Burning Man has built and expanded its community by encouraging civic participation at all levels and at every capacity. Literally every participant can be counted as a volunteer: some volunteer for Burning Man’s infrastructure teams, some volunteer for theme camps, art projects or events, and some are walk-in volunteers who offer a helping hand wherever the opportunity presents itself – before, during, and after the event.

The management of volunteers for Burning Man infrastructure teams is a year-round effort, including planning, recruitment, training, management, review and evaluation. Burning Man has developed manuals, tools and events to support these processes. The Volunteer Squadron is comprised of stakeholders from various Burning Man departments and volunteers invested in improvement of all things volunteerism at Burning Man. VC Round Tables are peer-to-peer information-sharing discussion forums for Volunteer Coordinators and Managers.

The Volunteer Resource Team (VRT) supports volunteerism within the Burning Man organization year-round, hosting the Spring volunteer drive as well as “Spark” gatherings for managers, VCs, and volunteers to interact and share knowledge. On playa, the VRT is stationed at the “V-Spot” in Center Camp, directing participants to volunteer needs.

2007 was a year of successes and challenges for the Volunteer Resource Team. Following a spectacular holiday party, the team went into semi-hibernation while the role of Spark Clubs and the department of Volunteerism was investigated by Burning Man management. Despite assurances that the team would continue to exist, many of the VRT staff were concerned by the examination of the team’s role.

This concern was addressed by Community Services management and all but subsided as we kicked off the new year with our first Spark Club at a San Francisco-burner-owner establishment.

Spark Events

The focus of our Spark events changed from previous years, to allow for greater participation of the Burning Man staff community. Community Services management met at the beginning of the year to re-think the intent of Spark Clubs and developed a plan to realign our events to better serve the community. This new framework has allowed us to focus on a few banner events that are more closely tied to the Burning Man calendar. For example, the July Spark was moved from an arbitrary date to August 6th, so that it coincided with the Way-It-Is meeting. The VRT continued co-hosting some parties with the Tech Team and Special Events, such as the Open House and BBQ-A-NEWBIE Picnic.

One of these banner events is our BBQ-A-Newbie potluck picnic in Golden Gate Park. Again in 2007, as in 2006, we teamed up with Special Events to plan and host the picnic. 2007’s BBQ was as well attended as 2007’s, with attendance increasing by some estimates.

This is despite the fact that the weather was cold and foggy and the unforeseen closure of a main thoroughfare in front of our site made parking difficult. As in 2007, participation from theme camps and musicians added to the festivities. In addition to great bands, activities such as t-shirt printing and interactive games including the Hydration (balloon) Toss-Off, tandem bike rides, playa art exhibits and storytelling, kept the crowds entertained. Soss Boss kept the fires burning all afternoon long and supplemented the pot-luck with delicious grilled treats.

Other Spark highlights included a hat raffle, a Burner film festival and ice cream bar, making pancakes, a thai dinner appreciation training, a white elephant gift exchange, and the second-annual Cookie Pot Luck.

Professional Trainings

Volunteerism continued to support a constructive and diverse professional training series for staff in 2007. Topics covered included Mailman/Extranet 101, Excel Training, Effective Meetings Forum, Managers Training, Masterful Conversations, Extranet 102, and Dealing w/Playa Conflicts. First Aid/CPR certification was also offered.

Despite valiant efforts by the tech department, our goal of webcasting each training session was not realized due to difficulties with our technology. We will revisit the feasibility of resuming webcasts in 2008.

We continued to expand our reference library to support professional training.

The V-Spot

The 2006 pre-event volunteer wrangler returned to Black Rock in 2007 to make sure early arrivals were at the event site to work, not to party.

This was possible again with the cooperation of the DPW, as our shade structure is one of the first public projects completed within BRC.

Building on our successes of the 2007 event, the VRT succeeded in presenting a higher profile on the playa. We continued to promote the Volunteer Resource desk as the cleverly-named “V-Spot”.

The V-Spot was again listed on the official map of Black Rock City as well as in the What/Where/When guide. Our dedicated team staffed shifts at the V-Spot desk. We reconstructed a sturdy wood easel to support our white board, where we display current volunteer needs which change almost by the hour. A new internally-lit VOLUNTEER HERE sign made its debut, rising above the Information Services shade structure beckoning all volunteers passing by. Our interaction within the Playa Info/BMIR area was better than ever and staff from all three departments worked together to the goal of offering top-notch community services to the Burning Man community.

Submitted by,
Corey Christopher,
Volunteerism Coordinator