Comping Event Volunteers

Dear Kim, 

Our organization is putting on a big event using a great team of about 50 volunteers. The tickets to the event are $100 each and we only have capacity for 400 people. We expect to sell out. Now I am being told the volunteers should get a free ticket, but the problem is that we will forego almost $5000 if we do that. (50 volunteers X $100.) Also, even though the volunteer team has been great, some have worked much harder than others, and, adding more complication, we have about 100 other volunteers who put in a lot of time doing other stuff. I want to preserve good will, but am not sure that a free ticket is the best way to do that.  

What is the norm about free tickets? 

~No Free Lunch  

Dear No Free, 

Yours is a common dilemma in putting on any event: do you ask the volunteers who help you with the event to also buy a ticket? Your instinct about preserving good will being important is correct. In fact, that is a high priority. Part of the problem is that you were not clear in the beginning. This comment does not help you now, but is something you should add to your event protocols going forward.  The volunteers who have spent a good deal of time on this event see it as a fundraiser, I am sure and you could lose their good will by giving away tickets. I firmly believe volunteers should pay for their tickets. Otherwise your event simply offers “scholarships” for time put in, and there is no fair way to do that because a person who volunteers a little gets the same reward as someone who has put in hours of time. And, as you note, people who volunteer in other ways in your organization don’t have access to this kind of reward. Your sponsors and big donors did not contribute in order to reward volunteers but because they thought you would use the money you generated for your program. Make everyone pay, and then reward all your volunteers with a separate volunteer appreciation event.      

~Kim Klein