hard to recruit for. You may have to hire staff.
- Add shift codes (A1, A2, B1, C1, etc.) to the beginning of your shifts.
- Small shifts (25 slots or less) sometimes have high attrition. I've had 16 sign up and only 1 show up before. I've also had 4 out of 22 before. I don't have this problem with bigger shifts.
- Open volunteer registration 16 weeks out.
- Send your first e-mail blast 11 weeks out.
- Never close registration manually. Let the shifts auto close when they get full. Accept volunteer signups until event day.
- Always order shirts. It's industry standard, helpful for identifying volunteers, and a souvenir.
- Order these sizes: small, medium, large, extra large, and 2X.
- Ignore the volunteer database shirt sizes and order using generic percentages: 28% small, 30% medium, 24% large, 13% XL, 5% 2X
- Use a 40% buffer (x1.4) when ordering shirts.
- It's a numbers game. You need to spread the word about your event to as many people as possible, without bugging them too much.
- E-mail is king. You can tell thousands of people about your event, and barely bug them.
- Keep a "master volunteer list" of e-mail addresses for each county your company has events in. Combine all your e-mail addresses for all your events in that county. Add multiple years.
- Volunteer groups are key. Make sure to track volunteer group leaders, and add them to your master volunteer list too.
- High school groups make up the majority of volunteers.
- Best recruitment techniques:
- E-mail blast to master volunteer list (up to 4 times)
- Extra e-mail blasts to volunteer group leader list (up to 4 times)
- Link to volunteer signup form placed prominently on event website
- Decent recruitment techniques:
- Hand typed e-mail to group leaders (more personal)
- Text all of last year's volunteers or last year's group leaders
- E-mail blast to master participant list (1 time)
- E-mail blast to master participant list offering a discount/comp for a future event
- E-mail trade with local event production company
- E-mail blast offering a donation to groups - sports teams and ROTC's are the most likely to be motivated by a donation
- Poor recruitment techniques:
- Data mine e-mail addresses and phone numbers from school websites - service clubs, sports teams, ROTC's
- Thank you e-mail link trades with other races
- Not recommended. Not a good use of time:
- Cold calling
- Facebook ads
- Posting on volunteer websites - VolunteerMatch
- Posting on general websites - CraigsList, EventBrite
- Social media posts
- There's a couple of things that can ruin a volunteer's experience if done improperly: food, shirts, parking, group donations, or being too strict.
- Feed your volunteers. See "Food" section below for details.
- Make sure you don't run out of volunteer shirts.
- Arrange for all shifts to receive free volunteer parking.
- If a volunteer gets charged for parking and needs reimbursement, make the process smooth. For example, pay them in cash and then put it in your expense report.
- Use a Google Form to collect the info you need from groups receiving donations. Typical info is "pay to the order of", mailing address, and tax ID number.
- For group donations, if the event company will allow it, skip W-9's and just use a Google Form. The W-9 process for high school clubs can be a real pain.
- Send a thank you e-mail a couple of days after your event.
- Include a way to request a verification letter in your thank you e-mail, and provide verification letters in a timely manner.
- Feed expo/packet pickup volunteers a meal, even for 4 hour shifts. Order Dominos. It's inexpensive ($2 per person) and they deliver. Also feed them snacks and water bottles.
- Feed start/finish volunteers breakfast. Buy muffins and danishes at Vons the day before.
- Don't get coffee and don't make coffee. It's too much hassle.
- Feed water station volunteers snacks. Buy them at Vons the day before, then place them in water station trucks the day before.
Email Blast Design
- Have one goal, one event, and one link/button per e-mail blast. Don't try to both recruit volunteers and get runner registrations. Don't try to recruit volunteers for more than one event.
- Do not include minor links in your e-mail blast, such as to the event website. The minor links will steal clicks from your button.
- Always include an image - race logo, picture of volunteers, etc.
- Don't make your text or buttons an image. Many e-mail clients block images by default. And if your e-mail doesn't have enough body text, it may be flagged as spam.
- E-mail blasts increase signups for about 2 days.
Volunteer Registration Website
- Use a good volunteer registration website. It will save you a ton of time.
- Volunteer signup should be one page and not require an account.
- Don't over-collect data. The basics are name, e-mail address, cell phone number, group name, group leader yes/no, and waiver signature.
- Address, birthdate, emergency contact, etc. aren't really needed and make the volunteer page more time consuming to fill out.
- Ask for cell phone number rather than home or office number. Home and office numbers aren't going to work on event morning.
- The signup form should ask them if they're a group leader or not. You may want to pull a list of your group leaders at some point.
- Good feature - prevent duplicate signups.
- Good feature - let volunteers create their own groups. It eliminates lots of back and forth e-mailing, and lots of tracking in Excel.
- Good feature - verification letter generator.
- Good feature - load balancing by highlighting shifts with low signups.
- Good feature - waiver generator.
- On your event website, don't bury the volunteer link. I like to have a link on the top menu level. No sub-menu.
- On your event website, have your volunteer page link go straight to your volunteer registration website. No page in between.
- If a volunteer group leader wants a specific shift, try to accommodate them. They will probably drop if they don't get the shift they want.
- Have course monitors check in at a central location. Don't try to have them go straight to their posts.
- Volunteers are not staff members. If a job is mission critical, hire a staff member.
- The more detailed your volunteer instructions document, the less phone calls you'll get on event morning.
- If you're a week or two out from your event, and you have one shift with much lower signups than the others, try closing all the other shifts.
- When you become the volunteer coordinator of an event, ask for the previous year's 1) list of volunteer shifts, and 2) list of volunteer e-mail addresses.
What do YOU think?
I'm always happy to talk shop and trade ideas with other Volunteer Coordinators. Do you disagree with anything I said? Do you think I should add something? Shoot me an e-mail at .
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