1. Keep them informed
Make sure your volunteers understand what their role involves and how it fits into the overall project or event. The need just enough detail to see the big picture – they don’t want to read a telephone directory-sized handbook! It is likely that different volunteers will need different levels of detail. Friendly, timely, informed communication is key.
2. Keep them busy
Volunteers will have made sacrifices – given up free time or taken leave from work – and will fee undervalued if there is not enough to do. Plan carefully to ensure they are actively engaged in a productive activity, or at least entertained if there is a temporary lull. You will need to monitor activity and encourage the workforce to be flexible so they can be redeployed if fewer numbers are required on certain tasks as the project evolves. Bored and frustrated people will vote with their feet. If they don’t have enough to do today, don’t expect to see them again tomorrow, next week or next time.
3. Keep them fed and watered
This should be obvious – but while volunteers are working for you they reasonably expect to be fed and definitely need to be kept hydrated. What you give them will depend on their shift, remoteness and your resources. A packed lunch or a meal voucher is common. For smaller roles, just a small snack and a drink is a good way to say thank you. Can your sponsors help by providing supplies?
4. Help them be properly equipped
Don’t forget to tell them what they need to bring. Mobile phone? Pen and notebook? A folding chair? Let them know if they will be inside or outside and advise them on suitable clothing. I’ve seen cold, wet road-junction marshals wearing suits and ties at a cycling event. I’ve turned up to a winter sports fixture dressed in thermals for sub-zero temperatures only to be given a job inside. Make sure you give them information to help them help themselves by arriving with the right kit.
5. Give them them opportunity to communicate
Have you ever been sent information from a “no-reply@…….” e-mail address. And then searched the Frequently Asked Questions page on the website in vain for the information you need? This way of doing business may be OK for big companies avoiding time wasters. But if your volunteer really needs to find out some information, they need a way of contacting the right person who can answer their question. If not they will get so frustrated that they will probably let you down. And how will they tell you they are not coming!