Special events rely heavily upon the use of volunteers. Many of the essential tasks of organizing, setting up and staging an event are completed by volunteers. Without volunteers most events could not happen or happen at the same level. Volunteers bring energy and capability, and are quick to embrace the essential work of staging an event.
There are four elements to assure successful use of volunteers. These are Waiver, Procedures, and Training with Supervision or WPTS.
Even though participation waivers may not always hold up under legal challenge, especially involving minors, they are still essential. At times this may simply be a deterrent to potential claims, and at times a well-crafted waiver will prevent meritorious claims from going forward. If possible the waiver should also include an acknowledgement that the volunteer participant is responsible for their own emergency medical insurance.
Volunteers need clear direction and an understanding of where they can best contribute their time. They may be willing to make personal sacrifices for the success of the event. However, similar to paid employees the functions that will be performed by volunteers should be clearly defined. Volunteers need to have the tasks broken down into easily understood steps and know their limitations.
If volunteers use vehicles, they should have the same licenses, credentials and training that paid drivers would have for the same function. They should also be subject to the same MVR review and acceptable driver criteria.
The event requires advance walk through and practices to help volunteers understand their place and function in the event. Unlike employment training that is designed to enhance professional skill, the volunteer training is fundamental, to emphasis how their role will fit within the overall event, and the limits to their role. They need to know where to refer questions or problems, to either paid staff or volunteer supervisors.
The training should also tie back to the procedures that have been put in place for the event. If volunteers or employees go contrary to established policy, and it results in injury and a claim, then the entity may be less defensible or potentially could have greater liability.
The training also should include crucial areas, such as child protection and sexual harassment prevention. Even though there are many wonderful volunteers that donate time and resources to events, occasionally volunteers will infiltrate events to take advantage of those that are vulnerable. Even though the volunteers appear to be very helpful they may use events for their own nefarious purposes. In circumstances where volunteers have exposure to children or those that are vulnerable, they should also have background checks.
Event supervisors often are paid staff, that have more extensive supervisory training and the ability to deal with questions or complexity that may arise from the event. The volunteers occasionally may also be used in a supervisory role, and when this occurs they should receive more extensive supervisory training.
Supervisors should also understand the greater vision of the event, and the goals of the event, so that this can be conveyed to the volunteers.