Step 1

Figuring out your details

Whether you’re working for a film festival or an animal shelter (or anything in between), laying out some basic information about your job will make everything easier to plan later.

Consider the main details

  • The industry. What is the type of event or organization you’re planning for?
  • The field. What is the general purpose, focus, or cause of the event/organization?
  • The region. Where does your organization or event occur?

All of this may impact how you recruit, or require extra considerations in planning.

Organizers and team members

It’s important to remember that you’re not in this alone! As the volunteer manager, you’re not working not just with the volunteers themselves. You’re also coordinating the volunteer efforts on behalf of the core team and leaders of your organisation / event. It’s important that you reach out to your team in the early days of your involvement to find out who they are and what they’re responsible for. This will make it easier for you to do your job: creating the right tasks and matching them with the right volunteers.

List the names of your fellow coordinators and team leads, as well as what they’re responsible for!


We covered the main region your organization or event operates in above. But each event has its own locations and spaces where volunteers will be expected to work (or at least know how to direct others to).

At a film festival, this might be stages, backstage areas, refreshment tents, and so on. At an animal shelter, this might be individual rooms or parts of the shelter. For example, the cattery or dog runs.

Locations will be specific to your organization or event, so it’s important to outline them as early as possible to better prep your volunteer onboarding.

List the different locations your volunteers need to be aware of!

Schedule of events

Do you have a planned program or set schedule? Keep a copy of it handy while you’re doing your prework. It will help you answer a lot of questions about what kind of work is needed, when and where. Keep an updated copy in your Resources section or volunteer manual so that your team can access it quickly and easily when needed.

🤔 Does the event have a set start / end range?
🤔 Is the event recurring?
🤔 Do you have day-to-day operations throughout the year?

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Step 2

Sorting out the actual work

This section is designed to help you thoroughly consider the type of help you need your volunteers to provide.

If you’re using Zelos, this consideration will help maximize its matchmaking functions. As a result, you’ll be able to outline clear duties and create distinct groups for capable volunteers to join and self-assign.

And if you’re not using Zelos? Outlining and defining the duties in advance will still help your recruitment efforts. Having a good template lets you find the people most qualified and capable of helping out.

In-house conversations

It can be difficult to join a team late in the game to take on a whole new level of work. As mentioned above, volunteer managers and coordinators are not always first on the scene. This is why developing your relationships within the core team is important. Having a better understanding of what your teammates do, and what they’ll need help with, will only make everyone’s job easier.

Talk to your team leaders and ask them:

🤔 What tasks will they need help with, and when?
🤔 What skills will their volunteers need?

You’ll have to do some research on your own, as well. Not everyone knows from the start what they’ll need, and some team members may not be able to meet with you.

Consult the schedule and see what kind of programs are part of your event. Some educated guesswork will also help you predict what assistance might be needed. For example, will someone need to collect tickets at the door for entry? Will a question-and-answer session need a mic runner?

Also consider the level of difficulty or complexity of a task. Is it location-dependent or if it can be done remotely? Flexibility in your planning can open doors to new volunteers.

Setting goals

Now that you’ve gotten to know your team, and have a solid idea of what they need, it’s time to turn your thinking towards what you will need from your volunteers, in a big-picture sense.

The best teams are united by a common purpose, so take the time to spell out what goals your volunteers will be working towards. What are the overarching services that they are providing to your event, organization, and community? What will they be celebrating having achieved?

You may have some more abstract goals like promoting a cause, or creating a smooth experience. But try to identify tangible milestones that can be reached along the way.

🤔 What are the specific goals for volunteer work?
🤔 What are the key milestones to reach?
🤔 How will you celebrate team achievements?

Setting boundaries

When designing a great volunteer experience, setting boundaries is just as important as setting up shared goals.

Respect your volunteers and their time by deciding the limits of what you’ll ask of them early. Do this before they’re on the scene! Decide and let them know how many hours of work you’ll assign them, and what contributions you’re willing to ask of them. Think of other specific limits that will show that you appreciate their contribution more than “free labor”.

Creating a volunteer code of conduct is also important. This should include policies for reporting violations, and a process that will be followed in those cases. Volunteering is a major act of trust on the part of both the volunteer and the organization, so lay the groundwork for a successful relationship by being clear about what you expect from volunteers, and what they can expect from you.

Include this information in your volunteer manual. And more importantly? Stick to your own rules, apply them evenly, and provide the support you promise. Your role is not just “make sure work gets done”, but to create a great experience for everyone under your responsibility.

🤔 How many hours will your volunteers work, maximum? How can they request a change or indicate a preference?
🤔 What behaviors will have a negative impact on other volunteers, the event/organization, or the participants? What behaviors will not be tolerated, and why?
🤔 How can volunteers lay a complaint about the work, their teammates, or a participant at the event? What is the chain of command in case there is a problem with a supervisor?

Work categories

At this point, we’ve walked through the details of your event and its expected schedule. You’ve talked to your teammates about the work they do and the assistance they’ll need, and you’ve set up a core set of principles for establishing trust and teamwork with your volunteers. Now it’s time to start getting into the nitty-gritty about the work they’ll be doing.

Always refer back to the conversations you’ve had with your teammates, as well as the notes you’ve taken about work and expectations.

Keep your planning material on you. Organise the notes you’ve made in your meetings and brainstorming sessions, any paperwork or schedules related to the event/organization. Write down any answers you’ve given to the questions in this guide. With that work providing the big-picture look at the work expected of the volunteers, you can start outlining the details.

What types of work are needed?

  • Staffing (on-site: set up, ticket-taking, “warm bodies”)
  • Promoting (social media, posters/flyers)
  • Customer assistance (guides, info desk, etc.)
  • Specialist (advanced skills/abilities)
  • Runner (errands, room- or person-based)
  • On-call (floater at event, waiting at home, etc.)
  • Shift (morning, evening, “4 hours”, etc.)

Gathering context

The types of work will depend on a number of factors, but put some thought into figuring out how a volunteer’s workdays, or shifts, should be structured. How much time will volunteers have to enjoy themselves as well as work? Are there different departments at your organization or event that you know will need dedicated workers? How does each type of work feed back into the overarching volunteer goals?

Consulting your notes

While many tasks will emerge in the moment, there are many you’ll be able to plan in advance. Looking at the previous subsections, pull out the following information:

A different perspective

Considering the whole of your event, make a list of the following:

  • Skills needed
  • Toughest jobs
  • Longest jobs
  • Specialist jobs

First draft: Create a master schedule

You’ve already outlined the days that you’ll need to plan for, as well as the locations the volunteers will be working at.

Using paper and pencil (multiple colors helps!), a spreadsheet program, or post-it notes and a large table or wall, complete the following steps:

  • Create a chart with the range of days across the top, and the locations along the side.
  • Cross out any boxes where the location is not in use on that date.
  • Using one color, add the event’s schedule/program of events into the schedule.
  • Using another color, add details about the types of work you know will be necessary each day in each location.

Next step: Create a master task list

Now you’ve got a solid outline of days and locations you’ll need volunteers, performing what work types. Looking at that outline, start creating a catch-all list of tasks, duties, and shifts that are relevant to each of the boxes in your schedule (day, location, program, work type).

Keeping the big picture in mind can help you identify the fine details of the process. Whether you make this digitally or on paper (and whether you’re going to use Zelos or not), it can be helpful to view your tasks as individual components. This way they can also be easily reorganized if needed. As you continue planning, you may want to look at your tasks based on work type, location, date, department, team leader, etc. Flexibility in sorting/arranging the tasks is a good idea, such as with spreadsheets or post-it notes.

The goal of this exercise is to capture as many potential tasks as possible. Don’t worry about figuring everything out, or missing something. You’ll be able to adapt the list as you go.

Preparing for your dream team

Once you’ve got a master task list, go through and decide how many hours of work each will take. If you know some tasks will require more than one person, total the number of hours worked between all volunteers. For example, a four-hour cleaning shift requiring two people would be written down as eight hours of work. Still don’t forget to keep track of how many people you anticipate needing for each task, if it’s more than one.

Based on these work needs and estimates, you can calculate the number of volunteers needed. This will also give you the anticipated hours per volunteer that you outlined in the Establishing a Baseline section.

This number will help you guide your recruitment efforts. But it’s also worth remembering you may end up needing more, or fewer, volunteers than you calculated. This number is a useful estimate, but stay flexible as new circumstances arise!

It’s also time to start considering what type of team structure will you need to pull this off. If you’re a small team of volunteers, you may not need much in the way of management structure. But as the number of volunteers and departments grow, so too will the need to keep everything organized. Sketch out your initial plan for organizing your team below.

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Step 3

Right people for the job

The first trick of organizing volunteers is recruiting the right ones. This section will help you figure out the best places to find the best people to help. In addition to identifying the best sources for volunteers, you’ll also get a better sense of how to prepare yourself as well as your recruitment campaign.

Target audience

🤔 Who is excited about your event/cause/organization?
🤔 When doing public recruiting/outreach, consider who would benefit from volunteering, or has additional motivations

People who are already interested in your cause will be more motivated to participate in your event or organization. It seems fairly common sense, but keep in mind that the target audience for your cause is not necessarily the same as that of your event.

For example, a film festival may assume that its audience is, “people who have enough money to go to a cinema, and have evenings free”.

However, when you consider all people who are passionate about film, you may come across many other audiences more prone to volunteering. Think of students and retirees, as well as industry professionals who may want to participate within the community outside of their professional roles.

Even people who would otherwise attend the event for its own benefit may have reasons they want to volunteer. Because they can’t afford a ticket, they’re interested in networking. Maybe they just have a flexible schedule and a strong work ethic. Luckily these self-motivating volunteers tend to turn themselves in, instead of waiting for recruitment.

Don’t discount someone for being too experienced or esteemed – established community members may want the opportunity to pitch in and help out, or at least be invited to do so.

Volunteer coordinators can sometimes feel like they have to rely on their own friends and family to fill up the ranks of volunteers. Make sure all the organizers/leaders are approaching their own! Encourage them to reach out to their networks and see if they know people who’d be interested in volunteering. Remember, it’s not just the event’s target audience!

  • Reach out to your network – and your colleagues’ networks. Are there existing volunteers on-board, veterans of past events?
  • Keep in mind your estimated number of volunteers and the hours they’ll work, as figured out in the Work section – you don’t want to vastly over-recruit. Giving volunteers too little to do can be as unproductive, and unenjoyable, as giving them too much to do.


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Step 4

Perks and motivation

When you were planning the work itself, you outlined the goals of the work volunteers were needed to do. When considering the people to recruit, you considered the individual motivations people might have to support the shared cause.

Now it’s time to think about the unifying goals of the volunteer experience. It can be difficult to project positive motivations on others. While it’s easy to think about your own willingness to volunteer without obvious compensation (whether money, attention, or prizes), it can be difficult to remember that others feel the same way. But we may have multiple motivations for volunteering. Sometimes those perks are obviously valuable: networking, learning new skills, growing our CVs, saving money in exchange for work. But it’s their own desire to help, and be helpful that primarily motivates people.

The obvious motivations listed above are termed extrinsic motivations. These are things that are external to ourselves and either tangible, visible, or accessible to others. But the strongest motivations we have are intrinsic, the things that we value in and about ourselves.

We want to do good, and we want to be helpful. We want to know we contributed to a larger cause that we believe in. We want to collaborate and cooperate with others. And while playful competition has its own role in motivating individuals and teams, most of our time is best spent competing with ourselves . How can I be better? How can I improve my self-image?

If you were a volunteer approaching this opportunity, what answers would you want the coordinator to provide? Which answers would be the ones you give?

  • What can I get for volunteering with this event/cause/organization? How will volunteering benefit me?
  • What can I give by volunteering with this event/cause/organization? How will volunteering help my community?

Now take a moment to revisit the answers you gave. Which ones are more important to you, as a person and a volunteer? Connecting with the positive motivations of volunteers can guide your preparations and implementation, even when you get stressed out. Volunteers want to help – your goal is to help them find the best course to do that.

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