When working with inexperienced volunteers, realize that part of your job as a meeting planner is training — not telling people to do things, but training them to do the job.

  • Tell volunteers that they can come to you at any time for help and understanding. Let them know that you are available to them. Be willing to sit down individually and listen to their questions and problems.

  • If volunteers need to visit a facility or attend a special event to help them in their role, encourage them to do so, and support them in it.

  • If budgets are part of volunteers' responsibilities, work through the bud-get so they understand how it works.

  • Be sure that volunteers have complete instructions. Don't let them start a job until they know exactly what their duties and limitations are. Where appropriate, develop checklists and job descriptions for key roles.

  • Prepare a timeline with details on when every piece of the task should be completed. Then, follow through by monitoring progress.

  • Make them aware of the importance of their job performance. In case they have questions, tell them who their contact person is.

  • Let them know that they have accepted a responsibility, and that it is critical for them to complete that responsibility.

  • As you hold the planning meetings that include inexperienced volunteers, set ground rules so nobody is made to feel stupid.

  • Be intentional about making the work fun — laugh together and enjoy each other.

  • Give inexperienced volunteers the opportunity to interact with and ask questions in person of other people in the organization. Sometimes it can be difficult for new volunteers to pick up the phone and call another person with a question.

  • Let them know that God has given them the talents to do this job.

Limited-Experience Volunteers

Limited-experience volunteers have some familiarity with the area that they have chosen. Often, these are members of a local religious organization that is lending volunteer support to a national body.

  • Set the parameters within which the local volunteers must work; what volunteers are allowed to do within their organizations might be different from the protocol you must follow.

  • Maintain the nurturing, caring character of a good parent. If you don't, it's going to be very hard for volunteers to feel that they are a viable, and valuable, part of the team.

  • Remember that volunteers are not professionals. You as a meeting planner live and breathe the work. The volunteers do not. As a result, you must be very explicit. If you say, “I need a table in room 13,” do you mean a skirted table or a draped table? Does the volunteer know the difference? If you ask a volunteer to “grab the BEO from the fax machine,” explain that a BEO is a banquet event order.

  • Develop a mission statement for volunteers and communicate it consistently and often during the meeting.

  • Begin each day with a time for prayer.

Recurring, Specialized-Knowledge Volunteers

Recurring, specialized-knowledge volunteers include your computer-network personnel, publishing experts, and AV teams.

  • It might be hard to believe, but these volunteers look forward to working 20-hour days at your meeting for an entire week or more. But this dedication only happens if you make them feel that they are doing something worthwhile.

  • Consider paying for the transportation and housing of those specialized-knowledge volunteers who are coming from around the country to work at a meeting. You may find that some of these people will turn around and donate their expense checks back to the organization.