Volunteers coordination

Write the Docs conferences lean heavily on volunteers. Around 10 to 15 volunteers support the organisers, coordinated by the volunteer coordinator.

The volunteer coordinator is responsible for recruiting volunteers, drafting a schedule, and supporting the volunteers during the conference. The latter includes ensuring all volunteers know where to go and when, have enough information on their tasks, and handle any incidents, like a volunteer being ill.

The volunteer coordinator is typically also the on-site registration manager, as these roles closely overlap.

There are several roles for volunteers, each split into several shifts that have one or two people assigned.

Call for Volunteers

The call for volunteers (CFV) typically starts when registration opens. About 2-3 months before the conference, the CFV closes, and volunteers are selected. Selection criteria include having a mix of volunteers with previous experience and those with no experience, and may also depend on the availability of volunteers.

Once volunteers are selected, send the Welcome and Confirmation email. Typically, not everyone is still available by this time.

Once volunteers are confirmed, create a Slack channel with all volunteers for this conference. This helps communication between volunteers.

Ideally, volunteers should be selected before tickets sell out. If this is not possible, applicants should be reassured that a ticket will still be available for them. All confirmed volunteers receive a free ticket for the conference. If they had already purchased a ticket, their purchase can be refunded.


Based on a final list of confirmed volunteers, their role preferences and their availability, create a draft schedule.

For the schedule, when possible:

  • Spread shifts fairly over different volunteers.
  • Assign volunteers to varied roles, unless they have a preference for having a particular role.
  • Try not to schedule the same person for the same shift twice in a row, unless they want to.
  • Registration/info is one of the lonelier and complex tasks, and can have very busy moments on the first mornings of the conference. Try to schedule someone that already has organising or volunteering experience, sharing with someone who does not. The latter person can then be scheduled for a two-person shift later, reducing the amount of training the volunteer coordinator has to do.
  • Balance the late and early shifts, particularly the social event. Someone who has the late shift in the social event should not be scheduled for a 9 AM shift the next day, if possible.
  • If volunteers would like to see a particular speaker, it doesn’t mean they can’t be scheduled for that shift - they can be scheduled as talk timing or speaker coordinator and still see that speaker.
  • Coordinate a specific meeting time and place for pre-conference setup volunteers, as this is not always obvious. Especially if they are not joining the pre-conference hike or boat ride.

Once you have a draft schedule, send the Roles, Draft Schedule, and Registration email. Some people may have forgotten scheduling limitations, so changes may still be needed. Once the schedule is final, send the Final Schedule and Code of Conduct email.

During the conference

During the conference, the volunteer coordinator should support the volunteers, and handle any incidents. Some volunteers are very proactive and have previous experience, so they easily figure out what to do. Some have never attended a conference before, and are more insecure about their roles. Each will need different types of support.

Some particular points of attention:

  • Try to make it clear that you are there to support the volunteers, and that they should feel free to ask anything they are not sure about at any time. Having a Slack channel for volunteers helps for this.
  • Some volunteers will need more guidance on their roles than others. Try to make sure that all volunteers have enough information to feel confident in their roles. This is less of an issue for roles like the writing day volunteer, as they have the writing day coordinator to guide them in what to do.
  • Encourage volunteers, particularly those who are very committed to their roles, to take sufficient breaks and eat and drink enough. For example, if there is only one volunteer on registration shift, check in on them periodically, and cover for a few minutes if needed. The floater can also do this.
  • Registration is typically the most time pressing and complex task, particularly in the mornings where many attendees register at the same time. Be available at registration to make sure things are running smoothly, because this is when the most questions typically arise.
  • Check in on the volunteers from time to time, and see if they need anything.

After the conference

After the conference, send the Thank you and Feedback email.

Emails to send

Before sending, fill in the template, and make sure the information is correct for the event. Some roles may not be relevant for the event, and should be removed.

Welcome and Confirmation

Send this email to yourself with BCC to all potential volunteers, around 2 months before the conference.

Hello volunteers!

Thank you all for signing up to volunteer for Write the Docs <CITY> <YEAR>. Without you, we wouldn't be able to pull off the conference!

I'm <FULLNAME>, the volunteer coordinator for this year. We're currently in the process of putting together our volunteer schedule, and more information will be heading your way soon. For now, though, I'd like to take a quick head count to see if you are still able and willing to attend and volunteer. 

**Please respond to this email and let me know if you are still planning to volunteer at the conference by <DATE>.**

In the meantime, please feel free to ask me any questions about all things volunteering at the conference.

Thanks again and see you soon,

Roles, Draft Schedule, and Registration

Send this email to all volunteers (To field OK), around 1 month before the conference.

Hello everyone,

Thanks again for volunteering at Write the Docs <CITY>!

Firstly, please look at the different volunteer roles we have: https://www.writethedocs.org/organizer-guide/confs/volunteer-roles/
Now that you have a general idea of the roles you can take on during the conference, go ahead and look at the draft schedule <LINK>.

FYI - morning floaters and registration shifts for the main conference are the longest shifts, but there will be breaks, and we cover for each other in case of emergencies of course!

What you should do by <DATE>:

1. Confirm that you will be able to do the shifts. If your schedule has changed since you signed up and you cannot cover a particular shift, please communicate with the other volunteers to see if they would be willing to swap shifts or cover for you.
2. Fill out the contact information on <LINK>.
3. Make sure you have your volunteer ticket: <LINK>

I will be sending out more information nearer to the conference date. Please do not hesitate to ask me any questions in the meantime.

Thanks again,

Final Schedule and Code of Conduct

Send this email to all volunteers, around 1-2 weeks before the conference.

Hello volunteers,

Now that the conference is coming up soon, I have some additional information for you:

Please review the schedule again [1] as some recent changes were made. At the conference, please arrive 15 minutes before your first shift starts to meet at the registration desk for a quick briefing and to go over any questions you have before your shift. For shifts after, please arrive 5 minutes before. For the Saturday setup crew, I may not be on site; but there will be other organizers at that time, and they will be able to brief you.

*Volunteer identification*
You all will wear special lanyards for your volunteer shifts. This will let others know that they can reach out to you with questions and that you are gracious enough to donate some of your time to help make this conference succeed! In case you don't have the answers at hand, you can refer those folks along to me. You'll also receive regular attendee lanyards so that when you're not on shift you can rest and relax.

*Code of Conduct*
Please review the Code of Conduct [2] and the Response Guide [3], as we want to make sure that everyone is familiar with our guidelines and how to make the conference comfortable and inclusive to all. We take the code of conduct and incident response very seriously, and we expect all volunteers to take it seriously as well. In general, CoC reports will be handled by the CoC response team, which consists of XXXX.

If someone comes to you with a CoC report, grab one of us. Feel free to interrupt any of us from what we are doing at the time. If it’s not immediately possible, at least take down the reporter's details and ideally, what happened, where, when and who was involved. You can take action yourself only if you can’t reach any of us and if the situation requires immediate action, but ideally consult at least another organiser or volunteer. In non-urgent cases, please do not take action on your own, and don’t express to the reporter whether or not you think this is a CoC violation or what action should be taken. If you find yourself in a situation where you have any questions regarding CoC process, please feel free to ask one of us. I should stress that most CoC incidents are rather minor and not urgent at all, though we take those seriously also, but it’s important for us to be prepared for more severe situations as well.

Each role is detailed on: https://www.writethedocs.org/organizer-guide/confs/volunteer-roles/
For tasks where you mainly work with others, I’ll be happy to introduce you to the right person. In general, we’ll make sure that you have all the information and resources you need.

I look forward to seeing you all soon! Safe travels, and please let me know if you have any questions. If you have questions during the conference and can’t find me, ping me on Slack, and I’ll receive a notification.

[1] XXXX
[2] http://www.writethedocs.org/code-of-conduct/
[3] http://www.writethedocs.org/code-of-conduct-response/

Thank You and Feedback

Send this email to all volunteers, no later than 1 week after the conference.

Hello everyone,

Thank you all for your time and commitment in making Write the Docs a great conference this year. Without you, we would not be able to run the conference. You all went above and beyond in both performing your duties as well as creating a welcoming environment for our attendees.

I am currently compiling thoughts about what went well and what we could change/do for next year's volunteer coordinating. I'd love to hear from you all as well, especially your thoughts about what went well with your experience as a volunteer as well as any suggestions for next year's wrangling. With your thoughts, I hope to continue to improve on the volunteer experience for the conference.

Please feel free to reach out to me directly with feedback, suggestions, and comments about how things went for you this year. You can also use the feedback form that we sent out, if you wish to provide feedback anonymously.

Thank you again and hope to see you next year!