Events don’t only generate funds for an organization—they generate awareness, which is why it’s critical to dot every “i” and cross every “t.” Kelley L. Malcolm, a national manager for signature events at the National Parkinson Foundation in Miami, launched the organization’s Moving Day, A Walk for Parkinson’s in 2011, raising more than $500,000 with the help of more than 300 teams and 2,500 walkers. Here, she shares how to shape a successful event.
SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS. I create job descriptions to outline tasks and time commitments. Asking people to join your committee happens through a conversation. Ask about their vision—what do they like to do? What are their goals as a volunteer? These discussions will help you learn who is better for data entry than a role on the sponsorship committee. Day-of volunteers need similar information. Almost every event calls for volunteers to staff registration tables to greet and direct guests. At a gala, volunteers may sell raffle tickets and monitor auction items. For the walks I organize, strong setup and cleanup crews are essential.
IDENTIFY RECRUITS. Past volunteers, donors, and people they may recommend are all great options for event committee members—essential volunteers who help with the heavy lifting such as the budget, marketing, and logistics. To recruit day-of volunteers, use online tools like VolunteerMatch, SignUpGenius, or the Walden Service Network. I’ve also reached out to local companies and sports teams with volunteer programs. Many of those volunteers have returned to help with other events.
COMMUNICATE REGULARLY. Stay in touch throughout the planning process to keep everyone motivated. I have a large group of volunteers, so I mainly rely on email, but I contact committee members through conference calls and group training sessions. I want them to be hands-on. Closer to the event, inform day-of volunteers about dress requirements, parking, check-in, and what to do once they complete their tasks. I also always send a reminder of the organization’s mission so volunteers remember why they’re participating and how to share those details with attendees.
RECOGNIZE VOLUNTEERS. Thank them at the event, on stage or in the event booklet, or afterward with a formal letter of appreciation. Social media also allows you to highlight people publicly—consider short callouts paired with an image from the event. I’ve also invited contributors to be guests at other events we plan. Remember, day-of volunteers who do a great job—and really enjoy the experience—may become future planning committee members.
FEED THE FUTURE. I ask for feedback from volunteers as soon as possible, usually within six weeks. Ask everything: What was great; what needs improvement? Having that on-the-ground perspective is so insightful. Fresh eyes can introduce new ways of doing things. With volunteer input, an event becomes even more successful!