How to Successfully Onboard Event Staff and Volunteers

Event staff and volunteers are integral team members for organizations all around the world; they can even be the main workforce behind large events or programs. With such a crucial role to fill, it’s important to invest in setting up your event staff and volunteers for success. 

Getting these individuals up to speed quickly allows them to develop crucial skills and start fulfilling expectations much sooner than they would otherwise. With a complete onboarding experience, they’ll spend less time learning through trial and error and more time carrying out their duties.

At InitLive, we’ve worked with thousands of organizations to train and manage their event staff and volunteers. We’ve seen which tactics tend to work well and which tend to fall short of expectations when onboarding newcomers. Based on this experience, we will look into what steps are required to successfully onboard and train your event staff and volunteers. Here is a quick outline of what will be covered in this article: 

  1. Provide Sufficient Training.
  2. Lay Out Expectations Upfront.
  3. Share Access to Event Materials.
  4. Create a Direct Line of Communication.

Ready to learn more about successful onboarding? Let's jump in.

1. Provide Sufficient Training.

Volunteers need to be given training just like any employee would require. It’s important to ensure that every volunteer is set up for success from their first day to their last. There is nothing more frustrating to a volunteer than the feeling that their time is being wasted. Investing in training for all your new volunteers and training for existing volunteers who are being tasked to perform new duties is essential to successfully onboard your staff. 

A simple and effective way to provide training during the onboarding process is through online training. Online training offers the most accessible and convenient training experience. Going digital allows your volunteers to do their required training on their own schedule, whenever it’s most convenient. Most online training tools also offer you the ability to incorporate online assessments to ensure that every volunteer has obtained the information they need to succeed from the training courses. 

Training should line up directly with the roles and responsibilities that fall under their duties as well as any health and safety training that is required. Your training program should be ready to go before you even begin recruiting your volunteers. That way, they start training right away. 

2. Lay Out Expectations Upfront.

Nobody likes being blindsided with responsibilities or tasks they didn’t sign up for. In order to find the right volunteers for the right roles, you need to communicate what the expectations are for each of your volunteer roles. This will ensure that every volunteer who signs up to work will understand what they are committing to.

A volunteer role description should be as detailed as possible to ensure that no expectations are left out of the role or shift listing. Here is a quick list of things to consider adding to your event volunteer role descriptions: 

  • A simple but descriptive role title - You want your role titles to describe the role’s main duty or responsibility. For example, go with distinct titles such as Clean-Up Crew Member, Athlete Registration Clerk, or Refreshment Stand Clerk.
  • A list of tasks - Here you want to quickly outline the tasks and duties that will be performed in this role. This where you really need to set expectations and provide the volunteers with an idea of what they will be doing during their shifts. 
  • Skill requirements - List the skills required to perform each task for the role. For example, this could include ‘money handling’ or ‘food preparation.’ 
  • Certification qualifications - If the roles require specific certifications, you should state what they are. For example, list out details such as the need for a driver’s license, background check, or CPR training. 
  • Physical requirements - Some roles will require physical abilities, and that should be defined in your role description to ensure people aren’t injured on the job. This includes things like the ability to lift 50 pounds, walk 5K, or stand for 5 hours. 

The time investment required to create full role descriptions is well worth it as it will ensure that every one of your volunteers understands what they are responsible for on the big day. This role description can be reused over and over again if you host similar events where the scope of work doesn’t change. 

3. Share Access to Event Materials.

Next up is ensuring your volunteers and event staff are equipped with all the tools and information they need to do their best work on the event day. There is nothing worse than a lost-and-late group of volunteers right when they are needed the most. 

To avoid any confusion and reduce shift no-shows it is important to ensure every volunteer has quick and convenient access to their personal volunteer schedule and any additional material they may require.

Here is a list of materials volunteers require access to when they are working:

  • Their personal schedule with detailed shift information like location, time, and who their supervisor is 
  • Access to a venue map that clearly outlines the various volunteer shift locations to ensure they are able to find and start their shift easily  
  • Emergency plan documents to reference if needed 
  • An event itinerary to keep track of activities and aid people when required
  • Any other vital information like health and safety protocol documents

Providing access to material through an event volunteer mobile app offers a great solution for event producers and their volunteers. Mobile access to all these documents ensures that everyone has access to what they need without the risk of losing paper documents. 

Regardless of how you choose to equip your volunteer with these materials, what is important is that they are given everything they need to perform their duties while ensuring the event runs safely and smoothly. 

4. Create a Direct Line of Communication.

Communication is an absolutely vital part of onboarding and managing a team of event staff and volunteers. It is important to establish an open line of communication with volunteers from the day of sign-up to the work itself to the day after your event is over. In order to accomplish this, determine who is responsible for communicating with volunteers.

Consider assigning volunteer team supervisors who are responsible for managing and communicating directly with your team of volunteers. This ensures that volunteers understand who to contact with questions and who to expect a response from. By assigning a supervisor to a team of volunteers, it is less likely that any question is forgotten. 

As for keeping volunteers in the loop on any schedule updates or shift changes, consider investing in a volunteer management software that automatically communicates updates to volunteers who are affected by any changes to the schedule. This communication automation ensures no updates are left uncommunicated and everyone is always kept in the loop. 

Mobile communication tools like a volunteer management app also allow for quick direct communications during the event. This tool will allow volunteers to send chat communication directly to their supervisor when needed, ensuring no volunteer is left in the dark. 

Now it’s time to start implementing your event staff and volunteer onboarding strategy. No matter how large or small your event or program is, taking the time to implement the above recommendations will ensure that your team is set up for success and that everything runs smoothly.

This was a guest post contributed by Cassandra Smallman of InitLive.This guest post was contributed by Cassandra Smallman of InitLive.

Cassandra is a passionate content creator dedicated to fostering positive impact through thought leadership in both the Nonprofit sector and live events industry. You can find her work at or on Linkedin and Twitter.

Great nonprofit volunteers are worth the cost.

Mutual value is what makes great nonprofit volunteers.

Volunteers are at the core of what nonprofits are.

The origin of the nonprofit sector is tied people voluntarily helping each other as neighbors and as entire communities.

Today, hundreds of countries around the world have codified volunteerism into the definition of a charitable organization.

The ability to enlist willing people in uncompensated labor for the common good is a unique and significant advantage for organizations dedicated to tackling the problems of our day not addressed by government or business.

For nearly all nonprofits, volunteerism starts at the top. While it is possible in most places to pay a nonprofits board, most of the 5 million nonprofit board members in the United States serve voluntarily, and without compensation. In fact, the very word “trustee,” used as an alternate to the title “director” in some nonprofits, speaks to the ethos of nonprofit leadership: to hold in trust for the public good.

See the webinar Nonprofit Volunteers, here.

[BTW: Where did the number of nonprofit board member’s come from? The Independent Sector, a national advocacy group for nonprofits, puts the number of nonprofits in 2019 at 1.6 million . Since nonprofits almost always have a minimum of three board members, then 1.6 million x 3 = 4.8 million. Considering so many have more than three board members, then 5 million is probably a conservative estimate of the number of nonprofit board members.]

To see how nonprofits can use Nonprofit.Courses to support their boards, click here.

While nonprofits are not required to have volunteers, the ability to enlist volunteers is a major, valuable advantage. Volunteers are an extremely valuable tool in bringing your mission to as many people as possible. Even if volunteers cannot be used for direct service delivery, such as when licensed professionals are required by law, volunteers can serve vital support roles in administrative tasks, maintenance duties and most importantly, revenue generation.

See Nonprofit.Courses videos, podcasts and document resources on volunteer management and training, here.

Volunteers bring so much more than meets the eye. The professional experience volunteers bring is often much more than a typical organization of similar size and budget could afford. Then there’s the unquantifiable life experience and enthusiasm for your mission. Volunteers provide a fresh perspective on what you do, bringing new eyes to old problems.

Great nonprofit volunteers come to your organization for a wide variety of reasons.

  1. Are they volunteering because your nonprofit helped them, or they received help from a similar organization?  
  2. Do they need to connect with others? Maybe they’re new to an area and want to build a network of friends with similar interests. Maybe they already have friends who volunteer with your nonprofit?
  3. Are they looking to protect something, or someone they love? While we usually think of “preservation” in environmental terms, your volunteer may feel the need to protect a vulnerable person like a child, a grandparent or a disabled person, or a culture or neighborhood.
  4. Is it expected? Some people volunteer because they’ve been raised in a family where volunteerism is expected. They also might feel that to maintain their social standing in their community, they need to volunteer.
  5. Is in based on faith? Many religions encourage assisting others, in or out of one’s faith community. It’s a powerful driver for volunteerism.

As much as volunteering aids the nonprofit and those it serves by willingly providing no-cost labor, its not a one-way street. That’s why its important to understand your volunteer motivations to help them get the most out of their experience, and thus help them help your mission.

And while a volunteer’s labor is free, nonprofits quickly find out that to maximize their volunteer’s assistance, they need to put in time and money, especially in areas such as…

Use screening for everyone’s protection.

Everyone deserves to be safe, and unfortunately, not everyone who volunteers, as well intended as they may be, is safe for your mission. Many municipalities, states/provinces or other government entities will provide background screening free of charge to nonprofits. Some organizations require the volunteer to pick up the cost. But even if you need to pay from your organization’s budget, consider the consequences if you omit this important step. Not screening can hurt anyone personally injured, and the irreparably damage nonprofit’s reputation.

Great nonprofit volunteers deserve insurance protection.

Screening implies liability, and liability points to insurance.

Many US states try to encourage volunteerism by limiting their liability for a volunteer’s actions while working for a nonprofit. But this may not be enough, depending on the state and the circumstances of services. It’s very important to understand your risks, and provide insurance when necessary. And for board members, this could be especially important, since most don’t want to put their personal future in jeopardy for doing good deeds.

Record keeping will help raise money, and more.

Next on your list should be a good database program. Why? So you can recognize volunteers for their service. So you can contact them easily. So you can show everyone how important volunteers are to your great work. Oh, and money. Database information is great share with funders so they see the community interest in your mission. Also, by using the same database as the fundraisers, you’ll be able to see whether your volunteers are donors, too.

While you can keep the records you want on a spreadsheet or create your own database, there are plenty of off-the-shelf programs for the task. In fact, you may already own the functionality you need that’s embedded into a fundraising gift processing program. Besides basic demographic data, like name, address, contact numbers and etc., consider tracking the volunteer’s hours.

To keep great nonprofit volunteers working, they need supplies.

Of course, you want your volunteers to be as effective as possible in supporting your mission. So, do you give them what they need to do their job? Providing supplies so volunteers can accomplish their assigned tasks is an often-overlooked, essential expense. Even if you expect a volunteer to bring their own supplies, make sure that you account for it so you can give them donation credit at year’s end. Your accounting program, like QuickBooks, is a great place to record the information.

Your volunteers don’t know what to do with those supplies unless you tell them. That brings us to another overlooked expense, staff time.  Providing leadership and guidance is key to getting the most out of your volunteers.

Some volunteers need access.

To do their job effectively, many volunteers, especially board members and fundraisers, need access to documents like financial statements, marketing material, reports on projects progress and more. There’s an entire class of software called “board portals” that can help with this, but simply providing access to a Google Drive folder can often be more than sufficient.

Start right.

Like anything else, to have an effective volunteer program, you need to get them started right. Get the FREE Nonprofit.Courses Volunteer Onboarding Checklist.

Summing it up.

Nonprofits and volunteers can have a mutually beneficial relationship that meets everyone’s goals and needs. Still, like any worthwhile mission focused initiative, it will cost time, and even some money to do it right. That investment could make the difference between effectiveness and frustration.

Don’t forget the most important resources for volunteers: New Course Alerts from Nonprofit.Courses. Each week you’ll see the latest Nonprofit.Courses content, plus events and other activities from our Content Experts. Sign up, now.