Volunteer Coordination at Events

At any event large or small you’ll always find a team of volunteers. Those dedicated (and usually unpaid) souls who are pitching in to help in various capacities and disciplines. But what of the person tasked with co-ordinating them? What do they do?

A volunteer coordinator manages all elements of volunteering either within their own organisation or on behalf of the organisation for which they are recruiting volunteers. The role involves assessing and meeting an organisation’s needs through the recruitment, placement and retention of volunteers.

What is required of a Volunteer coordinator?

  • Patience: Dealing with large groups of people and their concerns and questions can be time consuming. An abundance of patience will go a long way.
  • Time management skills: You’ll be required to keep many plates spinning. Have you enough people to do litter picking? Are your volunteer stage hands qualified to be there?
  • Organisational skills: In this case Excel is your friend, Database everything!
  • People skills: To quote a friend of mine who has worked as a volunteer coordinator: “You need to be equal parts priest, dictator and psychologist to be a successful volunteer coordinator”.
  • Adaptability: You can only plan so much, and sometimes things don’t follow according to that plan. You’ll need the ability to think on your feet!

There are also some additional aspects that a coordinator may be required to do:

Recruitment: Depending on your contract you may be asked to recruit. Application forms are very important in this regard, but always ask for a CV as a volunteer may write down Sound Engineer as job preference, but their CV will state that they have only an interest and no practical experience.  The opposite of that is somebody has no formal training but CV states that they’ve been in a band for five years and experience with patch overs, load outs, etc.

Sourcing volunteers may be difficult, but social media has made things a lot easier to advertise. You are hired to not only make sure that the festival/event has enough volunteers and all positions are filled, but you are also in charge of their welfare and often will have to confront organisers who may take advantage of volunteers. Accordingly make sure that food/shelter/rest provisions for volunteers are part of any contract you sign with an organiser. A happy volunteer turns up and does job an unhappy volunteer disappears.

ALWAYS process more volunteers than you need.  Aim for 25-40% more. Bad weather devastates numbers. Certain festivals/events use deposit systems whereupon volunteers get money back if they turn up for all shifts. This works in theory but when faced with bad weather or bad temperament, volunteers will happily forfeit money and not turn up.

Health & Safety: You should NEVER place a volunteer in a situation of danger, money or extreme responsibility. This is one of the biggest mistakes both small and large events do. To save on money organisers will get volunteers to do the job of paid professionals. It is not fair to place them in such positions as they have no training. Insurance (if they are covered) is iffy and may cause great damage if asked to do something they’re not capable of doing. While festivals/events all round Ireland do have volunteers in these positions, try to limit handling cash at carparks etc, security detail after curfew/sparsely populated zones, on stage as tech WITHOUT supervision, etc.

Long Hours: Extremely long hours! You may have an assistant but if they have volunteers on from 8am to 2am, there must be somebody to oversee their shifts. That may mean (and very often does mean) you are on from 8am -2am. If you take on an assistant, it is advisable to choose a friend as they need to be trustworthy.

So, as you can see being a Volunteer Coordinator can be extremely challenging, but if done well it can also be extremely rewarding. A good coordinator will be one you’d be happy to have working your event, or one you’d be happy to volunteer for!