How Many Volunteers Do I Need to Help Run the School Carnival?
“Don’t ever question the value of volunteers. Noah’s Ark was built by volunteers; the Titanic was built by professionals.” -Unknown
While having a dedicated leader with a wonderful vision and exemplary planning skills is important for having a great event, having a solid team of volunteers is crucial to executing that vision and those plans. In my experience, having a few layers of volunteer leaders and doers is really helpful for keeping things running smoothly the day of the event. Start with a high level planning committee who will help with planning and pre-work and then lead a team of volunteers the day of. Then, have a small group of parent volunteers prepared to manage certain areas in shifts the day of. And finally, compile a larger group of student volunteers to manage the participants in shifts the day of the event. So let’s get in to the details and talk numbers and roles.
Planning Committee – What are the roles & responsibilities?
Committee Chair– This role leads the team in all aspects of the planning, but a good leader knows how to recruit others and delegates to their strengths so that, as a team, they can achieve the vision of a great event. This person is responsible for communicating with the booster club/PTO leadership, school or district administrators and the volunteer committee. They are responsible for all paperwork and permit submissions and sticking to the planning timeline and budget. This person also manages all aspects of set up and take down and is the point person for questions the day of the event.
Marketing Chair– This role communicates essential information to the community. It is helpful if they have some experience or talent using social media and even some graphic design skills are very helpful. They will be responsible for creating print media like posters, banners and flyers, as well as digital media like Facebook posts and email blasts. The work is done primarily independently at home prior to the event, so it is ideal for a parent who has some extra time in the months leading up to the big day.
Candy & Prize Table Coordinator– This role manages the candy and prize table the day of the event. It is helpful if they can order the tokens, candy and prizes in advance, but that can alternately be accomplished by the Purchasing Coordinator. Some pre-work involves thinking through the “pricing strategy” for candy and prizes. How many tokens will it take to “buy” each piece of candy or prize. It is fun to have a variety of levels with small, medium, and large prizes. Managing the candy and prize table involves setting up and arranging the display the day before the event, supervising the volunteers in the area on the day of, and cleaning up the area afterward.
Cake Walk Coordinator– This role sources the cakes used in the cake walk. They can purchase from a local bakery if budget allows, solicit a donation or ask parents to contribute home made treats, depending on the budget and the rules regarding food in the school. Our school used to solicit parents to bake, but with an increase in allergies and strict food handling rules, we recently switched to purchasing from a local bakery. They give us a substantial discount because the event is not for profit and simply for school community building. The day of the event, the cake walk coordinator sets up the cake walk area and supervises the parent and student volunteers that help in that area throughout the day.
Activities Coordinator– In our school, this position manages the volunteers at the indoor/cafeteria activities including face painting, sand art, colored hair spray and arm wraps (which we named, casting call). We utilize middle and high school students to perform the activities and help kids complete activities, so the coordinator is in charge of checking those volunteers in and out and instructing them on how to complete the activities. This person also helps refill the supplies needed at each station. It is primarily a day of role and is easy to hand off from one adult to another, so it can be split between two people if the event is long.
Carnival Games Coordinator– We use the basketball/sport court at our school to set up a variety of carnival games like ring toss, go fish, plinko and other games. Like the activities coordinator, the carnival games coordinator manages the middle and high school student volunteers who run each game. It is an outside position at our school, so this usually requires 2-3 parents to trade off throughout the event. The games coordinator also pulls any owned games out of storage a few weeks in advance of the event to ensure all parts are located and anything that needs repair or replacement is taken care of before the day of. Our games coordinator is in charge of sourcing the student volunteers by reaching out to the local middle and high school groups that require volunteer hours. More on that in the Student Volunteers section below.
Rides Coordinator– This role will help the chair determine which large rides and attractions to rent for the big day. It’s important to stay within budget and consider safety requirements mandated by the school or district when making selections. Once the choices are solidified, the rides coordinator will work with the treasurer to get appropriate deposits in place and maintain communication with the selected vendors. The role is also responsible for managing the parent or student volunteers who control the lines and monitor for safety throughout the day of the event.
Sponsor Coordinator– The sponsor coordinator can work on their own or create a team of parents to solicit monetary and in-kind donations from local businesses or families who want to support the event. Sponsorships can help cover the cost of various games, rides, tables, chairs or a stage. Get creative because a local vet may want to sponsor a petting zoo, or a dermatologist could sponsor a shade tent. Here’s a form letter you can use to initiate the conversation, and you can dig in to sponsorship strategies here.
Food Truck Coordinator– The food truck coordinator finds local food vendors, like food trucks and dessert carts, to provide food the day of the event. They are responsible for confirming availability of the vendor, negotiating a give back to the school based on sales, gathering all necessary documentation like food service permits, directing the food trucks/vendors, and making sure they have everything they need the day of the event.
Purchasing Coordinator– Sometimes there is very little to purchase, but other times there is more. A purchasing coordinator can help purchase the tickets, wristbands, tokens, small games, face paint kits, colored hair spray, fun table clothes, candy, prizes and more. These purchases can also be made by the person in charge of each area in which they are needed, but sometimes it is simpler for the treasurer if there is one person to reimburse. This person should be careful to use a sales tax exempt certificate when purchasing to save money!
Treasurer– The treasurer is in charge of handling money for the PTO/booster club. They will lead the process for ticket sales and reimburse any spending for committee members. They can also help the team stay on budget by keeping the Event Committee Chair updated on revenue and expenses.
We used to use hundreds of parent hours to put on our 5 hour school event. It was a huge undertaking and required a LOT from our school community. While everyone wants to help, it is hard for parents to volunteer for long when they may have young children, or multiple children, who need to be actively supervised at the event. Since we have started utilizing middle and high school students, we have been able to pare down the number of parent volunteer hours. Now, we use parent volunteers primarily to supervise student volunteers. I’ll use 1-2 parents to supervise the students doing set up and take down. During the event, I like to have a parent or two in each main area, directing the volunteers, and keeping an eye on everyone. Inside, I place one parent at our indoor activities, one running music in our cakewalk, and one at our candy and prize table. Outside, we have 2 parents at the registration/ticket table and 1-2 parents in the field where the rides are. Parents can sign up for a 1-hour shift, but many are very gracious and take multiple shifts.
Student Volunteers- Who are they? What do they do? And how many do I need?
Recently, we began utilizing middle and high school student volunteers at our elementary school carnival. This was a really welcome change as we have lots of volunteer shifts over the course of our 5 hour event. There are many clubs, associations and other groups in middle school and high school where kids need to volunteer a certain number of hours as part of their membership requirements. A few we have found in Texas include National Honor Society, girls group and boys group (remember those names). These kids really enjoy volunteering, and the younger elementary students really enjoy having “big kids” help them with the games and activities. Parents equally enjoy a little break from the numerous volunteer hours requested of them. Students can be used to manage the lines near the outdoor rides, run the carnival games on the sport court, sell drinks at the drink stand, perform face painting, balloon twisting, and many of the other activity options. They can also help with set up and take down, which makes parents really happy that they can just manage and not worry about waking up sore the next day! Student volunteers really enjoy hanging out with a friend while they work, so I try to provide two slots at each activity so they can sign up with a friend at the same time.
Calculating Total Volunteers Needed
To calculate how many volunteers you need, start with how many stations you will have. Then consider how many people you need to manage each station. Finally, multiply that by the number of shifts you plan to offer (e.g. you might have two two-hour shifts for your four-hour event). Here is the break down we use:
- 8 outdoor ride stations (inflatable obstacle course, bunjee jump, etc.) x 2 people at each station x 2 shifts = 32 adult volunteers in 2 hour shifts
- 5 arcade games x 2 person at each station x 2 shifts = 20 student volunteers in 2 hour shifts
- 4 indoor activities x 2 people at each station x 2 shifts = 16 student volunteers in 2 hour shifts
- Setup/takedown 8 volunteers in 2 hour shifts before and after the event = 16 volunteers (usually one or two adults per shift and the rest student volunteers)
- Total: 84 volunteers needed for our school event
As you can see, it takes a lot of manpower to make an event like this happen. But the payoff is totally worth it when the kids say it was the BEST carnival ever! As you dive into planning, be sure to download our School Carnival Planning Guide to help you navigate every step smoothly!