Thoughts from Cuckoo HQ
Feb 14

We Need To Stop Treating Our Event Volunteers Like Shit

Events in Ireland, especially the big ones, would never happen without volunteers. Most people involved in events would likely agree with me on that one. With that said they're still usually treated like shit.

In all my years involved in events I've always understood the value of event volunteers. I'm not a genius by any means so it clearly doesn't take one to realise the value in event volunteers.

It doesn't seem all that complicated to me.

People volunteer to work at my event for free. I should look after them as best I can and make sure it's a good experience for them. 

Not that complicated, right? If only.

You'd be surprised how many event professionals (#eventprofs) seem to, at best, completely overlook the contribution of their volunteers and, at worst, view their volunteers as free labour and not much else.

Straight up, it gives the rest of us a bad name and makes people unlikely to volunteer again. 

I've been wanting to write on this topic for some time now and, only as I began to type it up, I've realised that I'm going to do a couple of posts on event volunteers. I'm going to do some research and I'm going to talk to some event volunteers and do a post on why people volunteer for events. 

I'm not an idiot

If you need me to explain the value of volunteers to you then I'm probably wasting my time with you. Go read something else. 

I've seen the value of event volunteers at everything from RAG Weeks when I worked in DIT running events through to the London 2012 Olympics.

Obviously there's a significant difference in nearly every way between those two events but the essence of volunteering and the contribution of the volunteers remains the same. 

I'm not an idiot. I know that one of the values of volunteers is that it can save you money when running your event. I'm a business man. I've no issue with saving money. I'm a big fan of saving money. 

That said I'm also a big fan of being fair and nice to people. Especially people who are contributing to my event and not being paid for doing so. 

How to fuck it up

The people I've seen fuck this up don't need instruction in how to do so. For the rest of you nice people this'll give you an idea of how I've seen event volunteers treated on actual events. I've made none of this up. I've seen this happen.

(By the way, lest anyone think I'm shouting from on high on my horse, I'm sure I haven't always gotten this right. I try though and I get it right more than I get it wrong.)

Here's a far from exhaustive list of how I've seen event volunteers treated like shit:

  • Not even being briefed on what they were expected to do
  • Being left in position for a full day without anyone checking in on them
  • Being left out in the rain (literally)
  • Being given too much responsibility and too little instruction / training
  • Being verbally abused by 'professional' staff
  • Not being supported by professional staff 
  • Being unreasonably expected to know and understand event stuff
  • Not being fed and watered during the event
  • Being actually completely forgotten about and not being stood down
  • Not being told to whom they can address questions / concerns
  • Being asked to do point duty on busy roads
  • Being expected to deal with large sums of cash
  • Being given NO instruction and as a result just standing around for the day

There are more. I'm actually getting angry just writing them down! 

Do us all a favour 

For the sake of the event industry as a whole in Ireland please treat your volunteers well. 

I've seen people start as volunteers and progress to running events themselves. I've had many conversations with event professionals about their experiences volunteering on events and it's amazing that some of them stayed involved in events. 

Even if ONLY from a business perspective (accepting that today's volunteer could be tomorrow's client) just be nice to volunteers will you?


October 6, 2019, 07:40 PM

This is one old thread but I'd like to say thank you for addressing the sheer awfulness of volunteers being treated poorly. That's me. I was completely gobsmacked at the rudeness, bullying and abuse I went though during my short stint at a food pantry. I never dreamed that was a thing. Then I said, oh hell no. I miss the work though.

Mags Connelly
February 20, 2014, 12:10 AM

I remember you taking that photo....they thought you were a scary Irish man that was likely to run away with their camera!!

Daren Nestor
February 18, 2014, 01:06 AM

Going back to the aul UL days, it was amazing the difference between the guys doing the events there, and the volunteers at, say, Oxyegen. Just the basic knowledge that we were all flippin clueless and it wasn't that long ago made us work with most of them very well. A good few of them graduated from Volunteers to the Crew. You'd think a massive, free, week long interview would be an opportunity that the companies that are always complaining that they cannot find people would jump at

Jack White
February 17, 2014, 02:46 PM

This is exactly what I'm doing my thesis on at the moment, if anyone who has volunteered at events please fill out my survey about this i'd really appreciate it!

Mark Breen
February 17, 2014, 02:01 PM

Pat - I hear you. Even back in DIT days we used to try to make it a worthwhile experience for people. Stuart - cheers for the kind words. We do try. We get annoyed if we don't fully succeed but we'll always be trying! Keith - good to hear that's an ongoing project!

Keith Quinlan
February 17, 2014, 12:42 PM

Literally this is a decent chunk of what my thesis is getting at.

Stuart Garland
February 17, 2014, 09:43 AM

As always an insightful blog, which hit the nail well and truly on the head, from Event Volunteers experience of working with Mark and all the crew at Cuckoo Events, they've been a pleasure and a delight and been considerate to our volunteers. Perhaps a few other might take this advice on board.

Pat Maher
February 17, 2014, 02:11 AM

Nicely put, Mark. It's a pity more Event Organisers don't see it the same way. From one who does a lot of volunteering.

Leave a comment

All fields need to be filled in.