Event Volunteers

How to recruit, train and motivate volunteers staff, with Nick Eade and Katie Radley

The event management industry is changing dramatically and becoming standardised rapidly, particularly in the last decade. The overwhelming majority of academics and industry experts in this area agree. While most of this standardisation has taken place as a direct result of injuries or fatalities at large scale events, more and more are attending events at all scales from village fêtes to country fairs and community get togethers. According to the Business Visits and Events Partnership (BVEP) ‘Events are GREAT Britain’ report in 2014, the value of Britain’s event industry is £39.1 billion.

This practical industry supports an estimated 530,000 full-time equivalent jobs (BVEP, 2014) but the majority of events are also supported by volunteers. Volunteers are a complex addition to any event but with the increase in the number of events in the UK, the use of volunteers will unarguably increase.

People with hands in the air
Pic: Getty Images

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) defines volunteering as ‘any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives.’ It would be true to say that the majority of events that take place would not be delivered without the use of volunteers, and is it just as well that the appetite for volunteering at events is so good. The Northern Irish organisation Volunteer Now states that over 10,000 volunteers are registered in Northern Ireland alone for volunteering opportunities in relation to event management. The figure for the whole of the UK must be considerable!

At the largest scale, the London 2012 Summer Olympics demonstrated the appeal of event volunteering. In the Independent (2016), it was stated that there were 70,000 Olympic volunteers, delivering eight million hours of voluntary work, and that ‘their time and energy have been the key to the Games’ success.’ The BBC also reported: ‘There is apparently no shortage of appetite for volunteering – more than 200,000 people applied and 100,000 were interviewed to be Games Makers.’

Events will more often than not have positions that volunteers can fill, and they are, of course, more cost-effective than hiring in staff if you get their management right. 

Leadership and training
The efficacy of volunteers within the event management industry is of utmost importance. Volunteers need strong leadership and communication to achieve the requirements of their roles. It is important for leaders to be good role models and be able to influence the actions of their volunteers to meet goals, strategies, and to pursue the vision of the event.

Organisational management is of great significance. It should have a focus on the structure, retention, and the well-being of volunteers. Treating all staff well, volunteer or not, is crucial. It will bring out the best performance in people and result in a more successful event.

For a positive outcome, it is critical for volunteers to be given an induction that includes adequate training and understanding of what is expected of them. This will avoid misunderstandings and later recriminations, minimising any potential risks. Before starting, volunteers should sign a position description and contract with the organisers, including their requirements, training received, and the benefits that they will gain in return. This will also protect organisers if volunteers are injured during something that was not part of the agreement.

Training will benefit both parties as without it volunteers will not make an effective contribution to the event. The training procedure reinforces the idea that they are of value and are making a significant contribution to the event. It also develops personal skills.

Volunteers should be treated and trained just the same as any other staff members and it should be demonstrated to them that their time is worthy and important to the success of an event. Selection, recruitment and training were all noted as of paramount importance for the London 2012 Summer Olympics. A great amount of time was spent on the selection of volunteers, with a particular emphasis on role and venue specific training (London Organising Committee of The Olympic and Paralympic Games 2011).

Risks involved
Events can be both demanding and dangerous; serious consequences can result from having disruptive or uninterested staff representing the event. Long hours are often expected from those working at events, and to keep staff performing as they should can be difficult. Volunteers should receive appropriate supervision to minimise any issues and ensure they are working to the correct standards.

Management structures need to adjust to volunteers’ needs, not the reverse. Those organising or recruiting volunteers must be sensitive to their impressions and expectations. The way that organisers treat their volunteers, regardless of a reward system, should be carefully considered. Their treatment has an impact on their retention, as does a volunteer’s understanding of both the event and the management structure they are working within.

Organisers have a duty of care to look after their volunteers’ health and safety. All potential risks and consequences should be analysed for their roles and incorporated into the risk assessment to ensure their safety has been addressed. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires that employers (i.e. event organisers), site/venue owners and self-employed contractors, have a statutory duty of care to protect the health and safety of those that may be affected by their work activity. To protect your organisation, your insurance policy should be checked to see if your public liability or employer liability insurance covers volunteers.

Motivation of volunteers
According to the book Event Management, motivation is what commits people to a course of action, enthuses, energises and enables them to achieve goals, whether the goals are their own or the organisation’s (Bowdin, 2012: p101). Keeping volunteers motivated will often require an incentive. Many events will receive a lot of applicants because of their interest in the event, and the reward for their time will be attending the event for free. Other incentives for volunteers will be to enhance their skills and experience within the industry.

Pic: Getty Images

Making the effort to understand volunteers’ motivation will help find ways to keep them motivated and working to the best of their abilities. This will be a big factor in whether volunteers enhance the success of the event and the attendees’ overall experience as volunteers are often the main people in contact with the public.

A way to help ensure volunteers add value is to use the application process to your advantage and carefully select people who have good incentives for wanting to volunteer. Their reasons will affect their motivation and the effort they put into their roles. Volunteers with past experience are a good bet as their track record will demonstrate their interests, dedication, skills, and reliability.

In conclusion, volunteers are a crucial resource and can be the making of an event with the right recruitment, management, training, and health and safety considerations. However, as they are often in the most public facing positions, they can also be directly responsible for an event’s success. Motivation is a critical factor as useful and enthusiastic volunteers will do wonders for the experiences of the attendees.

Katie Radley is an undergraduate studying Event and Festival Management at Buckinghamshire New University. She has experience in event management and production including with Fisher Productions, at the L’Oréal Colour Trophy Tour, Love Supreme, and the UK Music Awards. She can be contacted via katie.radley@hotmail.co.uk.

Nick Eade MA, MSc BA (Hons) (FHEA) has worked in the event management industry for over 20 years and has been employed at Buckingham New University for 13. He co-wrote the Event Management BA (Hons) course and is course leader for Event Management. www.bucks.ac.uk / 01494 522141 ext. 3007

About Open Air Business 1380 Articles
The voice of outdoor hospitality - in print and online. If you liked this article, subscribe to the printed magazine here. We produce industry e-news between issues - please sign up here