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.

Shift Design

  • 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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