Have you been struggling to fill all your volunteer positions? It isn’t uncommon for groups to be scrambling for volunteers in the days leading up to an event. Oftentimes, this is because a few major barriers went unnoticed and, therefore, unaddressed, leaving potential volunteers on the sidelines.
Let’s walk through a few of those barriers that can hinder your volunteer attraction together so you can be equipped to knock them down.
Barrier: “I’m not wanted or needed.”
It is amazing how groups can promote the need for volunteers for months leading up to an event, and onlookers still express that they didn’t know they were needed. It is easy for people to write-off the need and assume someone else will fill the role.
Personally ask people to volunteer. When possible, shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye and tell them he/she is needed and you want them there. You will be amazed by the number of people in your proximity who will show up if you use this tactic. People need to know and feel they are needed. If in-person isn’t practical, send a text message, email or Facebook message. But for the love of God, don’t send a mass message or email. Nothing says impersonal like a mass email with 100 people on it when you are asking for volunteers. I’ve found the response rate is inversely proportional to the number of recipients on that message. Just say “no” to mass messages.
The Barrier: “I’m not part of the demographic.”
A non-runner might feel unqualified to volunteer at a running event because of his or her inexperience and lack of knowledge in the type of event or industry.
Anytime you are soliciting volunteers, make it clear there is no running experience necessary (as long as that is the case for the positions you are looking to fill). For example, mention how their people skills and attention to detail makes them perfect for the role. If you are looking to fill a roll at an aid station, ask the question, “Have you ever filled a cup with water?”. If they answer, “Yes”, then they are qualified. Probably overqualified.
Barrier: “I don’t know what to expect.”
Nothing scares people more than the unknown. The unknown festers feelings of fear and anxiety. When people don’t know what to expect, it is easy for them to expect the worst. It is easy for them to wonder if they will be taken advantage of, if they will be embarrassed by not knowing what to do, or not do a good job, or if they won’t have fun.
When approaching people to volunteer, have a specific position in mind. Give expectations of the position. Identify the time commitment, suggested clothing to wear, direction on where to park and any expectations you have of them. Make their role very clear and help them recognize and understand the value they will bring to their role and the overall event.
The Barrier: “I don’t want to waste my time or have it take too long.”
Time is precious and fleeting. People value their time and want to know how much they will be allotting to your event. It is possible that people have volunteered in the past for what they thought would be a quick shift that morphed into an all-day commitment, leaving them feeling jaded from volunteering.
Set a solid time-commitment up front. Let the volunteer know you appreciate their time and you won’t take advantage of their kindness by asking them to stay longer than committed. Identify the various shifts that are available and ask them to commit to a particular slot or more if their schedule permits.
These are the primary barriers we recommend addressing when seeking out volunteers. By decreasing the number of barriers, you will see an increase in the number of committed volunteers and ultimately have your event run much more smoothly. And heck, you might even get more sleep leading up to your event, not worrying if enough people will show up.
What do you think? Are there some common barriers we missed, or others that you would recommend addressing? If so we’d love to hear about them and learn from you!