It’s a classic case of short selling the volunteer opportunity, and it happens all the time. There are two reasons for it. 1) Either the current leadership is so disorganized that they really don’t know what the job entails, or 2) they know it’s a big job and can’t imagine that someone would do it if they knew all the details upfront. Both are poor excuses and can lead to very unhappy volunteers. So how do you avoid getting into this situation?
If you are the organizational leader that is looking for someone to head up a major event, get your act together. Talk with the outgoing event chairperson and take some time to draft a complete job description. Create a timeline. Pull together your contacts. Provide printed materials from last year (sign-up sheets, programs, etc…). Put it all on a flash drive (or in a binder) and hand it over to the new volunteer leader. It’s silly to start from scratch if you have materials available.
If you are the new volunteer taking on the event, ask lots of questions before you commit! Demand to see a job description before you agree to do it. Find out what volunteers you have to support you as a committee (get names and numbers – not just the classic we’ve got some people who will help you). Discuss how empowered you will be to make decisions and delegate to others. And if you are connecting your name with the event, request to see the budget (income and expenses) so you can closely monitor those elements during planning.
How things are handled from the beginning will impact the entire experience for everyone involved. If the organization is not forthcoming and supportive, the new volunteer leader will feel abused and unprepared. If the new volunteer gets a lot of surprises, they will become bitter because the job will become way more than they signed on to do. Neither is good for volunteer retention.
It does require work before you can delegate a project or event to a new volunteer leader, but if you put in the time to hand over the project with all the details, timelines, and contacts, you will be successful. Regular check-ins and timely communication will instill trust in the relationship and ensure everyone is on the same page. With this structure in place, a few “Oh, by the ways” won’t rattle anyone. And this helps cement lasting relationships on which volunteer retention is built. And oh, and by the way…. thanks for doing the good work you do. Volunteers are the glue that holds this world together!