Many event organizers depend on volunteers to help keep their costs under control. That's a no-brainer - particularly when it comes to fundraising or boosting event ROI year after year. What might not be so obvious are the hidden costs associated with recruiting, training, and rewarding volunteers for their "free" labor. In some instances, these costs represent the equivalent of a modest salary, even if it comes in the form of uniforms, registration fees, refreshments, and literature.
That means event organizers have to strategically manage their workforce in the same way that many companies handle HR. Regardless of how many volunteers you employ, you'll do well to consider what benefits you'll reap by investing wisely in your volunteers.
Here are a few tips:
Put your money where it counts. Ultimately, event / volunteer organizers are on a mission, and what primarily motivates volunteers is their shared commitment to seeing that mission accomplished. That's why every dollar that's spent ought to help volunteers connect their efforts with the attainment of organizational milestones. This may entail some tough questions about operating policy:
Which roles are the most "irreplaceable," and what are we doing to make sure those volunteers are adequately resourced?
What are the costs of replacing a volunteer? Would it be better to invest that same amount in retention efforts for the highest-performing individuals?
What overhead can be cut from operating expenses to make room for team-building initiatives that more directly impact our organization's mission?
The list could go on. But the overriding concern is simple: the closer the dollars spent are to the boots on the ground, the easier it is for volunteers to connect those expenses with making the organization's vision a reality. And that drives engagement and passion in your workforce.
Mind the rule of diminishing returns. Relieving overworked volunteers with new recruits is an important way to boost morale, but there comes a point when the costs of adding volunteers to the workforce is no longer offset by the increased value those additional workers bring to the table. This can be difficult to calculate, where subjective judgments often have to be made in the absence of wage data. But seasoned managers should to be able to recognize the "saturation point" where adding an extra volunteer generates only marginal productivity gains. At that point, multiplying the costs of labor may be poor stewardship of resources.
Never underestimate the power of gratitude. Many organizations could save a lot on "swag" like coffee mugs and t-shirts if they would simply discover creative new ways to say "thank you" more often. Instead, why not try something more personal like briefly profiling your top 3 volunteers on the organization's Twitter feed? It's free--and probably does more for those volunteers' morale than potentially impractical swag items.
People who are passionate about your organization's mission will invest a lot of themselves in you. That's why it pays to show your people you think they're worth investing in, too. You can start by making sure your organization has the right tools to keep up with volunteers in the field. Having an ear to the ground is the surest way to show your workers that you care not only about your organization's mission, but also about those who are helping you achieve it.
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