Volunteer recruitment: Build Day and beyond

The big day is here! Tie up any loose ends with our tips, and remember to expect the unexpected. It's almost guaranteed that challenges will arise with volunteers. We have tips for dealing with those, too!

Final preparations
Build Day logistics
Roadblocks and solutions
Appreciation and maintenance

Final preparations

Wrapping up team tasks

As you approach the build, it's time to focus on confirming volunteer commitments and gearing up for Build Day(s).

Organize volunteer confirmation calls
The playspace build is a big deal to you and your team, but volunteers are busy and it may slip their minds. They may also realize, at the last minute, that they have a scheduling conflict. Divide your volunteer list into small groups and have each of your Recruitment Team members conduct follow-up calls the week before the build. Don't forget to recruit your build captains that will lead each respective construction project on Build Day(s), if you haven't already. Coordinate with your co-chairs to determine who will train these build captains - possibly the construction chair. Tell each volunteer when to arrive, what they should wear, and what time the day is expected to end, and whether free food and drink will be provided. Also provide this information in an e-mail, along with directions and parking information.

Finalize your registration system
Your main goal at registration is to minimize confusion. People should leave your table feeling informed and ready for work. A few considerations: a. Who will staff the table and for how long? b. Will there be separate lines for pre-assigned and unassigned volunteers? c. How will you decide where unassigned volunteers go? d. How will you make sure everyone signs a waiver? e. Where will you direct members of the media and important sponsors? f. How will volunteers find their assigned build captain and team members?

Check in with your installer
Your co-chair(s) and construction captain may be meeting with your playspace installer (a certified installer who supervises the build) to discuss Build Day logistics and the roles of the planning committee. Because you're acquainted with the actual build volunteers, you could be the liaison between volunteers and the various project leaders. Start off on the right foot by clarifying expectations and offering your help.

Set up a communication system
Be sure to have cell phone numbers of individual volunteers, businesses, and partner organizations on hand from the build site if you need to contact anyone.

Formulate an emergency volunteer list
Is there anyone you can contact in a pinch? Are there any skilled individuals who could lead construction tasks? Brainstorm a list with your team members.


  • First thing in the morning, set up the registration table and decorate it with bright colors. Check your supplies to make sure you have all the proper forms and materials.
  • The volunteer registration table at the build site should be easily accessible and highly visible...make it as bright and playful as you can with balloons, signs, and decorations! No one should be able to miss it!
  • Orient yourself and any registration volunteers to know where everything is, including the first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, and designated safety table, if you have one in addition to the registration table. Handing out site maps to volunteers or build captains is a good way to make sure this information is shared.
  • Tell or show volunteers where everything is, what they'll be doing, and who's in charge. Assign them to teams with nametag stickers or by using whatever system you've chosen. Point out the location of restrooms, food, water, and first-aid.
  • Keep the registration table staffed throughout the day, particularly if you're using it as the safety table.

Tip: KaBOOM! uses fun stickers to designate volunteer team assignments: a wheelbarrow for the concrete team, a superhero for the surfacing team, or a flower for the community-garden team. When an unassigned volunteer arrives on-site, they're given a blank nametag with the team-assignment sticker already on it. This makes for a simple, easy way to control the number of volunteers assigned to teach team. Just make sure the number of each respective sticker corresponds to have many volunteers you plan on having for that team.

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Build Day logistics

Create a site layout/build timetable

Your co-chair(s) will need your help in creating a detailed site layout that shows the location of all the teams' activities. To do your part, sketch the location and orientation of the volunteer-registration table. Remember that it's very important that every arriving guest - volunteers, donors, media, and children - be funneled through the welcome and registration table before going to the construction site. Consider erecting a temporary fence or other barrier around the site so that people can only gain access through a single entrance.

Why is this so important? For once, all participants will need to sign a waiver form that releases your committee and the site's owner from liability for injuries suffered during Build Day(s). Talk to your co-chair(s) or safety captain about providing this form. Here's a sample waiver form. At the registration table, pre-assigned volunteers will also be able to pick up a name tag and T-shirt while unassigned volunteers can be directed to available tasks. You can also brief new arrivals on the day's schedule, and let them know where the restrooms, food and water, first-aid kit, and tool distribution table are.

An official build timetable is another way for co-chair(s) to ensure that everyone is on the same page - literally! Check out this sample timetable. The timetable is a detailed schedule for site prep and Build Day(s), a single document that pulls together all the teams' activities and lists them in order. Your co-chair(s) will need you to jot down a basic recruitment team schedule, including your team's arrival times, any games or appreciation activities, and who will be in charge.

Facilitating the build

  • Do status checks throughout the day to make sure volunteers are showing up for their shifts. If there's a shortage, re-direct people to high-priority tasks, or begin calling back-ups.
  • Remember that the construction captain, build captains, and playspace installer will all be instructing volunteers on performing construction tasks (the technical side).
  • That means it's your job to monitor the human side, making sure each volunteer is actively involved and comfortably engaged in an activity that's appropriate for their age and ability. Make sure they're getting a rewarding and challenging experience! Check for "wallflower" volunteers who may be shy about jumping into an unfamiliar task. Remind build captains to distribute work evenly.
  • Finally, roll up your sleeves and help build!

Tip: After all your recruiting efforts, you'll actually want to limit the number of volunteers who are assigned to equipment assembly. Try to have no more than 8 to 12 volunteers working on each major component at a time; this helps things run smoothly.

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Roadblocks and solutions

What if it rains?
Every team needs a back-up plan in case of dangerous weather. But remember, this is a rain-or-shine event! If Mother Nature throws a curveball, your first task is to stay positive. Your spirit and energy will be contagious. Discuss with your team ahead of time how you'll keep the volunteers as dry as possible while getting the job done:

  • Trash bags can serve as inexpensive makeshift ponchos. Cut a hole in the bottom, make slits up the sides, and get to work!
  • Locate a place indoors where people can get out of the elements from time to time; if nowhere can be found, try to bring in extra tents.
  • In bad weather, fewer volunteers will show up. Work with your construction captain to prioritize tasks and re-shuffle the volunteers who can make it.

"We were having a great time. So many people hammering this, sawing that, it was like clockwork ... until we ran out of sandpaper. One of our volunteers went to the store to buy some. The problem was, ten minutes later we discovered we were out of screws. Five minutes after that, it was the wrong size rope. Well, we had to wait for the sandpaper fellow to return because he was the only one left with a car. The next day, we realized that we needed to assign several people with cars the role of emergency supply runners."
- Carlos, recruitment team, Detroit playground build

What if we have too many volunteers?
What if too many people show up? Congratulations! That's a great problem to have. First, send as many people as possible to the surfacing team, which could always use extra hands. Then assign extra volunteers to these easy jobs:

  • Direct traffic at the parking lot
  • New paint jobs on fences, buildings, and old play equipment
  • Landscaping - pull weeds, trim shrubbery, rake leaves, edge sidewalks
  • Games - paint hopscotch and four-square markings
  • Crafts - make wind chimes or sponsor thank-you cards
  • Water patrol - keep volunteers hydrated, collect empty cups and bottles
  • Clean up - collect trash, separate recyclables, clean tools
  • Spruce up existing play equipment with Armor All
  • Lead cheers - hip, hip, let's play!

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Once your big day is over, you've got lots to celebrate. But don't assume your work is done! Be sure to thank your volunteers.

  • Recognize volunteers for their hard work during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
  • Coordinate creative thank-yous with your co-chair(s), children's activities captain and PR captain.

Ways to say thank you

To make a lasting impression, think outside the notecard! Use your creativity and playfulness to show volunteers how much they've meant to your project.

Post-build barbecue
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, celebrate with everybody's favorite food and beverages. Tell everyone that it's okay to play with their food.

Awards ceremony
Give out small trophies or tokens to people who truly went above and beyond - the person who hauled the most mulch, recruited the most volunteers, sweated the most, stressed the most. Is your town sports-crazed? Cue the Olympic theme song and give gold medals to volunteer winners and major sponsors. Have a local trophy company donate them - or better yet, have children make them!

Try to get a company to do a skywriting message for the whole town to see. This one might be difficult to find, but think how charged your volunteers will be when "Thank You Playspace Builders!" appears in the sky.

Newspaper ad
Place a full page ad in the local paper during the week following the build. Ask if they'll donate the space or reduce the fee.

Simply go up to individuals, pat them on the back, shake their hands, give them a hug and say "Thank You!"

Tip: Even after you cut the ribbon at the end of the day, the concrete holding the playground posts in the ground still needs to set for 72 hours. Invite volunteers back for a playground opening day event so they can see the results of their hard work and enjoy the kids playing.

"Today has been a very emotional day for me, and just seeing the kids has been awesome. Today kind of puts it all together, puts it in perspective. Not only are we doing a great thing for kids and their healthy development, but this is just an awesome experience to work with all the volunteers."
-Cindy Willis, House Springs, Mo.

Evaluating the experience

So how'd it go? What worked? What didn't? Discuss with your team to learn lessons for next time!

"Friends of the Playspace" group

Your co-chair(s) and fellow team captains may be interested in forming an ongoing group to support the maintenance and programming of your new playspace. You can maintain relationships with partner organizations, giving them new opportunities to be involved. Recruit volunteers and participants for an annual "Playspace Birthday Party," outdoor summer festival or cultural activities. Whatever future your playspace holds, the skills, interests, and commitment of local residents will certainly be a part of it!

"Bringing people together, that's what this project was about. Getting them to participate, giving them a role to play, making them feel their responsibility to our community."
- Mark Mitchell, recruitment team captain, Boston playground build

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