Volunteer Management: How the Moonwalk gets it right

I was driving into Edinburgh today and spotted someone training for the Moonwalk – the lady was the first person this year I saw training for the walk, and prompted me to write this post.

For people that have never heard of the Moonwalk, here’s the basic idea: take 10,000 men and women, get them to walk a full marathon (26.2 miles) or the half marathon (13.1 miles) in a brightly decorated bra to raise money for breast cancer. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you venture out in town on 20th June 2009 (unfortunately the official route cannot be publicised for Health and Safety reasons – but it starts at Inverleith Park – well worth heading along to see!).

I volunteered at the first Moonwalk back in 2006, then again in 2007, had to miss 2008 due to Islay, and I’ve signed up again to volunteer this year. I’ve volunteered at a couple of other events before, as well as running a few myself, but the Moonwalk has always stuck me as a shining example of how to treat and value your volunteers well. Since us social media types will inevitably run an event at some point (big or small), there’s a few ways where I think the Moonwalk organisers have got it completely right:

1. Give people clear roles and responsibilities
People like to be told what they are doing, and what they are responsible for; especially in the context of a big event that they don’t know a lot about. At the Moonwalk, you are told explicitly beforehand what you are expected to do, where you’re expected to be, and roughly when you can go.

This is easier in a larger event than a smaller one where there might be lots of little jobs, thats fine, but tell volunteers what their primary role is, and let them know when their role is expected to end and their responsibilities fulfilled.

2. Tell people what to expect.
As a volunteer, we were posted an information booklet on the event (similar to the participants booklet) which detailed the route, what to expect, what to wear, and contact information of the organisers. Certain volunteers such as Team Leaders and Drivers were asked to attend a pre-event briefing too.

Do not underestimate how much more confident volunteers feel if they know about what is going on besides their own part. Tell them about what else is going on. Don’t assume they know the event as well as you do.

3. Give volunteers a single contact number
One of my favorite things about the Moonwalk is that they give out one number which volunteers should call in case anything happens. Thats ONE number (which is printed everywhere) for ANYTHING. I’ve volunteered at events when I don’t know who or how to contact anyone about a problem (e.g. have I finished my shift? Where are the nearest toilets? How does this person get a refund? etc).

Give volunteers one mobile number. More importantly – make sure you pay attention and answer it!

4. Get Feedback
Volunteers are often the people on the ground. They are likely to be the ones that know what has gone wrong (or requires more attention). Get feedback from them. After the 2007 Moonwalk, I was emailed by the organisers to ask for feedback. In fact, I had some major points that I wanted to say without sounding like I was making a fuss. Having someone explicitly ask a few days after the event gave me a chance to voice my views (and feel like my opinion is valued).

Ask for feedback. Even if it is an one-off event, ask for feedback so that you can improve your own management skills.

5. Tell volunteers how valued they are

How would you NOT want to volunteer after reading this

Thats not all. As well as the volunteer booklet, you get a certificate sent through the post after the event. Not to mention Hot tea and food (never under-estimate the importance on giving people a nice cup of tea), and there’s a goody bag at the end too.

6. Impart your vision
At the start of the evening, Nina Barough would stop everyone in the volunteers’ tent and say thank you. She did more than just say ‘thanks for coming’ though; she would tell us about the story of how the Moonwalk started, and what she’s gotten out of it. Its almost impossible to not get infected by the passion that her and the rest of the Moonwalk team have for what they are doing.

Tell people about your vision about the event: why are you holding it? what does it mean to you? what is the end result?

The Bottom Line …

Of course, not all of us will run an event on the scale of the Moonwalk, nor are we full-time event organisers. The point is, if you’re running an event that will need volunteers, think about how you treat them. Think about how they will view the event and what they will have gotten out of it apart from the free t-shirt and the free ticket. Give them something more than that. Give them something to rave and rant about!

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