An Inside Look at Volunteering at OzHarvest CEO Cookoff

Recently I put my hand up to volunteer at the OzHarvest CEO Cookoff – and boy was it a fabulous experience! I’ve been wanting to volunteer at a charity event for a while in order to get a better understanding of the role volunteers play in helping charities raise much needed funds for their causes. So, when the stars aligned, this was an opportunity I couldn’t say no to.  

First, a little about the event…

The OzHarvest CEO Cookoff feeds and entertains over 1,400 people in need, and provides an opportunity for Australia’s CEOs and their staff to support those who face food insecurity. In 2019 the event raised $2,622,630, which will provide 6 million meals to people going without all around Australia. At the event, participants are grouped into teams and paired with celebrated chefs from Australia’s top kitchens. Each team prepares a meal under the guidance of their chef and serves up a 3-course meal to their well-deserving guests. 

Six photographers and a team of eight videographers donated their time and talent to capture the magic of the night. Some of the pics above are my own, some are from them. See more happy snaps of the event here on Flickr.

Why do charities need volunteers at their events?

Charities rely heavily on the generosity of sponsors and volunteers to help produce their events at a lower cost – meaning that more of the proceeds raised through the event can go towards facilitating the charity’s core purpose. Whether this is funding medical research or funding the support services they provide to those in need (including people, animals or our environment). 
Before volunteering at the OzHarvest CEO Cookoff I assumed that many of the volunteers were students in hospitality or event management, trying to get some valuable work experience. However, what I found was a group of people from all walks of life – their reason for being there was because they were passionate about the cause. This is what can make the event even more successful – the genuine care they have for the guests and the success of the event often makes it even better.  
With just under 200 volunteers involved in the OzHarvest CEO Cookoff, it’s an integral resource for the charity to manage…

How do you get the most from your event volunteers?

Managing volunteers is not something new to OzHarvest – their daily operations rely heavily on volunteers to operate. The key to success in managing this large crew of volunteers for the CEO Cookoff was awesome communication. 
Prior to the event we were provided with briefing notes about the event and the particular role we were being assigned. Also included, was an invitation to the venue for a briefing the day prior to the event.
During the briefing we heard from Ronni Kahn, OzHarvest CEO & Founder. Hearing from Ronni about why this event is so important meant that the entire team were roused with enthusiasm to do their very best on the night. 
We then heard from OzHarvest’s Event Manager, Bethany Fitzpatrick and Josh Emanuel from Team Event, who went through the event schedule and floor plan – giving all volunteers a great overall understanding of the what to expect come showtime.  
The volunteers were split into groups according to their assigned roles on the evening and met with their team leader/s to run through their specific roles and responsibilities. 
Other key things to mention that contributed to the smooth running of such a large volunteer crew included the Volunteer Welfare Team. Their responsibility was to ensure the volunteers were OK on the night – they roamed the event giving out snacks and managed a dedicated room should someone need a quiet break (although I doubt this was used much – the action of the event was not to be missed!).

It was clear during the night that the volunteers (all 200 of them!) were engaged and eager to do their job well. 

What was my role on the night?

I was assigned to the Social Media team, which involved monitoring four of the kitchens and encouraging the celebrity Chefs and CEOs to post on their own social media accounts during the night to actively encourage donations. 
The Social Media team were also integral to feeding content from the floor to the dedicated social media managers for the event. The addition of a Social Media team is a fairly new volunteer role (active only for the past two events), and personally I think this is a fabulous initiative that could be implemented at a range of events. 
I won’t lie – it was a fun role! It meant I was able to get up close and personal with the Chefs, CEOs and their teams who were providing the meals for the guests.
However, as the night went on – I found myself clearing plates, getting drinks for guests, packing goodie bags and making sure all of the donated flowers were taken by the guests (which they loved!). 
I wasn’t the only one – everyone there pitched in where needed to ensure that the special guests had a truly amazing evening. I didn’t stop smiling the entire evening!

Social Media at OzHarvest CEO Cookoff
A few examples of social media posts on the night... For more head to: #ceocookoff

It wasn’t just volunteers in yellow shirts….

What is extremely clever about the OzHarvest CEO Cookoff is that it flips the dynamic of the traditional charity gala dinner on its head. Rather than host a room full of well-off guests and request donations from them, OzHarvest instead invites the most vulnerable people in our society to enjoy a night of good food and entertainment, the country’s top Chefs and CEOs there to make and serve the meal.
The Chefs involved not only volunteer their time, they also donate a lot of the produce for the meal.

The CEOs volunteer their time and their staff and raise the majority of the donations. Both the Chefs and the CEOs are key to raising funds in the lead up to and on the day of the event. 
Industry suppliers support the event with food donations, equipment and more… 
One of our industry’s very own participated this year, Keith Wootton, CEO of AV1 and Sprintr by AV1. A big round of applause to Keith who raised $7,065!

I volunteered for the CEO CookOff after being inspired by the AV1 team who are constantly out and about volunteering themselves for great causes and introducing new initiatives into the business that make a difference. Our clients too are often putting on events with purpose and passion and that inspires me to use our platform to do more.

The event on the night was spectacular. It was perfectly produced with every minor detail thought out. It was great to be amongst it. There was a real sense of giving.
It really felt good to meet the guests, hear their stories, and cook a tasty meal for them. I love the work OzHarvest does day in and day out. What a great bunch of people!

Keith Wootton | AV1 at OzHarvest CEO Cookoff
Keith and me | Keith clearing the tables...

Final note… 

I absolutely loved volunteering for this amazing charity event. Rounding up a work force of volunteers to operate any event is no easy feat, but I have to say, the team at OzHarvest make it look like a well-oiled machine. 
Prior to establishing OzHarvest, Ronni Kahn managed her own event management company, and it’s obvious that her passion and skills are what make this event such a brilliant success.
Why am I so keenly interested in supporting OzHarvest? Because it is an organisation born out of a problem with our very own events industry – food waste. We’ve all seen it – at the end of an event quality food is left over to go to waste. Thanks to Ronni and the team at OzHarvest that doesn’t need to be the case anymore. 
I encourage you (if you don’t already) to pre-book an OzHarvest food collection as standard practice following your events. I also encourage you to donate – time, produce, money or skills (whatever suits your situation) to this most-worthy of causes. Together we can make a big difference to reducing food waste AND helping our society’s most vulnerable citizens. 
The passion, dedication and enthusiasm from everyone involved in the evening was electric and I plan to volunteer at this event again in the future. 
To learn more about how you can get involved with OzHarvest go to:

Written by Rebecca Hunt | Director & Founder of Event Birdie