Handling Volunteer Requests… and when to make exceptions
Managing volunteers can be a challenge, especially when multiple volunteers make special requests. Of course, you understand that volunteer are people, and they have individual needs. You want to be understanding and ensure the volunteers feel appreciated for their time and effort. But if you attempted to meet each volunteer’s individual needs, you would no longer have a volunteer team, but a large group of problems. Here we will demonstrate appropriate ways to handle volunteer requests while maintaining a successful volunteer program.
How to handle requests, and the appropriate time for exceptions
Setting Specific Work Requirements
First things first, as a volunteer management team, it is important to set specific expectations that potential volunteers must take into consideration before signing up to volunteer. Setting these requirements will allow for an easier flow when planning and organizing your volunteer team. These requirements will also allow you as a coordinator to justify turning down requests you think may complicate the program.
So what requirements are appropriate to make? Below are a few examples of work requirements volunteers must meet that will help your volunteer program run smoothly and successfully:
- Setting required availability: the volunteer is required to be available for the duration of the event.
- Letting volunteers know a time frame in which they may make a request, but no request is guaranteed
- Specific cancellation fees and dates
It is also important to set consequences if these work requirements are not met and especially if no previous request was made. Consequences can vary depending on what type of volunteer program you are running. A few examples of consequences could be cutting off access to the event or simply no ticket reimbursement.
Requests Prior to the Event
Requests made in the time frame allotted should be taken into consideration, if the request is not in direct conflict with a stated program rule. When making exceptions, first consider the impact of the exception on the program, your staff, the requesting volunteer, and the department.
A volunteer may request to arrive at a timeframe outside of the posted hours of arrival for the event. This may be a request that is acceptable, depending on the event logistics. Asking in advance can allow the volunteer to be added to a Late Arrival Category, so as to be scheduled accordingly, and to ensure management is aware throughout the program.
Requests for less shifts, or to leave a scheduled shift early, should be expressly denied. Allowing some volunteers to bypass the stated program regulations, while enforcing that others abide, can ruin the program’s integrity in the future. There are certain boundaries that just can not be bent!
Many requests for exceptions are made when an event is selling reimbursable tickets, and the cancellation fee periods have begun. Volunteers will often have a myriad of excuses related to late cancellations, and skirting the cancellation fees. This is an area we recommend making no exceptions, as then the volunteer coordinator becomes the subjective judge on whose excuse is validated enough to be excused, and this can lead down a slippery slope.
Onsite requests should not be considered in the same vein as pre-event requests for accommodations. Of course, if it’s an easy request that just takes notating a volunteer’s account, or making a quick schedule tweak that will not leave departments SOL, then of course let’s make the volunteer happy. But beware… when you make an exception for one volunteer, the word can spread like wildfire and then you’ve got yourself a large group of problems. It is important to be firm with expectations and fair to all the volunteers, to ensure program integrity is maintained.
Of course, there are emergencies that pop up, and again, we are all human! If a volunteer is leaving early due to an emergency, require their event wristband be returned to the volunteer HQ.
When receiving onsite requests, sometimes it’s best to offer options that you know are not desirable, in exchange for allowing the exception. This can be a great way to (1) prevent the exception from happening and (2) cover some other event need that is dire. For example, you may have a volunteer that is pleading to see a performance they are scheduled during. You might have a shortage of volunteers during the exciting Saturday night sets, and so you might let the volunteer know the only way to see the performance is to exchange for the Saturday night shift. It helps to ask the volunteer to give up something, too.
With festiVOL™, friends are able to link their accounts so that they are scheduled together (Features for the Worker). This puts the personal responsibility on the volunteer to ensure they are working the same shift times as their friends. Many times a volunteer will have forgotten to link. This is not an acceptable excuse for asking for a schedule change – as a volunteer must be responsible for some portion of their participation!
There are hundreds of different requests that a volunteer manager will hear at an event. Best course of action is to keep good boundaries to ensure the program retains its integrity in future years. But, alas, we are all human, and sometimes we need a little flexibility to get by… but beware the onsite exception train!!
If you are ready to tap into what festiVOL™ has to offer, head on over to www.festiVOL.com/pricing and purchase your event’s license to success!