GUEST COMMENT: Understanding Volunteers

Sue Torres of Wicked Events talks about the use of volunteers in the live event sector

Have you ever wondered why people volunteer? What they get out of it and why the event sector would want to use someone who works for nothing? Let’s explore further as it is a much more extraordinary relationship than you might think.

There are hundreds of events that take place in the UK every year and many of the event organisers just love volunteers, and not just because it keeps the costs down – which it does.

There are a lot of people who will give their time and effort for no monetary gain when they feel a strong connection to an event. This may be because they have been to the event as a customer previously and want to help out, a desire to make that event the best possible experience for others, or because volunteering gives access to the event that may have been unobtainable due to their financial constraints.

A t-shirt with Event Team written on it

These people are very important to event organisers as it means they will have a strong workforce of like-minded, committed individuals who want to be there to support the event, are enthusiastic and willing to help, will promote that event and have a positive effect long after the marquees have been packed away, the customers have left and the fields given back to the cows.

How the relationship works

In return for a few hours’ commitment per day, volunteers get to see a side of an event that customers never see, while at the same time gaining valuable experience. They are also able to enjoy the event when not working, catch up with old friends and make new ones. There is very often a feeling of investment in an event that regular, paid attendees may not feel. 

Prior to the event, positions and timings are identified where volunteers may be needed. Volunteer ratios are not determined by numbers alone but also depend on the venue, artist and audience profile so could be as few as 10 or many hundreds depending on the size and type of event. 

Volunteers come from all walks of life providing a diverse and versatile workforce. My role at the Wicked Events Management company is to recruit volunteers prior to an event, and correspond with them, letting them have as much information as they need such as how to get to site, what to do on arrival, where to camp and what shifts will be asked of them in return for their help. Once on site they are given H&S briefings and any specific training they may require in their specified area of work. They would be managed during their shifts by team leaders, area managers and managers/event directors who are responsible for their welfare.

Some of the roles that volunteers may be asked to carry out are listed here but there are many more that they can and are asked to do:

  • Wristband checking/exchange
  • Box office
  • Car parks
  • Campsites
  • Artist liaison
  • Stage management
  • Set up/take down
  • Merchandise/information points etc.

This list is not exhaustive, and roles can be tailored to each event’s requirement.

As a rule, technical positions such as lighting and sound engineering are not covered by volunteers, however, some possess these skill sets from their day to day life and are happy to utilise them on a volunteer basis e.g. degree students that require experience, retired professionals or those who just love helping out.

Volunteering can be a journey. Some volunteers like to work in the same position year after year while others like to experience a wide variety of roles, which over time, and with the correct training, results in well-rounded, knowledgeable volunteers with great insight into the event industry as a whole, who then possess a bespoke skill-set.

Insurance and welfare

When working with volunteers it is important to make sure you have adequate insurance. Even though they are not being paid any money, each volunteer will be classified as an employee and as such the right insurance, training and personal protection equipment (PPE) must be in place. The recruiter is responsible for their welfare and insuring them while on site.Event team volunteers in hi-viz vests

It can sometimes be that volunteers sign up but then either cancel just before the event or don’t even turn up. This can be for a variety of reasons ranging from ‘it looked like rain so not able to make it’ to my cat is expecting kittens, or the event emails have gone into their junk folder. To try and combat these drop outs, some companies take deposits to the full ticket price, which is only refunded on completion of shifts. Other companies/events go for the trust approach and don’t take a deposit. It depends on the type of event which method is used but, in both cases, it is hard to find a new volunteer close to the event and at short notice.

If you treat a volunteer well and have respect for them, they in turn are much more reliable and the return rate is higher. If they have had a good and positive experience, they will often not only return but bringing friends and family with them next time.

Wicked Events’ Volunteer Feedback

“Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the festival season this year. The management team was friendly, supportive and helpful, as always. I thought that every event was managed and organised really well. I don’t know how you do it, but you always seem to come up with a team that genuinely wants to do a good job. I certainly hope to be involved next year and future years.” – Peter

“Thanks, I really enjoyed my first time stewarding and hopefully I’ll be able to volunteer again next year. The volunteer’s tent was a good central meeting point and was well positioned. It was kept tidy and well stocked. The five-hour shifts were not too arduous and meant you could always catch the festival. Team leaders rotating the role within the shift ensured we were always occupied with something new.” – Colin

“I really enjoyed my experience of stewarding at a rural festival so, the bottom line is I would like to do it again next year – identical job and shifts thank you very much!” – Jennie 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sue Torres is director of Wicked Events which has been in operation since 2000 and recruits volunteers for festivals and events around the country. There is a small core team that oversees the day-to-day running of the business throughout the year with a larger extended team that support events when the festival season is in full swing.

Wicked Events has grown year on year due to the emphasis on treating all with respect and ensuring volunteers enjoy their time. www.wickedevents.co.uk

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