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“We started looking for volunteers about a year and a half ago, and all of the slots were filled more than six months ago. Many stepped forward,” said Maureen Whatley, also a volunteer co-leader. “The volunteers do everything. They are a touch point in every step of the process” for the conference, added Whatley, vice president of culture and performance at Alere Health.
The volunteers are organized into teams, Jackson explained. Each team has several team captains who give the individual members directions about what their goals should be.
Members of the ambassadors team greet attendees and provide directions to those who are lost or looking for a specific location. These volunteers will answer questions about various conference events and the Atlanta area, Jackson said.
Members of the session hosts team introduce the speakers at each of the break-out sessions. In addition, session hosts help speakers find their way around and keep track of attendance at individual sessions. The ambassadors and the session hosts are the two largest teams, Whatley said.
In addition, the “bag and badge” group works at registration, a separate group helps run the SHRMStore, and another group takes charge of the Meat to Eat program. If someone is new to town and wants to go out to dinner, this group connects them with other diners for a more social experience, Whatley said.
There is even a group of volunteers that organizes the other volunteer groups. They are responsible for making sure that the volunteers know where they are supposed to be and when. There are hundreds of shifts, Whatley noted, adding that “One person might work as a bag and badge person and the next day as an ambassador.” Volunteers can pick their schedules. They log into an automated system in the volunteer room, and the system tells them where they should be. “They get T-shirts [and] instructions and are dispatched to the right space,” she explained.
There is a full orientation for the volunteers on-site, Jackson said.
As for Jackson and Whatley’s roles, they “are the main points of contact for SHRM national,” Whatley said, and “make sure the team captains know what needs to be done and how it needs to be done.” The team captains then communicate with the members on their teams. This “massive communication flow” has been running very smoothly, Whatley said.
“As a volunteer group, we are really excited to have the conference,” particularly because it has been more than 14 years since a SHRM annual conference was held in Atlanta, she added.
This volunteer effort “is very well organized, very well thought out. We certainly plan for snafus. We work and move forward with a smile,” Jackson concluded.
Joanne Deschenaux, J.D., is SHRM’s senior legal editor.
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