Planning with Staff & Volunteer Support

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I often get asked by organizations that are in transition… how do we better incorporate a partnership between our staff and volunteers so that we have a really strong team planning our event.

My first response always is… you can’t do it without your volunteers. For every new person on the team you open the door to a new social network for possible sponsorship, ticket sales, and auction donations.

But it is important to communicate clearly with your volunteer committee about goals, fundraising needs, and key strategic elements.

In turn they can relieve staff workload and recruit a support team to grow the event.

Step 1 – Identify tasks that are staff driven and those that are volunteer supported.

Step 2 – Identify key players that can support the various roles and begin recruitment.

Step 1 – Division of Workload


  • Recruit sub committee members
  • Recruit day of event volunteers
  • Décor
  • PR / Media Outreach
  • Auction Procurement
  • Event Gift Bags
  • Vendor Bids / Quotes
  • Raffle
  • Theme Development
  • Entertainment
  • Ticket / Table Sales
  • Sponsorship Outreach


  • Recruit Committee Leadership
  • Manage Budget
  • Major Donor Outreach
  • Speakers / Program Elements
  • Data Management
  • Sponsorship Solicitation
  • Relationship Management
  • Vendor Contracts

Step 2 – Volunteer Leadership Recruitment

The wider you expand your network, the easier fundraising will become. For every new volunteer you have on board, you have new contacts, resources, ideas, and skills. Look to increase your volunteer support and expand as much as you can. Start first with those key contacts who:

  • Volunteer with the organization in other capacities
  • Are long-time supporters
  • Have been trying to get involved but haven’t volunteered yet
  • Have offered some leadership support
  • Board Members (I often recommend 1 board member on a committee)

Cultivate a Core Leadership Team

  • Start by generating a list of potential committee members
  • Set a committee launch / kick-off meeting
  • Call each potential committee-member and ask for their participation
  • Ask your core leadership team to recruit additional committee members

Set expectations for your committee:
Identify job descriptions and meeting schedules in advance so your volunteers feel like they understand the commitment.

Chair: (1) Leadership position — Someone who is good with communication, someone who can recruit another committee member or two, someone who is willing to take the lead on meeting minutes, remind folks of meeting times, and keep volunteers looped in. In addition, they’ll lead oversight and tracking of sponsorship outreach and ticket sale outreach. Their main role will be to facilitate committee communications. This is a perfect role for someone who likes to stay connected and has an engaging personality.

Auction Sub-Chair: (1) Leadership position — Someone who is connected to small businesses, who may be able to recruit some committee members, and who might have time to sit at the computer to reach out and do procurement online via email. This should be someone who is outgoing, creative, and can be a committee cheerleader.

Event Committee Members: Project position — Willing to assist in procurement of auction and raffle prizes. Someone who can do some outreach via email and can connect to their circle of influence to sell tickets and solicit donors for various event elements.

Marketing Coordinator: (1) Leadership position — Someone with some marketing experience that would like to take the lead with traditional marketing. This should be someone who can reach out to media to get on event calendars, to promote profiles and personal stories that newspapers may be interested in highlighting, to take the lead on social networking, invitation mailings, and general outreach.

Volunteer Coordinator: (1) Leadership Position — Someone with a large social network that can coordinate a crew to help with the day of the event. Someone with good communication skills who can clearly layout all of the details for the volunteers in advance, and will stay in regular communication with them so that they are prepared when they arrive the day of the event.

Recommended Committee Structure
Leadership & Steering Committee – should be your connectors
Sub Committees – should be your doers

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Showing 3 comments

  • Anonymous

    One difference is we have a Director of Marketing who does our pr (however a talented volunteer often assists), and with a Event Coordinator on staff, we tend to handle all vendor contacts ourselves. I think it keeps communication clear- would you agree with that? The question is always that balance of who calls the shots- do you know what I mean? You want to give a great deal of ownership/buy-in to the volunteer/donors, yet you want to save the organization’s resources and not have a committee essentially send you barking up the wrong tree, as well as protect the organization’s message/brand. A delicate balance at all times.

    I am curious what traits you and others see successful organizations possessing that lead to them doing this well.

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  • Samantha Swaim Fundraising, LLC

    Thank you for the questions. Let me break them out and see if we can support your specific team dynamic.

    PR/Marketing – when you have a strong staff person in place this is a great area where volunteers can take a support role. Get volunteers on board with social networking, get their support to draft materials or support design needs. Any marketing staff member could use the support of a few dedicated volunteers that would like to get the word out. Ask your volunteers to think out of the box to support less traditional marketing strategies such as a street team to hang posters or an online messaging campaign.

    As for vendor relations… yes I highly recommend that the staff manage anything contractual but you can certainly use your volunteer relationships to get bids and do look for resources that you may not already have relationships with. Only use volunteers in this capacity if you feel that you have a need to be fulfilled.

    As for who calls the shots… ultimately the organizations staff and board have ownership of the budget. This means that the organization needs to be responsible for branding messages, for achieving the financial goals established, and for managing budgets appropriately. So in the end the responsibility sits on those who have budget ownership. But that doesn’t mean you are the only decision maker.

    Ask volunteers to take a strong lead on those detail pieces that can really make an event sparkle. Give them clear budget parameters and be sure that they are working toward the overall goal… but your volunteers should be a part of the catering tastings, should help create the theme and decor execution, should be able to vote on design or marketing concepts, and ultimately should have enough ownership and enthusiasm for the event that they can support your fundraising efforts by engaging their network.

    The most effective organizations that do this well are good communicators. Establish clear roles, set clear goals, and communicate specific budget restrictions and needs. If you see a committee member heading down a path you can’t afford… be sure to talk to them directly so they understand why they need to redirect.

    Additionally, be sure to value your volunteers and their time. Make sure that when you have volunteers involved that they are clear on the needs you have and where they can be of the most help.

    Ultimately your event will be a bigger success if you are able to get out of the daily details and provide strategic oversight and direction. This will diversify the workload and give you more time to work on those big solicitations.

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