Most conferences run on sweat equity, dedicated volunteers who donate their time and effort. They organize, stuff bags, check in attendees, help people find the correct room, and do almost anything needed to make sure that the conference is a success. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked when it comes time to wrap up the events. Here are a few quick and easy tips on how to organize, and thank, your volunteers:
Ask for volunteers
Much as we’d like to think that volunteers will just appear, you do actually have to ask for them. Make a call for volunteers with groups that would benefit from the conference: college students and new professionals make good volunteers. The price of the conference is usually cost-prohibitive and they can benefit from the networking opportunities.
Give them a reason to attend
Very few people are going to volunteer their time just for the pleasure of volunteering. More often than not volunteers needs a reason to volunteer. You may not be able to give each one a free complete pass to the conference, but you might be able to provide an incentive that’s tied to the events. A free conference bag, a ticket to a premium event, or a pass to the exhibit hall are all good options. If you have registration benefits such as a conference directory or post-event updates, that’s another good option.
Whatever you decide, make sure that it’s related to the topic your conference is covering.
Assign people their schedules in advance
This is a volunteer activity. Their real lives are going to continue. What this means is that they aren’t going to put everything on hold for your conference. Don’t keep people guessing until the last-minute. If you can get the schedules set up on advance, there’s less of a chance they are going to have scheduling conflicts.
Establish a way to push out real-time, mobile updates
Things will come up at the last-minute that will require that you contact all your volunteers on the spot. A last-minute schedule change, an emergency of any sort, a call for unanticipated coverage of a room or event… these all absolutely will come up.
I’ve used groupme text messaging groups to communicate with volunteers while at a conference. We communicated with all volunteers that we would be using this method and what it meant, we shared the “rules” of sharing information through groupme, we created the group the night before the first event, and we deleted the group immediately after the last event. It was a very successful tool for what we needed.
Make it fun
Don’t make it all about work, give them a chance to have fun. Make sure you schedule in some time for them to visit the exhibits or participate in some of the activities available to them.
Make sure they have a chance to eat and take breaks. I know that this seems obvious, but I’ve volunteered at many a conference where that wasn’t taken into account.
Reward them for volunteering
This loops back to the “Give them a reason to attend” tip mentioned above. It’s worth repeating.
Acknowledge them publicly
Mention them in the conference handout or thank them during one of the general sessions. It doesn’t have to be by name, but their work and effort needs to be acknowledged.
Thank them in a non-work setting
Want people to volunteer again next year? Make sure that their last memory is a good one. You can accomplish this by having a post-conference thank you/wrap-up event for the organizers and volunteers.
Do you have a tip to share?
— Written by Sandra Fernandez
* * *