Volunteer Fair: How to Plan a Successful Event

A volunteer fair offers engaged citizens the chance to browse local volunteer opportunities and find the causes they’re passionate about in a casual, engaging environment. Community organizations benefit from the meaningful networking opportunities that hosting volunteer fairs can provide. Fairs are also a great way for nonprofits to support their volunteer recruitment efforts by engaging with prospective volunteers in person. While planning a volunteer fair may take time, it can be well worth the effort. Here are some volunteer fair ideas to implement for a successful event:

How to Plan a Volunteer Fair

Planning any kind of event is a big undertaking. You’re tasked with reaching out to participants, promoting your event, and ensuring smooth sailing on event day, all while juggling other responsibilities. But organizing an event like a volunteer fair doesn’t have to become an overwhelming experience. If you think you’re ready and you’d like to know how to organize a volunteer fair, follow these simple steps:

1. Find the Right Time

When should you host a volunteer fair? It’s all about timing. If you represent a school or university, most fairs occur at the beginning of the fall semester when new students are eager to get involved. Some campuses may choose to host two volunteer fairs per year, one in the fall semester and another in the spring. 

If you represent a volunteer center, church, or other community organization, consider the months which typically see higher volunteer interest rates. Summer tends to be a time where organizations see a surge in volunteer interest and participation. This is also true for the winter holiday months. You may also consider national holidays when people are thinking about volunteerism, like Martin Luter King Jr. Day and National Volunteer Week.

Here’s a list of important dates to consider when planning a volunteer fair:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day – Third Monday in January
  • National Volunteer Week – April 19-25, 2020
  • Spring Semester Begins – Late January to Early February
  • Summer Break Begins – Early June
  • Fall Semester Begins – Last Week in August to First Week of September
  • Thanksgiving – November 26, 2020
  • Winter Holidays – Month of December

2. Forge Partnerships

To host a volunteer fair, you’ll need organizations that are looking for volunteers, of course! You’ll need to reach out to the agencies and programs that operate in your shared community. Think about the types of organizations that are appropriate for attendees. If you’re planning a youth volunteer fair, for example, you’ll want to think about the types of causes that encourage youth volunteerism

On the other hand, if you’re planning a church volunteer fair, you may consider reaching out to agencies that support volunteering as a family. If you represent a local volunteer center and you’re planning a volunteer recruitment fair, the event can be an opportunity to form new partnerships, while strengthening existing relationships. When pitching the event to community agencies, you’ll want to be sure to communicate the benefits of participation.

3. Iron Out the Details

There will be quite a few logistical details you’ll need to iron out before the day of your volunteer fair. First, you’ll need to designate a knowledgeable point of contact. This person should be able to work with attendees or participants if questions arise throughout the event. Include their contact information (email or phone number) in all correspondence, and clarify a day-of phone number where the person can be reached. 

Once you have a final (or close to final) count of participating organizations, you’ll need to source supplies. Give yourself a few weeks to find what you need at a volunteer fair. Here’s a list of basic supplies to consider preparing:

  • Tables and tablecloths
  • Tents (if held outdoors)
  • Table assignments for participating organizations
  • Refreshments (i.e. water station, coffee and tea selection)
  • Blank name tags and pens
  • A check-in station
  • Organization list or map print-outs for attendees

4. Create Promotional Materials

In order to start marketing your event, you’ll need to create promotional materials, like volunteer fair posters and flyers. Canva is a great free design tool for creating both digital and print flyers. The tool has hundreds of prebuilt designs, so you can simply enter event day details and download! 

5. Promote Your Volunteer Fair

Boost attendance by promoting your volunteer recruitment fair. Take advantage of the variety of outreach tools available. Social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter are a great way to reach students. Introduce hashtags using the name of your volunteer fair to encourage engagement online. Additionally, consider promoting your volunteer fair on Facebook to reach a wider demographic of community members; don’t forget to post on local volunteering and community Facebook forums, and check back frequently to answer any questions community members may have. Email is also a great marketing tool to reach those already in your contact list.

If you’re reaching out to students, make sure to post volunteer fair flyers on student life bulletin boards and other places where students gather (like the dining hall and library). Likewise, reach other prospective volunteers by posting your volunteer fair posters on church and community center bulletin boards.

6. Provide Volunteer Fair Participant Guidelines

Your participating organizations are likely also wondering how to prepare for a volunteer fair. Prior to event day, consider sending guidelines that communicate logistics (i.e. arrival and breakdown times, parking and location details, and contact information). You should also send along a list of suggested items to prepare for their volunteer fair booth.

Suggested Volunteer Fair Booth Materials

  • Sign-up sheet or tablet for online volunteer registration
  • Hand-out or brochure that includes the following information: 
    • Organization background information
    • Organization mission statement
    • Benefit statements for volunteering with your organization
    • Featured volunteer opportunities
  • Business cards and other website/social media information
  • Giveaways (i.e. pens or pins)

7. Keep in Touch

Once you’ve established relationships with other local organizations and volunteers, keep in touch! Send a follow-up email thanking participants for their time. In the same correspondence, request their feedback to consider for next year’s volunteer fair.

Maintain engagement year-round by asking partners and supporters to join your newsletter or follow your social media accounts. Most importantly, express your appreciation for the important work each participant does to foster positive change in your community.

A thoughtful volunteer fair can connect and empower local networks to foster greater change. With a bit of forethought and some savvy marketing, your volunteer fair can serve as a true force for good in your community.