Volunteering at an event is an ideal way to fact-find about what’s involved in event management, as well as an opportunity to experience events from the service provider (rather than service-user) perspective. As such, volunteering at an event can be a challenge but can reveal the professional perspective on everything event management entails.

But how can volunteering help you edge your way into an events management career?

There are no two ways about it, as a growth sector, event management is a highly competitive industry … particularly when it comes to getting started. To start with, volunteering at events can be a superb way to gain experience, because spending time as a volunteer offers you:

  • An in-event taste of what a career in event management is really like.
  • Valuable training and experience, as often (and particularly at national events) on-the-job or preparation training is available to volunteers. So volunteering can be a cost-free way to gain initial training – something which is especially useful if you’re undecided whether event management is what you really want to do.
  • Personal as well as professional experience – volunteering offers a ‘safe-space’ to check if you have what it takes in respect of personal qualities, such as patience, good time keeping, flexibility and the ability to respect confidentiality. If you struggle with any of these in a volunteer role, you’re unlikely to be able to get far as an event management professional!
  • A chance to see the different roles in action and gain role-relevant experience, across many of the possible aspects of event management.
  • A chance to see how event management ‘looks’ within various sectors, for example there can be significant differences between the public, charity and corporate sectors.
  • The opportunity to further develop fledgling skills, for example by taking a public-facing volunteer steward role, to gain experience of dealing with the public, or by volunteering to support in publicity and marketing to gain promotions experience. Volunteering can be a way of exploring any aspect of the role you feel particularly drawn towards as a potential specialism.
  • Opportunities to stay up to date and identify rising aspects of the role or new technologies and practices which look set to be a key part of the industry. Volunteering can be a great way of exploring these, even once you are a fully-fledged professional.
  • And it’s not just the actual role that volunteering can help keep you up to date with, early networking as a volunteer can pave the way towards a relevant set of professional contacts and a way to stay up to date with the key personnel in your target organisation or sector.

But it’s not all about you. The second thing volunteering offers you is a way to get noticed, as volunteering your services in event management also offers prospective employers:

  • A raft of potential referees, all of whom will be able to comment on your professional practice and aptitudes in the context of the events you’ve volunteered in.
  • Evidence of your ability to plan and commit – volunteers are rarely used on a turn-up-on-the-day basis, instead you commit to being involved so that your support becomes part of the bigger plan. Being a reliable volunteer demonstrates to potential employers your ability to plan, your commitment to being involved and your loyalty to the teams you are working with – all vital for success in event management.
  • A ready portfolio of your experience and skills.

Where do you start?

Although you may have specific ideas about volunteer roles – festivals, music and sporting events are particular favourites – volunteering is also an opportunity to explore for principles of event planning across a range of sectors, so do also consider less sought-after opportunities such as education and exhibition events. Many events offer online sign-up for volunteering opportunities well in advance of events, so that volunteers can be involved in preparation as well as on-the-day support.

Volunteer opportunities can also be found across the charity sector, including national and international events. Local charities also often appreciate a volunteer taking the initiative to support fund-raising at a local level. Although there’s a tendency to assume that most volunteers are used for stewarding, many events require need more than on-the-day volunteering, as planning and preparation stages are crucial and it’s often more difficult (for smaller and local charities particularly) to find reliable volunteers who want to be involved in preparation of the event. Additionally many events, such as fun runs and local charity events, often require significant promotion and publicity at a local level and can be a useful way to gain experience in these skill areas as well as to help a good cause through volunteering.

Depending on your preferences, it’s also possible to combine charitable volunteering with event-specific experience. For instance, organisations such as Oxfam are integral to UK music festivals such as Bestival and Glastonbury, so volunteering your services to Oxfam direct could mean a role at many the festivals across the season – an enjoyable way to build skills and a portfolio in a short space of time.

Another way to access volunteer opportunities is by enrolling in an event management training course or qualification which includes volunteering as an integral way of learning about professional practice and gaining hands-on experience. Volunteering through an event management course is also a great way to gain a range of experiences, which is important for avoiding the prospect of inadvertently setting limits for yourself by deciding on a specialism too early.

Ultimately, just like studying for Event Management, volunteering is a personal investment of time to support an event or cause. But just like a qualification, volunteering will also contribute to a portfolio of your success – ‘in the field’ and on the CV, something to really get you started in professional event management. Find out more at eventcourse.

Guest Post by Justine Kane, Eventcoure

Justine has spent the past 5 years as Course Director for an event management training Institute, placing hundreds of graduates into roles and tutoring them through to successful qualification.

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