Creating a Positive Volunteer Culture

Creating a Positive Volunteer Culture

Volunteers are the crux of many events. Without a team of volunteers, many events wouldn’t be able to be operate. If you have had to find volunteers to run your trash program, you probably have already faced the challenges of finding quality individuals or groups to work the event. When we are working with clients, labor is almost always a top three question we get asked: “But who is going to service the bins?”

Here are five tricks for successfully staffing your sustainability volunteer team.

Combine it all in one team
If you have an event, you produce trash. Somebody, paid or volunteer, is changing out the trash cans. If you are renting a venue, the cost of your rental may include the venue staff servicing the trash cans or may be added to your final invoice as a supplemental expense.

When planning your sustainability program, view the program inclusive of both your trash, recycling and any other sustainability feature you have on-site. Create one team, encompassing the entirety of your sustainability program and features. The same team that runs your bike valet – to encourage less cars being driven to your event – should be the same team that services your trash cans and picks up cardboard from your vendors. If you have multiple features of a program, such as the three examples listed above, rotate your volunteers through the various areas during their shifts.

Pick a good name
It sounds simple, but picking a good name can help you in leaps and bounds. Just as you are naming a business, selecting a good name is crucial in developing a good volunteer team. Who wants to work for the “Trash Team” when they can work for the “The Green Brigade?” A catchy, fun and inviting name for the sustainability team will attract the attention of more people. The name, as with the culture you create (see point #4), are two factors in establishing and maintaining a well-staffed volunteer team.

Make the proper preparations
More often than not, the people on your volunteer team will have the dirtiest job (aside from cleaning the port-a-johns). There is also no debate that as a society we view these dirty jobs differently and often stereotype the people who are employed in those jobs. These two factors make finding and keeping good labor in any “dirty “or “janitorial” type job difficult. Those types of positions at events are no different.

Making the volunteers or paid labor at your event prepared for the job at hand will position your staffers to not only feel comfortable, but to also work effectively. When we work on-site at events oversee the volunteers or paid labor, we ALWAYS provide the following:

  • Gloves. We always have different sizes available so the gloves fit comfortably on whoever is wearing them.
  • Endless amounts of hand sanitizer. You can never have enough hand sanitizer for your volunteer crew.
  • Water. The people on our crew have access to as much water as they want (either bottled or through a refillable water bottle). Pulling bags from containers and transporting them around an event site is hard work. We believe they should never have to pay to stay hydrated while working on their shift.
  • Sunscreen. Volunteers on the sustainability crews usually don’t work under a tent at a fixed location. They’re walking around, cruising on a golf cart and are exposed to the heat and sun during their shift. Knowing you are getting sunburned during your shift doesn’t aide in your moral. And chances are you probably didn’t bring sunscreen with you or you left it in your car. We want you to stay protected and comfortable during your shift.
  • Ponchos and towels. It can be daunting working in the rain. We provide simple ponchos for use and towels to dry off.
  • First aid kit. For those unplanned moments.
  • Something to make you smell good. Hard work makes you sweat and chances are, while you were changing out bags, you got some of that “juice” on you. At the end of your shift, you may want to attend the event itself. You may have to pick-up your kids or stop by the store. A small bottle of ladies body spray and Axe for men doesn’t hurt at all to have in your stock pile. You can buy a small bottle of both for less than $10.

    We believe the little things can make the most difference.

Create a culture
Create a team people want to be a part of. Find a charismatic group leader to create good energy and empower people on the team. Create a safe environment where your volunteers feel comfortable performing the “dirty” work in front of their peers. Focus the work of the group away from trash and more on the recycling and sustainability aspects.

A great, cheap and easy way to start creating your culture is through your marketing for the event. Tell people why you have a sustainability program. Report back data from the program, such as the number of pounds recycled. Demonstrate to your attendees and community the importance of the program through impact statistics. Calculate how much carbon you were able to offset or how much energy you saved through your program.

This will create a great story, not only for the event, but will make the volunteers on your crew feel good about their work

No one can deny people are more motivated when they are incentivized. Incentivizing those who work the unglamorous jobs can go a long ways in your volunteer program. It always helps to offer an incentive to your sustainability crew that isn’t available to other volunteer groups at the event. Local businesses are usually more than willing to donate a small group of coupons or vouchers. Here are a few tips:

  • Voucher for a free beer, drink or meal at the event.
  • Coupons to local restaurants or gas stations
  • Free movie ticket to a local movie theatre
  • A different type of volunteer t-shirt than the rest of the volunteers
  • Free parking at the event or a special parking area close to the event. Who doesn’t love VIP parking?

Creating a volunteer team for your sustainability program takes an intentional effort and a commitment from your staff. Plan ahead; create the culture; watch your program grow!