The Volunteer Resource Team (VRT) experienced a year of growth during 2005 in terms of both increased numbers of team volunteers and widened scope of activity. It was also a year of trying new approaches and re-evaluation.

The Volunteer Resource Team (volunteers@burningman.com) is in charge of:

  • Training and offering advice to Volunteer Coordinators (VCs)
  • Offering professional growth workshops for the staff
  • Assessing the organization’s volunteer needs
  • Maintaining the volunteer database and volunteers-announce email lists
  • Assessing the VC’s needs and providing practical tools and solutions
  • Organizing volunteer appreciation “SpArK cLuB” events as a volunteer appreciation and community building tool
  • Organizing Town Meetings to assist teams in their volunteer recruitment efforts
  • Responding to questions received by the volunteers@burningman.com¬†email address
  • Assisting teams with additional volunteer recruitment on the playa

Early on in the year, the team reconfigured its infrastructure. New member recruitment included holding an open house and sending an invitation to the volunteer-announce lists. A pretty good response led to assignment of roles quickly afterward and a unique SpArK cLuB event, along with more professional training workshops than in previous years. The success of these efforts is apparent from an increase in number of participants in SpArK cLuBs as well as positive feedback from staff about the workshops.

The new members in the team participated in brainstorming sessions to generate creative ideas for fun and engaging events. Mentoring from more experienced team members helped them to handle increasing responsibility. Although mentoring so many new recruits proved to be challenging at times, the team proceeded with a great attitude and everyone appreciated a healthy sense of camaraderie riding the learning curve together.

Similar growth patterns occurred in various parts of the organization. Several new and/or replacement VCs were trained throughout the year. The responsibility for VC training, formerly overseen by a board member of Black Rock City LLC, was delegated to the VRT manager in 2005. As teams continue to recruit new volunteers in increasing numbers, promotion of radical self-reliance and other parts of the Burning Man ethos has become an ongoing effort for the team and the new VCs, who are simultaneously learning the responsibilities of their roles. The challenge of maintaining a happy body of volunteers is an ongoing focus in every area of the organization.

A milestone in Burning Man history occurred when the LLC board made the strategic decision to commit time, money, and other resources to offer professional growth training workshops to benefit staff and volunteers. Among the workshops offered in 2005 were Conflict Resolution and Negotiation Skills, Meeting Facilitation, Effective Communication, First Aid and CPR. Investment in outside trainers was increased, with a preference for offering opportunities to professional trainers from within the Burning Man community. Delegation, Communication, Time Management, and Volunteer Management continue to be the most requested topics for professional training workshops. The VR team has already made plans to offer workshops on these topics in 2006.

In the past, annual debriefing reports, discussions during staff retreats, and personal requests indicated the professional training needs of VCs. In the coming year, the VR team will explore opportunities for maintaining a year-round dialogue through regular use of the VC email list.

In addition to SpArK cLuBs, other volunteer appreciation parties, were scheduled specifically for VCs to help strengthen community bonds and maintain a healthy volunteer body. The first VC Shindig happened as they got ready for volunteer recruitment at the Town Meeting. A brunch before Decompression was also organized to gather VCs and managers together in a relaxed setting.

As the Volunteer Resource team experimented with expanding and elaborating the SpArK cLuBs as possible volunteer recruitment tool, a sense of intimacy about these events seemed to have been lost. Issues arose regarding budgets for the events and “last call” times for events held at the Burning Man offices. Lessons were learned to guide future SpArK cLuBs. Increasing variety is planned for 2006, with a balance of small and large events. Coordination of these events with Special Events team offering will lead to an evenly scheduled calendar of events. Specific collaborations with the Special Events team include the barbecue party in June, with the hope of boosting participation in the event.

Among the most successful SpArK cLuBs were those co-hosted by the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Tech Team. Co-hosting a party allows the teams to share resources as well as create an occasion to treat their volunteers in greater numbers. The VR team is planning to extend the idea of co-hosting to other teams with an interest in the opportunity.

The VR team does essential work promoting volunteerism throughout Burning Man community. One challenge the team faced this year was using its budget to its fullest potential without discouraging volunteered skills and services. Advance planning helps the team to engage the community by offering volunteer opportunities to those who’re already committed as volunteers and volunteer-announce list subscribers.

On the playa, teams are improving the accuracy of their estimates of volunteer needs, and many have successfully recruited their own volunteers. Yet, the team’s help in wrangling volunteers is still needed. Although the pool of random available volunteers without pre-assigned duties pre-event has shrunk due to the restricted early arrival process, the team was very successful this year in meeting on-playa needs.

Volunteer wranglers attended DPW morning meetings and remained accessible and alert through the day for volunteer requests over the radio and for any other situations that the team could be of assistance. The team’s table at Playa Info was well-crewed during the event, and the team had a blast sharing the fun with the Playa Info crew. This placement within the Playa Info shade structure makes logical sense with the added benefit of great companionship.

Some challenges also emerged with this arrangement, as well. The Volunteer Resource team’s presence and role seems to get lost within the chaos of participants with questions for Playa Info, and team members seemed to stay busy helping Playa Info rather than promoting volunteerism for Burning Man. The situation also lends itself to confusion between the two teams about line of authority in volunteer management.

VRT planners have discussed plans with Playa Info for making the team more visible within the shared structure in 2006. Ideas like larger signage and a separate desk are being considered. The two teams also plan to “cross pollinate” by attending each other’s meetings on occasion before the event in order to get to know one another and raise awareness about each team’s role.

Additional regrouping of the VRT occurred when the team’s own VC resigned after the event. The second-in-command of playa volunteer recruitment will be stepping into that role for next year.

Submitted by,
Termeh Yeghiazarian
Volunteer Resource Team