Picture this: your nonprofit is about to host a fundraising gala that’s expected to welcome over 100 guests. Your team is hustling to get everything in order, from reserving a space and mapping out table assignments to procuring appealing items for your auction. But here’s the good news: you don’t have to tackle all of the planning on your own.

With the help of a dedicated team of volunteers, your nonprofit will be in great hands to turn your event dreams into a reality. Volunteers can help with every aspect of your event planning, including marketing your event, crafting personalized invitations to major donors, and decorating and setting up your event on the day-of. 

To make the most of your volunteer team, you’ll want to recruit the right people, provide them with the support and guidance they need to succeed, and inspire them to work diligently to champion your cause. Use these top tips to get volunteers event-ready and excited to push your fundraising and engagement goals forward:

  • Create a simple and user-friendly application process
  • Provide an educational onboarding experience
  • Show your volunteers some well-deserved gratitude 

Whether you’re preparing to host an upscale gala fundraiser, auction, or golf fundraiser, a well-rounded volunteer team can streamline the entire planning process and create a positive event experience that all of your supporters will remember. Let’s get started! 

Create a simple and user-friendly application process

The first step to building the perfect volunteer team involves identifying people with the necessary qualifications and a shared passion for your mission. However, that doesn’t mean you should turn away people who might not have experience with your cause or event planning. In many cases, potential candidates just need to have availability in their schedule and an interest in learning more and growing with your organization. 

To encourage people to apply and complete the relevant forms, your volunteer application process should be as easy as possible. Use these best practices to make your volunteer application process intuitive and accessible:

  • Clearly list the type of support you’re looking for. What roles are you hoping to fill? What will volunteers’ responsibilities be, and what is the expected time commitment? Listing out the logistical details of your volunteer roles increases the likelihood that qualified volunteer applicants will submit an application, as they’ll already know what they’re committing to before the role even begins. Additionally, supporters with less time to commit or different skills can pick and choose from different volunteer positions at your organization that may be more suited to their preferences and schedules. 
  • Add a streamlined application form to your website. The application form itself should cover only the most essential information so prospective volunteers can fill it out quickly. For example, you should definitely ask for applicants’ contact information, role preferences, skills that could be relevant to the role, emergency contact information, and availability. Other information, like how volunteers found out about your organization or their place of employment, can be made optional or asked later in the training process. 
  • Promote volunteer opportunities widely. Get the word out about your event volunteering opportunities by leveraging a multi-channel marketing strategy. The OneCause guide to nonprofit marketing plans explains that it’s best to use a mix of digital platforms like social media, your website, and email newsletters to highlight your volunteer needs to your target audience. Share a mobile-friendly link to your volunteer application form so prospective volunteers can fill it out anywhere, at any time. 

You can also offer a current volunteer’s email address (or a generic volunteer program email) that prospective volunteers can contact with any questions as they fill out their forms. This way, they can easily clear up any confusion and confidently approach and complete the volunteer application process. 

Provide an educational onboarding experience

Once volunteers submit their applications and you’ve determined that they’re the right fit for the roles, you’re ready to onboard them. Your new volunteers might have varying levels of familiarity with your organization and event planning, so it’s best to provide a standard onboarding process across the board to ensure everyone is on the same page. 

To kick off training and start the volunteer experience on a high note, use these expert strategies: 

  • Host an orientation session. This serves as an opportunity to acquaint your new volunteers with your organization. During your orientation, let them know the ins and outs of what makes your nonprofit unique, from your mission statement to the principles and values that shape your internal culture. This way, volunteers can speak confidently about your organization if event attendees ask them questions while they’re out and about advancing your cause. Consider hosting several in-person orientation sessions at different times to accommodate volunteers’ schedules, or you can record the meeting and share it online. To ensure volunteers who miss orientation watch the recording, you might make a brief quiz that tests their understanding of the basic information that was shared. 
  • Provide a volunteer handbook and resource library. A volunteer handbook is the basic source document of everything volunteers need to know to be successful in their roles. Here, you can provide an overview of your organization and the specific best practices associated with their positions. Provide requirements for volunteer roles, hour logging procedures, volunteer program guidelines, and other relevant details. You can also create and share a resource library online where volunteers can learn more about event planning best practices. 
  • Go over technical logistics. Some of your volunteers might be in charge of running the technical side of your event, from supervising the livestream of your hybrid auction to making sure the audio equipment is hooked up and ready to go at your gala. Walk your volunteers through these responsibilities and answer any questions they might have. You also might invite some volunteers to peer-to-peer fundraise in advance of your major event. Let them know exactly how they can create their own personal fundraising page, customize it, and share it with their personal networks to boost revenue. 

Make sure all volunteers are aware of the details of your event, including the date, shifts they’ll be completing, and dress code. The more prepared your volunteers are, the better they’ll be at contributing to your event’s success! 

Show your volunteers some well-deserved gratitude

Now that you’ve assembled and trained your volunteer team, you need to keep their motivations high so your event can go off without a hitch. One of the best ways to engage volunteers and keep them invested in your mission is by expressing volunteer appreciation. Publicly or privately demonstrating your gratitude can go a long way in helping volunteers feel valued and emotionally connected to your cause. 

Remember, you don’t have to wait until the end of the event to express your thanks! Consistently recognizing volunteers for their support in the planning phases can help them feel energized and eager to see their roles through. 

Kwala’s list of the top volunteer appreciation ideas recommends recognizing volunteers in the following ways: 

  • Sending thank-you notes. Consider sending a handwritten thank-you note or saving time with a digital eCard. In your note, be sure to reference volunteers’ specific contributions and how they made a difference in your event’s success. 
  • Giving shout-outs on social media. Share photos or videos of volunteers in action planning your event or even helping with set-up on the big day. Then, call them out by name in your caption and thank them for their time. This also functions as great publicity for your volunteer program, encouraging more people to sign up to volunteer. 
  • Gifting free merchandise. Everyone loves free merchandise, and best of all, they can show off your nonprofit in the process! You might give your volunteers shirts they can wear at your event and around town to market your cause. 

Check in with your volunteers to confirm which form of volunteer appreciation they’re most comfortable with, whether that’s online or offline. This way, your recognition is more meaningful and speaks volumes about your organization’s level of care for its volunteer base. 

Armed with the support of an energized and enthusiastic volunteer base, you can ease your administrative burden and run successful fundraising events year-round. Make sure to regularly meet with your volunteers to guarantee everything is on track and see if there’s anything you can do to help them with their projects. Your volunteers will appreciate your assistance and feel more connected to your nonprofit, increasing the likelihood you’ll retain their support for future fundraising campaigns and events. 

About the Author:
Sarah Sebastian from OneCause

Sarah Sebastian is the Director of Corporate Communications at OneCause. She’s a marketer and brand geek at heart with eight years of experience in the nonprofit tech space. Outside of work, Sarah can be found reading, hiking, kayaking, volunteering for Florida Access Network, or getting lost in the woods while photographing birds.