When organizing large events, you are going to need assistants. Sometimes those people are employees, in which case the general rules of the office apply to the event. However, if you’re working with volunteers, that relationship becomes more complex. Keep these points in mind if you’re using volunteers to staff an event.
Lack of Authority
In theory, you are the supervisor. However, that role is primarily one of guidance rather than discipline. If a volunteer is grossly inept, you can send them home, but that only makes sense if their presence is truly more of a detriment than their absence. But the disciplinary dynamics of the office don’t apply. Threatening repercussions, for example, will likely only encourage the person to remain problematic rather than work to find solutions.
What does that mean for you? Work for foster positive relationships rather than adversarial ones. You want volunteers to perform well because they are proud of what they are working on rather than out of fear of reprisals, which are largely non-existent.
Need for Guidance
People volunteer because they value the purpose of the event. If they don’t have the skills to perform their tasks, everyone gets frustrated. As the supervisor, it’s your duty to assign people to tasks they can perform and to provide training when skills are lacking.
Keep People Busy
I volunteered with the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina and got stuck in an overstaffed staging center. As such, my experience was seriously marred by a lack of work. Volunteers want to contribute to the success of your event. If you leave them hanging around without tasks, they feel their time is being wasted. Make sure everyone has something to do throughout their shifts.
The flip side of keeping everyone busy is you don’t want to understaff either. Keeping volunteers on the run is stressful and often detrimental to your event overall as tasks are not addressed in a timely manner. Take time to consider every aspect of the event which will need volunteer staff and schedule accordingly.
One of the problems with scheduling is some time periods may need more volunteers than others. For example, large numbers might be helpful when vendors are loading in, but far fewer are needed once the event actually begins. You don’t need to use all your volunteers all the time. Schedule shifts so the right number of volunteers are in attendance during different phases of the event.
Of course, many of these points are relevant even when you are dealing with paid staff. Still, it is particularly important to recognize supervising volunteers is not like supervising employees. The relationship is considerably different, and that needs to be recognized in all interactions with them. Recognize their time and assistance is valuable and don’t take them for granted.