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Problem with ‘no RSVPs’

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Question: I frequently send out meeting notices by e-mail to a large group of volunteers, well in advance of the meeting date. While some of the volunteers RSVP, many do not. I also send out a small reminder closer to the meeting date.

Sometimes this helps, but quite a few volunteers never respond. This is a problem because their attendance is very important, and I order food according to how many people are coming.

How should I handle this in a courteous and professional way? You can't force people to respond to your e-mails. My last resort is to call each person individually, but I feel like I'm being "pushy" when I do that. Plus, that takes a lot of time. Any suggestions? -- Anonymous


Comments

When it comes to scheduling appointments, meetings, etc. we generally use the outlook calendar and send out a meeting request. If you're not familiar with how it works, you block off time on your calendar (title it by whatever meeting it is for) double click and you will have the option to invite attendees, set the time, location and a message at the bottom. The recipients will receive an email with the information and it will ask them to accept, decline or tentatively accept. Once they respond you get a message indicating that they have accepted, declined or tentative. When they accept it goes on their calendar as a reminder. Perhaps this method would help out.

Is this a lunch? Do you use Outlook email? If so, send an e-invitation that has accept or decline buttons, so all they have to do is click the right one and it will put the appt on their calendar and send you notice. With regard to the food, maybe you can switch to box lunches. I used to attend a prof. organization lunch, and you chose from 3 or 4 box lunch menus. When you passed the registration table, there were all the boxes, with everyone's individual name on it. They were very strict too, and if someone couldn't find their lunch, they would announce to everyone that they should look at the top of their box to verify if they had the right one. This gives everyone the opportunity to get what they want, and they have no one to blame except themselves if they have no food.

The key to all this is to let everyone know well ahead of time of the change in procedure. Be pleasant, joking, but be very firm in your emails that in a month or two, there will be a change, and if they don't RSVP, no food will be provided and they will have to stop on their way to the meeting and buy themselves something to eat. If you stick to your guns, they'll all fall in line, after they've starved a time or two. There are some deli services that are so organized and in fact, ask that you order on-line, so they can produce name stickers themselves for you and attach them to the approvpriate boxes. Box lunches may cost a little more but you will not be wasting food and you will be forcing these careless "children" to act like responsible adults. Having organized many such events, I know how frustrating this behavior can be!

You don't say what kind of meetings these are, or the size of the group being invited, but my first suggestion would be to ask them. At the next meeting, explain your dilemma and ask for suggestions. The offenders might not have thought about how their actions (or lack thereof) are affecting other people.

If that isn't an option, perhaps you could try something like issuing a meal ticket to those who do reply, and anyone who shows up without a ticket either has to pay for their meal or do without -- kind of a drastic measure, but it is indeed very frustrating to be responsible for ordering food when you don't have any idea how many people are attending.

Another idea would be to rotate responsibility for ordering the food.

Hi,
Sorry to say sometimes the only thing you can do is order a little extra food and hope for the best I don't know your client by mine our physians so getting RSVPs is not simple task. As a matter of fact I handle it the same way as you. Emails, reminders and yes even the time consuming phone calls. Good Luck

Theresa Fontaine
Springfield Mass

I know this is probably not the answer you were looking for, but I'm not sure that there is a solution. At our office, many of us who have this responsibility frequently complain about the lack of RSVPs. I do the initial, the reminder and the phone call follow up like you do. It is very frustrating. Why can't people simply respond? It would take about 5 seconds! Sometimes they used to show up without letting me know and when they didn't have a name tag they'd act all annoyed like I should have known they were planning to come.

So now, I don't stress about it. I guesstimate on food, and always have enough and I am always prepared with enough materials for the number of people that haven't responded. It's easier for me that way.

We use Lotus Notes and like Outlook Express it has a calendar feature for sending invitation. Everyone's comments were good but I still find people not responding to the invitation. I had to plan a luncheon for 34 people where we needed to submit the lunch orders ahead of time. Some people still didn't respond so I had to follow-up with additional emails and some phone calls. One person accepted the invitaion and sent in his menu selection but didn't show up. We had to pay for the lunch anyway. There are just some people who do not follow-up as they should. All I can say use the electronic invitation and follow-up if need be. I generally order for one more than expected if it for a meeting with food. Also with Lotus Notes, you can print out the status of those invited. I generally give this list to my boss so he can see who reponsed and who didn't. If it is a someone under his management, he responds to them about responding to invitations.

Guesstimate and refrigerate/freeze leftovers for the workerbees. That is the only way I could get the job done and not be stressed.

It would not be rude of you to let everyone know that in order for you to order the right amount of food and beverage for everyone attending, you NEED to know who is coming. Let them know that if they DO NOT respond, you will assume that they are not coming. This will be straight to the point but still professional.

I have frequently had the same problem. Even when I use Outlook meeting reminders, some people still won't click on the Accept button. Perhaps it's fear of commitment :-) When I started saying that food could only be guaranteed for them if they responded, I got 100% responses. Seems their desire to eat overcame their fear of commitment. It worked for large and small meetings alike! Folks who failed to indicate they were coming but showed up anyway were very apologetic. Subsequently they were amongst the first to reply.

I work with a large medical group (230+ physicians)and we have quarterly dinner meetings. I found the best thing that works is to send out an email telling them that parking passes will only be sent to those who RSVP. Amazing that those who make six figures do not like to pay a few dollars for parking. It is the best trick I have tried yet!!! If you don't have any parking issues (lucky you) I think threatening to withhold food would work just as well.

Good luck!!!

I'm wondering if these volunteers are people you work with or if they are like 4-H volunteers who have no affiliation with your company. In that case, perhaps a hard copy invitation to the meeting would be good. People have a very easy time of disregarding emails but not so much hard copies. Also, you could put a phrase that says due to budget constraints only those who RSVP will have food ordered for them. That way they know. I worked for a group of 'volunteer' board members and that's what I told them. They weren't offended by it, they completely understood why I said that. You can't buy extra and hope for the best because that can get very pricy! At the same time, they are volunteers...and volunteers are hard to come by.

Someone I know goes through the same thing. Her solution is to take the additional time and call the volunteers on the phone (maybe not all on the same day) because she gets her response and the call adds a more personal touch. It's time consuming but at least something will result from the time spent on the phone.

AS PER YOUR REQUIREMENT U HAVE WRITTEN THAT YOU HAVE A HABIT OF SENDING EMAILS FOR MEETING QUITE BEFORE. SO THE RIGHT WAY IS THAT IF U ARE NOT ABLE TO CALL ALL THE PEOPLE EITHER YOU APPOINT SOME CALL CENTRE TO DO SO. ONE THING MORE CAN BE DONE ABOUT YOUR LUNCH ORDER. IN UR EMAILS U SHOULD INSERT THE OPTION TO SEND THE CONFIRMATION OF ATTENDING THE MEETING BACK, OTHERWISE THE PERSON IS NOT ENTITLED FOR THE MEETING. FOR EXAMPLE THE ONE WHO WISH TO ATTEND THE MEETING WILL SEND YOU THE CONFIRMATION EMAIL.WITH THIS YOU CAN ORDER YOUR FOOD AND THE NUMBER OF PERSONS APPROXIMATELY CAN BE KNOWN .

Hi Anonymous

You should state in your email the importance of a response so money is not wasted on ordering too much food. Also, try ordering just enough food for the people who responded and when you get complaints that there was not enough food, reiterate the importance of RSVP.

Shirl, Wash, DC

In your initial meeting request, let the volunteers know that you appreciate the time that they give to your organization and tell them that you NEED their RSVP, whether they are coming or not, so that you can place the food order. Some people think that they only need to RSVP if they are coming.

When the volunteers arrive, you may want to mention again the importance of their RSVPs going forward.

Hi,
I also would send a meeting notice and let them know that you need them to RSVP so you know how much to order so that everyone has a lunch ready when they arrive and that you will be ordering food based on the number of meeting notices that have been accepted for the event.

I think this has become a universal problem. I work at a university and invite student, staff members, and faculty to a luncheon once a year. In the email invitation, I state they need to RSVP to reserve their seat as space is limited. Putting this statement in has greatly improved my responses. I then send a reminder to those I have not heard from. Then I send a third invitation to the last of the hold-outs and tell them that this is their last chance to let me know if they would like to attend. Out of 80 invitees last year, I only had three fail to RSVP.

We had this problem and started calling people who did not respond to the e-mail. Not a single person complained about it being pushy, and our attendance jumped substantially. Most people appreciated the more personal touch, and often thanked us for the call being a reminder.

You might want to remember that these people are volunteers. If you are pushy or rude they will no longer volunteer. Additionally a volunteer may not be comfortable using email. Just order extra food and provide sticker nametags that are either handwritten or pre-printed with all volunteer names so that no one will feel left out.

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