Almost every event is constantly looking for volunteers. How do you know if volunteering is the right decision for you?

Some people volunteer because they can’t afford an event. Other people volunteer because they find it more enjoyable than simply being an attendee!

How do you know if you’re one of those people who will enjoy volunteering? And, if you want to volunteer, what questions should you ask yourself before you do?

The People who Enjoy Volunteering

Most volunteers who actively enjoy the experience fall into one (or more) of a few categories:

  1. They’re shy or feeling nervous,
  2. They don’t know anyone at the event,
  3. They like being part of an organizational or execution team, or
  4. They like having a job to do.

The Shy or Nervous

One of the people who volunteers for Canada Zouk Congress started out as a regular participant. At his first event, he spent 1/2 of the evening hanging around the registration table talking to the volunteers because he was nervous about his social dancing and just wanted to talk to people.

Now, he actually volunteers and gets a discount on his pass by volunteering at the table he was hanging around anyways.

I also have some volunteers who are shy by nature, and volunteering brings them close to the action without needing to actively seek out social situations.

The People who are New

New people sometimes don’t think about volunteering – but it can be a great way to get to know people. When you volunteer, you typically are part of a group who is working to make the event happen.

If you’re a front-facing volunteer, you meet lots of the participants. If you’re a rear-facing volunteer, you’ll usually meet more of the organizational team and the artists.

For people who are alone at a congress, this can give them an instant social circle.

The People who Like Helping or Organizing

There are people who just really enjoy being involved. Volunteering is perfect for these people. It gives you all the perks of participating (most events let you control when you’re willing to volunteer) and lets you be behind-the-scenes a little.

The People who Like Having a Job

If you’re someone who feels lost without a structured ‘job’ to do, volunteering can be great! You get a structured role, and the ‘job’ can give you a sense of purpose at a congress. This helps some people with socialization and interaction, and also allows their weekend to feel ‘productive’.

Questions to ask yourself before volunteering

If you think you’ll enjoy volunteering or you feel you need to volunteer to afford the event, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

Are you punctual and reliable?

If you’re going to be volunteering, you need to be on-time and reliable. When volunteers are already in short supply, a missing volunteer can have a significant impact on the event.

I’ve had volunteers leave cash boxes unattended to try on clothes, and others who simply didn’t show up for shifts or cancelled the night before. This is very, very problematic. Unless there’s an extreme emergency, are you willing to be reliable?

Are you willing to do the job?

If you’re not willing/able to do what you’ve been assigned to do, tell the organizer. They need to find someone else.

For example, if your responsibility is to make sure workshops run on-time, do whatever you need to in order to make sure you do your job. Set a timer on your phone if you’re prone to getting lost in conversation.

Whatever it is you’re assigned to do, be prepared to do it. Otherwise, the event itself suffers.

Bonus Points: Do you have a special skill?

If you have a very specific skill set, organizers can almost always use you. Some of the most common include:

  • Registration management experience,
  • Hospitality,
  • A drivers’ license and car
  • Videography and photography
  • Tech (lights and/or audio) know-how
  • Marketing
  • Graphic design and Photo Editing
  • Copyrighting

Particularly with some of these elements, you may be able to do your volunteering before the congress even arrives – which leaves you free to enjoy the whole weekend!

Bonus Points: Are you flexible and self-starting?

It’s not necessary to be flexible and self-starting to be a volunteer, but it certainly can set you apart as an exceptional volunteer. If you decide to come back, being an exceptional volunteer can sometimes mean you get the *really awesome* volunteer positions, since the organizer knows they can rely on you.

The best volunteers I’ve ever had are the people who are flexible and self-starting. These are the people who, when they have nothing to do, come find me for the next task. If they see another volunteer has left their post, they cover until we can get someone else out there.

Volunteers who really are on top of things can solve issues before the organizers or management is even aware there *is* a problem. Here are some examples of things amazing volunteers (and sometimes even non-volunteering participants) have handled without even needing to be asked:

  • Caring for a person having a medical emergency,
  • Keeping the front-cash safe when a volunteer failed to arrive,
  • Coffee and grocery runs for things that ran out or missed the original list,
  • Spotting drunk non-participants who wandered into the venue.

A lot of these things may not seem like a big deal, but for a congress organizer these are lifesavers.

If you don’t enjoy volunteering, is there another alternative?

This mainly applies to people who are volunteering to get a free pass to an event because they can’t afford to attend.

If you are volunteering only for the perks and you know you hate volunteering, ask if there’s another way to be involved.

For example, maybe you can bring a group to the event, or help in setup or tear-down instead of the main part of the event. Perhaps there’s a volunteer role you can do before the event, like helping with marketing or digital content creation.

If there is no alternative, you need to be prepared to make the most out of volunteering and to take it seriously.

Photo credit: Brian De Rivera Simon (Tarsipix Studios)