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Festivals Toolkit: Organisation: Working with Volunteers

When organising an event it is vital to recognise that people and time are valuable resources. Few local festivals have enough money with which to hire staff so you will probably begin by finding volunteers to work on your event.
Festivals image volunteers

Fortunately, many local people are keen to be involved in organising festivals and events which are of particular interest to them. A music lover, for example, might happily steward at a music festival if it means they get to see all the concerts free of charge.

Volunteers can fulfill all kinds of roles, but can be particularly good at dealing with the public - directing them to their seats, answering any queries, and generally helping them to have a better experience at the event. If you are lucky, you can build up a team of volunteers who will work at your event year after year, and will also help to promote it simply by being enthusiastic. They can also provide a source of local contacts and act as local advocates.

However, many festivals also comment that recruiting and holding onto volunteers can be difficult and some report that they have a large turnover of volunteers from one year to the next. Given that developing a team of volunteers takes up a large amount of time you should develop an active approach to managing volunteers:

  • Have an active recruitment campaign
  • Provide clear roles for what your volunteers will do
  • Take account of their interests, expertise and long term aspirations
  • Wherever possible involve volunteers in decision-making and in evaluation
  • Provide some form of personal appraisal – how well have they done? What more could they do? What more do they want to do?
  • Offer volunteers clear benefits in terms of personal satisfaction from their participation and opportunities for personal growth and learning – many people now working in the arts sector have begun as volunteers for festivals

Further information:
Good Practice Banks – Volunteering England 
Good Practice Guide – Brighton & Hove Working Together Project

Recruiting volunteers is an opportunity to be creative and inclusive: how can you best reach out to all corners of your community? Can you involve children and young people?

To assist with recruitment creating job roles (like a job description) for volunteers begins to set some parameters. It is not only a list of duties but also highlights what the volunteers can expect in return from the organisation. It may include:

  • Main purpose of the role
  • Who the volunteer will be responsible to and for
  • List of tasks and their frequency
  • Skills required for the role
  • Estimated time commitment
  • How long the role will last
  • How they can claim out of pocket expenses
  • The skills that the role may develop in the individual
  • Any special conditions

Volunteers often hear about opportunities by word of mouth, but if potential volunteers are not coming to you, you will have to be more proactive in finding them. You could:

  • print flyers and distribute them to relevant organisations/events
  • check past and present members on your mailing list
  • use some editorial space in the local press
  • ask your local radio station to publicise your need
  • hand flyers out at your event, asking for future volunteers
  • register your volunteering opportunities on the online organization Do-It!  which offers advice to organisations looking for volunteers, as well as volunteers looking for opportunities. It holds a national database covering all areas of volunteering possibilities, although so far there are few relating to festivals and events.
  • Search for Derbyshire-based Volunteers with the Volunteer Centre Finder 

Further information

You need to ask the potential volunteers to fill in a form, giving all their contact details, availability, any relevant skills/experience, preference for type of work etc. See our Sample Volunteer Form in the Related Documents section of this page.

Remember that if they are working with children, volunteers will need a Criminal Records Bureau clearance. You should check the latest regulations for disclosures at or by phoning the information line at 0870 909 0811.

Volunteers need to be committed and reliable - just because they are providing a service free of charge doesn't mean it is any less important that they turn up on time and do the job properly. Conversely, they must be treated with respect by festival organisers, and great care should be taken to avoid an 'us' and 'them' divide between paid workers and volunteers or between established and new volunteers.

Think about developing a Volunteer Action Plan, which will look at how to recruit, retain, reward and recognise volunteers, as well as the practical co-ordination and roles of your volunteers.

Volunteer Agreement
Even though volunteers are not paid members of staff they need managing: these may be negotiated rather than assigned, but nonetheless they need structure. It is a good idea to have an Agreement with your volunteers and to include the ‘Job Description’ part of this as discussed above.

A sample Volunteer Agreement from Volunteering England is a useful starting point in clarifying responsibilities and expectations. The Volunteering England site also contains extensive information on recruiting and rewarding volunteers, clarifying roles, paying expenses, etc.

Managing Volunteers
Consider developing a Volunteer Handbook, as this should guide your volunteers through the basic issues and give them a better understanding of how the organisation works. You could also appoint a Volunteer Co-ordinator with responsibility for ensuring that best practice is adhered to.

It is good practice to approach volunteer management in a professional way, and to understand that volunteer management is a two-way contract; volunteers want something in return for their efforts, from a feeling of satisfaction to the learning of new skills or work experience. Think about your current situation and how you are going to manage your most valuable asset. Plan this as you would do any other area of work; you could start by addressing the following questions:

  1. Where are you now?  What is you current volunteer situation?
  2. Where do you want to be?  The ideal of having the right people in the right place doing the right task at the right time
  3. How are you going to get there?  Develop an action plan
  4. How will you know you have got there?  What milestones have you got?

Working through the volunteer management health check may help identify issues that need to be addressed:

Structure of your organisation

  • Is the structure clear to understand?
  • Does the volunteer know where they fit?


  • Do you have a Volunteer Action Plan?
  • Do you plan for the well being of volunteers?
  • Do you have a succession plan?
  • Do you review volunteers' roles?
  • Do volunteers contribute towards planning and evaluation?


  • Is communication two-way?
  • What methods of communication are used? Is information targeted at volunteers?


  • Are skills, time, knowledge & interests matched to roles?
  • Are role outlines produced?
  • Do you have a recruitment policy?

Volunteer coordination

  • Do you have a volunteer coordinator?
  • Who do volunteers go to for help?
  • Who reviews volunteers, their roles and the policy?
  • Who maintains volunteer motivation?

Relationship between paid staff and volunteers

  • Do staff and volunteers work as a team?
  • Is there a code of practice about how they work together?
  • Can volunteers manage staff and visa versa?

Induction and training

  • Do you have an induction programme?
  • Do you have a training programme?
  • Do you undertake shadowing and mentoring?
  • Is your training linked to your Volunteer Action Plan?

Recognition and reward

  • Do you regularly recognise voluntary contribution?
  • Do you reimburse out of pocket expenses?
  • Do you publicise your volunteering programme?
  • Do you say 'thank you'?

Once you have honestly identified what you are doing to support your volunteers you can begin to develop an action plan.

Everybody needs to feel that they are valued, and 'thank you' is a simple way of doing it. Don't take volunteers for granted - retention is the hardest part. Ensure that you recognise volunteers' efforts throughout their work not just at the end of it. Simple things to consider are, do you:

  • provide them with a t-shirt or uniform makes them feel special and identifies staff at events;
  • ask after their welfare;
  • organise an event just for them;
  • ensure that their friends and family get priority treatment for entry into events (this may be the only time they get to see them in busy
  • volunteering times); and
  • pay tribute to volunteers' efforts to those outside your organisation, e.g. through the press.

Further information
Investing in and developing Volunteers

Further reading
Read ‘ Turn Your Organisation Into Volunteer Magnet’ by Andy Fryar, Rob Jackson and Fraser Dyer for comprehensive information on recruitment, retention and rewarding of volunteers. This document can be found in the Related Documents section at the bottom of this page.

Guidance sheets
Many other organisations have published excellent advice in all these areas. A selection of the most relevant are from the Voluntary Arts Network (signing-in required):

VAN briefing note 63, Guidance notes on how to recruit volunteers, Recruit! 
VAN briefing note 64, Guidance notes on how to hold onto volunteers, Retain! 
VAN briefing note 65, guidance notes on how to recruit volunteers, Reward! 
VAN briefing note 66, guidance notes on how to recognise the work and value of your volunteers, Recognition!  

Useful Websites

  • Volunteering England works to support an increase in the quality, quantity, impact and accessibility of volunteering throughout England
  • is a national database for volunteering opportunities
  • appeals to people who know that their time and skills are in demand - but just don't know what to do about it or where to start.
  • aims to make it quick and easy to get to useful information on anything to do with running a voluntary organisation
  • involves people in high quality volunteering and learning opportunities that tackle real need and enrich lives

Related documents

The following document is in Portable Document Format (PDF). You can download software to view PDF documents for free from the Adobe website (opens in a new window)

The following document is in Word format. You can download software to view Word documents for free from the Word viewer page (opens in a new window) of the Microsoft website.

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