What do volunteers want?

An off-season event that I VC for is exploring some different options to our volunteer benefits at the event. Currently, all volunteers receive an event specific volunteer shirt, hot breakfast and lunch cooked onsite by the team caterer (and pizza if they really want it), and thank you’s from the team. In the interest of cost saving and reducing excess, we’re exploring alternatives to the event-specific volunteer shirts in favor of other solutions, but we want to make sure that our volunteers know that we appreciate them, without just giving them another robotics shirt for their growing collection.

What are some of your favorite volunteer gifts that you’ve received in the past? What do you think would make a good gift? How much do you want to actually add another robot shirt to your collection?


My personal favorite is a sling bag I got as a volunteer gift at Championships one year. It turned out to be a very handy event bag, since it has an exterior mesh pocket for water bottles and a comfortably sized main compartment that is big enough for my gear but not big enough that I overpack.


Personally, whether for in-season or off-season, I’d much rather have the respect and recognition by the organizing committee rather than a gift. (Although I admit, the water bottles received at MSC are really useful.) Examples of respect are keeping me in the loop on event schedule, accommodations, meals, etc. I’ve arrived at events at load-in expecting there would be an evening meal to find that everything was eaten by the setup crew. Or bought a meal before arriving only to find that a really good home-cooked meal was being served. Sometimes I wasn’t given a schedule for arrival/departure and had to improvise. At one event we were supposed to have meal tickets to get food at concessions, but I wasn’t given any when I checked in. (And check-in procedures themselves are often haphazard; that’s another thing I’d like to be kept informed about.)

Better too much information to all volunteers than not enough. Sure most people at the event might be returnees and know everything about it. But some of us are there for the first time.

Your key volunteers don’t necessarily need a volunteer shirt; they often have “uniforms” of their own that they will be wearing. This especially applies to FTA’s and referees; maybe also MC’s, LRI, etc. When I ref, I often decline getting a shirt specifically because I don’t need a collection of them in a bin in my basement. In fact, we donated a number of shirts to our church to use as paint shirts when the kids do crafts.

But if you don’t have shirts for general volunteers, how do you know who is working the field and surrounds? I suppose these shirts could be generic and be returned and reused in future years. Just the name of your event and “volunteer” on them, nothing specific about the event dates or game.


We are in the process of exploring other options for volunteer identification, still nailing down exactly what the plan is for that (and the event is in November, so we have time.)

What you are describing as a volunteer shirt is what we currently offer, and is what we are looking to replace with a small gift as a takeaway from the event.

I want to second most of what Gary said. Water bottles are good gifts and logistical information can be improved at many events, although that shouldn’t be considered a gift.

I have a lunch box that was given as a volunteer gift at the 2012 Orlando Regional that I still use everyday at work. It has held up really well and is probably one of the best volunteer gifts I have received.


We gave these out at CAGE’09 and they were by far the best-received gifts ever.

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I think this is a wonderful idea! Like Gary, I have too many tee-shirts.

One year at IRI the volunteers got a USB battery that can be used to recharge phones, etc. That was cool and very useful. The CMP sling bags that Victoria mentioned above are also really good.

What alternative volunteer ID-accessories have you considered?

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The two leading ideas are

  1. A non-year specific volunteer shirt that we ask returning volunteers to wear each year (and order a smaller number each year for new volunteers)
  2. A hi-vis style vest that remains at the event (and are able to be used at the team’s other outreach events in the community) with screen printing or iron-on vinyl with the event or team logo on the front, and “volunteer” across the shoulders.

pure unadulterated power


I like the vest idea, but as someone who tends to get quite warm during even the coldest of Michigan events, an extra layer may be uncomfortable, but I do like that approach, especially if something like the sling bag (which I REALLY like the idea of) is the take-away from the event.

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As a bigger person, shirt sizes that will accommodate for everyone. It’s very thoughtful and greatly appreciated.


Vest with a lot of pockets would be GREAT! I carry a tape measure, template, examples of various wire gages, jumper wire (RI here), etc.


I do like the t-shirts if they’re something that’s reasonable to wear in the real world. I regularly wear robotics shirts from teams and events in every-day life. That being said, I’ve also gotten shirts that are heavy, scratchy, have large uncomfortable iron-on decals, and are covered in sponsor ads. Those shirts can’t really be worn after the event is over, so they’re basically worthless.

Drawstring bags and water bottles are also nice, but probably won’t help with keeping costs down.


Yes, that a fantastic point!!! Vests with lots of pockets (returnable to the venue - think fishing vests) would be very handy as a RI (future hopefull RI here) so I totally agree with you.

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Swag is nice but by no means mandatory… For me, decent quality meals go a long way. Keep us fed and in good spirits (or at least make a good effort), and I’m cool. I’ve seen events get this very right, and others get it very wrong. Not that such made me stop volunteering, but if I’m split between events, it’s a tiebreaker.


Unless you have objections to one or more of the event sponsors, I wouldn’t be too shy about wearing a shirt with sponsor logos on it. It doesn’t really look any different than, say, a t-shirt from a trade show, 5K, or community festival. People are pretty used to seeing corporate sponsors on shirts.


100% this.

As for shirts, I rarely wear my robotics volunteer shirts most because they all say “Volunteer” on the back and it just feels to weird to wear that in public.

For gifts I prefer to get lapel pins or stickers.

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It’s not the small sponsor logos that bother me as much as the ones that take up the whole shirt and make it look like I’m advertising for the company. But that’s still less important than being comfortable to wear.


Having some volunteer shirts available for new volunteers is extremely helpful… but for people that were volunteers during the season, we really don’t need more shirts! As it is, I get 5 volunteer shirts a year (3 regional + 2 champs), and don’t need more clutter than that.

Good food is a nice way to thank volunteers, but when it comes to off-season events I never expect more than pizza. They key is making sure you have enough, the volunteers know when/where to go for it, and everyone gets fed.

If you get swag donated (water bottles, safety glasses, pens, whatever), then great - but honestly, I wouldn’t want the host team to spend money on that stuff for me - I’d rather they kept their money to fund the team’s needs.

In addition to meals, having some snacks available throughout the day (candy, donuts in the morning, cookies in the afternoon, stuff like that) will go a long way towards keeping people happy all day long!


I think you may have missed an ‘r’ in there somewhere.