Empower your people when planning a successful event

By Joseph Derr posted 04-08-2022 14:29

One hot September day, I showed up ready to volunteer for a fundraiser. Like the other volunteers in yellow t-shirts, I was psyched to make it a success!

But as the day progressed, things began to fall apart. The catering service was running late, the PA system broke down, and we ran out of water. Worse, some volunteers seemed overworked, while others were standing around with nothing to do. Yikes.

When it comes to event planning, we think a lot about the venue (the where), the date (the when), and the budget (the how). But we sometimes forget about the who: it’s the volunteers running the show behind the scenes who will make or break a fundraiser or event.

Here are some tips to set your volunteers up for success.


When you start planning your event, get yourself a good checklist and brainstorm with your team.

  • Divide your event into big buckets like partners, speakers, stage, legal matters, attendees, volunteers, etc.
  • As you set up each list, think about the people power you need to be successful in each area. Consider skills and previous experience for each specific role (check-in table, social media, working with guest speakers, etc.) and how to get more hands-on if needed.


Now, working from that brainstorm document, assign a team leader and team members for each of the core buckets.

  • Be smart and realistic about assigning roles and tasks – spread out the responsibilities evenly and appropriately amongst the team. This will help avoid team member burnout or boredom on the day of the event.
  • Be transparent and direct about roles and responsibilities to help your team leads and volunteers stay focused. Share a bulleted list of expectations with volunteers. Here are some tips about managing volunteers if you’re new to this area.
  • Once your team is assembled, set up a quick meeting to introduce the team. Share contacts via a shared document like a Google sheet and review everyone’s role before the event. Don’t forget this important step: each member needs to know how they fit into the big picture to keep things running smoothly during your event.


When it comes to event planning, it’s all about thinking through the details. Don’t forget logistics and communications to make sure everyone is ready for the big day.

  • Things can really go downhill when your team isn’t communicating, so test your communications systems (make sure everyone knows how to use the walkie-talkies, for example.)
  • We volunteering types love to keep things positive, right? That’s all good, but it’s important to also do contingency and emergency planning well before your event. Walk through the “what ifs” and make sure your emergency call tree is set up.


It’s game day – your big fundraiser or event has finally arrived. Your volunteers are informed, positive, and motivated through clear communications so far. Keep it that way during the event and have some fun, too – that is a big part of why your volunteers are there.

  • Hold a standup meeting before your event to answer questions, make sure everyone knows each other, and get everyone on the same page before kickoff.
  • Keep your volunteers well-fed and hydrated and schedule breaks.
  • Time for some fun! Find time to work in a five-minute team-building exercise before the event starts to break the ice and keep your team motivated, connected, and positive.

Just remember, it all comes down to empowering your people and communicating.

And, about not forgetting the water.

Good luck in planning your event. Don’t miss our forum’s recent discussion about planning Pride events for some ideas, or start a new discussion. Please share your own tips and tricks with the Connect community here!