How did you find yourself working for Elevate?
I started working at Elevate after spending a few years working for a US agency. I wanted to find a role that was in-house, particularly at a nonprofit. I was lucky enough to see an opening at Elevate and jumped at the opportunity. I now have the pleasure of overseeing our volunteer program with the support of contract Volunteer Coordinators.
What is the history of the volunteer program of Elevate?
Elevate ran its first Festival in 2017. For the first three years, most of the event was run by volunteers because there wasn’t a full-time team. Volunteers very literally made the event possible. While we took a break during the pandemic, we returned bigger than ever in 2022. We revamped our volunteer program and started re-engaging folks who hadn’t heard from us over our break. This past September, we continued to build on the success of 2022 and are happy to report an overall attrition rate of 18% (down from 30% in 2022).
How do you currently recruit your volunteers?
We are grateful to be part of VAACT and lean heavily on other committee members to promote our call out for volunteers. We have a strong roster of engaged people that we reach out to first. And then we utilize Volunteer Toronto, Charity Village, etc. to promote the opportunities.
What kind of volunteers are you looking for?
The company is growing and that means our events portfolio is growing, as well. Our biggest need for volunteers is at the Festival, but as we begin producing other events throughout the year, we’ll be looking to our volunteers to support. At Festival we recruit for over 200 roles – registration, talent wrangling, guest experience, social media, etc. We have something for everyone!
What does the volunteer recruitment and onboarding process look like?
Our onboarding process is simple but thorough. We require anyone interested to fill in a general application and our volunteer coordinator verifies that they are in Canada and over 18. From there they get access to apply for specific roles. For any leadership roles, we conduct a short screening call to chat with the person, get to know them, and discuss expectations. One of the things we require is that every volunteer complete a Human Rights and Equity course that was developed in partnership with the VAACT committee and Volunteer Toronto. We want to ensure that every volunteer treats others (attendees and peers) with respect.
How important are volunteers to Elevate’s work?
It might seem cliche but we could not do the work that we do without our volunteers. We have over 200 volunteers at the Festival, and they support us with very important roles. Our entire registration process is run by volunteers, and so is our speaker experience. We rely heavily on generous people donating their time to us and we are so grateful for the community we have built.
What is your favourite part of the job?
Meeting the incredible people who volunteer with us. I have come across people from all walks of life, at various stages in their careers, who give back to the community by volunteering at Elevate.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Balancing the needs of all of our stakeholders. We have our staff, our volunteers, the speakers, the general attendees, the VIP attendees, etc. Our team works hard to ensure each stakeholder has a great experience leading up to, on-site at, and post-event.
What kind of perks do the volunteers receive as part of the festival?
All of our volunteers receive a complimentary ticket to the Festival that they can gift to a friend. When they aren’t volunteering, they have full access to attend Festival, as well. We work with our startup community to offer special promotions and discounts to the volunteers. And finally, the most exciting part is our raffle. Every shift equals an entry into our raffle. After the Festival we draw for 10+ prizes including TFC tickets, smart speakers, AirPods, etc.
How do you keep volunteers active and engaged with your organization year to year?
This is always a work in progress and something we are committed to improving. We have found that information is key in this area. Leading up to the Festival we started sharing some sneak peeks with the volunteers, giving them a behind-the-scenes look at the event. We also host a virtual meet and greet so they can meet their coordinator and each other. During the busy time, we also send a bi-weekly email with updates. It’s important to try new things and don’t be afraid to ask the volunteers what they are interested in.
What advice would you give to someone new to volunteer coordination?
Make connections with other volunteer professionals and do your research. There are so many incredible resources out there that can support recruitment and training. My biggest piece of advice is to find a community of volunteer folks. For Elevate, being part of VAACT has stepped our game up. We have a network of people we can go to for advice, and we also cross-promote and support one another.
Tell us about a volunteer who has truly made a difference.
This past September we had a volunteer go above and beyond for an attendee who had low vision. The attendee came to the help desk and asked if someone could assist them with finding a seat in the theatre. One of our volunteers stepped into action and got the gentleman a seat in the low-vision reserved seating area. After speaking with the gentleman, the volunteer notified our Volunteer Coordinator that the man had requested further support and someone to help him navigate the venue. The volunteer immediately offered themselves up and spent the entire day with the attendee. After the event, he took public transit with him and made sure he got home safely.
Is there a Timecounts feature that has been a game-changer for you?
Timecounts is great because it keeps all of our volunteer data in one place. My favourite feature is the waitlist. When you schedule a shift, you can open up a waitlist that volunteers can join. This makes filling last-minute cancellations super simple and also shows me who is engaged and interested, even if they weren’t able to sign up for a shift.
Are there specific goals you would like to see your volunteer program work towards?
Our goals for the program are to continue building retention and engagement within our current volunteers, as well as finding new ways to engage our volunteers throughout the year. I’d love to see us doing regular touchpoints with the volunteers and offering more frequent opportunities to work with us.