You may be familiar with the phrase, “America runs on Dunkin.” After working as the volunteer coordinator for last Sunday’s Art & Garden Festival in downtown Petaluma, the phrase that keeps running through my mind is “events run on volunteers.”

If it wasn’t for the volunteers, Petaluma’s favorite events – and I’m sure our community isn’t unique in this – wouldn’t be held. Events that are produced by non-profit organizations such as Butter & Egg Days, Salute to American Graffiti, Art & Garden Festival, and Rivertown Revival to name just a few, would not happen if hundreds of volunteers didn’t consistently sign up and give of their time and energy.

A few of our awesome volunteers

I appreciate that volunteering for an event takes a lot of trust on the part of the volunteer. They are trusting that they are going to be given training to do their job, that their willingness to work won’t be taken advantage of, that they will be given the necessary tools to complete their job, and that they will be treated respectfully.

I know how important this is because I’ve showed up to volunteer and felt very unprepared for the task at hand – like a couple of years ago when Steve and I arrived Infineon Raceway to work a beer booth as a fundraiser for our daughter’s cheer team. We ended up being assigned to a cocktail booth and when we got there, we felt like we had arrived in a foreign county – we were totally out of our element.  The “booth” was actually a plywood structure that looked like it had been constructed in less time than it took us to drive there. In it, we found liquor, one lime, plastic cups, a couple of shot pourers, and that was it. No instructions about how to set up the booth or what to expect. We quickly discovered that the required skill set was well within our toolbox, but we had a very uncomfortable few minutes.

That’s something I think about a lot as I’m asking people to volunteer. I don’t want people to have a lot of surprises when they arrive to work their shift. And I also want to let them know what to expect out of the experience. Things like telling volunteers what parking will be like, what will be their specific task, will they be working at a fast or leisurely pace, can they take a break…everyone naturally has questions, and the better job we can do preparing them for what lies ahead in their volunteer job, the better experience they will have and the more likely they will be to return as volunteers.

Every time I work with volunteers, I see something I missed that could improve their volunteer experience and nurture the relationship. I think that is what really keeps people volunteering year-after-year – the bond they form with the organization and the people who represent it…not the free t-shirt.