When Volunteers Don’t Show Up

You are passionate about the project you have started. It’s a great idea and you have put your heart and soul into it. Other people have agreed with your project and agreed to help. But what do you do when volunteers don’t show up?

In this post, we’ll share 4 ways you can reduce the chances of volunteers not showing up: proactive ways that will not only increase volunteer attendance, but help leaders and organizers run your events smoothly.

A common volunteer scenario for busy community organizers

Today is an important day for your project and you have lined up volunteers who have agreed to take care of important activities. You look around.

Where is Mary – she agreed to take care of one of the most important activities. And where is Joe, he had agree do to be a greeter for the people arriving to this event. You haven’t heard from them, and yet you can’t find them and the event is about to start.

So you scramble to rearrange things and pick up the loose ends yourself.

You feel hurt, angry, and disappointed.

How could these people who you trust just not show up after they promised they would be there?

This is a common story for anyone who has organized an important community event. Unfortunately, one of the trends in our society is ghosting. Ghosting is when people who are expected just… don’t show up when expected.

If some one has a personal thing come up, there’s another opportunity that arises, or they’re not in the mood, some people think it’s OK to not show up as a volunteer without notifying organizers.  There seems to be a lack of understanding of the hurt this can cause; Or they have a fear of disappointing organizers, so it’s easier to not confront them at all.

What can community organizers do to reduce volunteers from not showing up?

Naturally, emergency situations happen when a volunteer simply cannot be present. Although this may happen no matter what you do, there are ways you can minimize volunteer ghosting.

#1. Set up volunteers for success the moment they come on board.

Our booklet, The 5 Secrets To Recruiting Volunteers shows you how to recruit volunteers in a way that minimizes the no-shows.

#2. Show volunteers how what they are doing impacts the results of the event.

Draw a straight line between what they are doing and the purpose of the event. Often people who don’t show have rationalized out that it “won’t make any difference anyway”. After all, there are lots of other people helping. When they can see the direct link between what they are doing and its effect on the outcomes, they are more likely to feel responsible.

#3. Set expectations on how volunteers can address change of plans.

Ask them to let you know well in advance so you can get a replacement if they can’t make it. Or, if they’ve had a change of heart on volunteering all together, how they can do so in a way that is courteous (and stress-free!) to everyone involved.One of our Happy Community Builders, Alison K. shares her ‘Commitment Pact’ as part of her volunteer orientation that she sends via email:

“Thank you NAME for volunteering your time/skill/etc with us. I have only one rule that I’d like you to promise you’ll keep:

If things change, and you can no longer volunteer with us, do you promise to email/call me ASAP and let me know you are stepping down?

It’s important to let me know so I may adjust our operations quickly without losing momentum. No hard feelings, no judgement – let’s value everyone’s time and capacity with this agreement.

Again, I deeply appreciate the gifts you bring, and look forward to achieving X together!”


Related Reading: 5 Reasons Why Volunteers Matter For Community Development

#4. Plan for the unexpected with extra helping hands.

Expect that there may be some no- shows (after all life happens). Line up about 10% more people then you really need. And if they all show up… many hands make light work!

The good news: building volunteer involvement builds other leadership skills

It will never be fully possible to stop volunteers from not showing up. But setting the stage for how you run your project at the start creates a stronger bond between you and volunteers.

If you follow The 5 Secrets to Recruiting, this will likely not be a problem in the first place. When people are recruited in the right way, they will want to be there. And although illness or family emergencies may still happen, you can count on people showing up.

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