Meetings

Attendee Volunteers: A Meeting’s Best Customer Service Team

By / Feb 12, 2016 (iStock/Thinkstock)

Instead of relying only on internal staff or a mix of staff and venue or destination teams to handle onsite customer service at meetings, some associations are asking attendees to volunteer. The good news: It benefits everyone involved.

Associations spend a lot of time thinking about how to put on successful and worthwhile conferences for all of their attendees. Included on the list of must-haves is excellent customer service, because we all know that attendees will have questions and perhaps come across some glitches onsite.

How associations staff that customer-service function is also considered. Some rely on internal staff to do the job, while others may work with a volunteer team composed of both staff and then groups from both the venue and meeting destination itself.

But there’s still another way associations staff their onsite customer service team: with member volunteers. Not only is it a good way to get attendees more engaged in the meeting and with fellow attendees, but it could also save them a little money too.

Take the American Anthropological Association (AAA). Ahead of its 2015 Annual Meeting that took place in Denver back in November, it asked for student volunteers on its blog.

“Never been to an Annual Meeting? Nervous about meeting people? Volunteering is a great way to network and get a better understanding of the inner workings of the association …” the post said. “To ensure the meeting runs smoothly, AAA is looking for a limited number of students to volunteer their time and talent.”

AAA was looking for students to fill a number of volunteer roles, including staffing booths, greeting attendees, assisting members, and reporting for Anthropology News.

Student volunteers were required to attend a training session prior to the meeting, but they also were rewarded for their service: If they volunteered for six or more hours, they received free event registration.

AAA is not alone in asking attendees to also serve as volunteers. The Association for Continuing Higher Education asked for volunteers for its 77th ACHE Annual Conference and Meeting that took place in St. Louis, Missouri.

ACHE had some similar roles to those of AAA, including staffing the registration and help desks, but it also asked for IT volunteers to help attendees with projectors, communications, and other onsite technical issues.

In addition, it asked volunteers to take on more significant meeting and association roles. The first—Proceedings Editor—would write both a complete report of the conference and an annual report of the association’s activities over the preceding year. The position description says it requires a two- to three-month commitment, but the person would be compensated for their work by choosing an honorarium or a complimentary meetings registration.

The second role was Day Chair. Individuals are assigned one day of the conference and prior to the meeting are “responsible for coordinating the day’s session presenters and presiders regarding presentation needs and registration.” During the conference, Day Chairs give announcements at the end of each general session and lunch.

Then there’s the American Association of Geographers, which opens its volunteer opportunities to members and nonmembers (although members are given priority). For its 2016 meeting in San Francisco, it’s looking for volunteers to fill a number of roles, including field trip volunteers, tote bag stuffers, and move-out assistants.

What’s particularly interesting about its program is that volunteers are paid $14.50 per hour for their time. Because of this, AAG encourages students and unemployed or underemployed geographers “to apply for this unique opportunity to help offset their meeting registration costs” and reserves a certain amount of spots for these individuals. While applicants must already be registered and have paid for the meeting to be chosen as a conference volunteer, they are reimbursed onsite at the end of their final shift.

Have you been successful in using attendee volunteers at your meetings and conventions? Please share in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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