The Volunteer Resource Team (VRT) supports volunteerism within the Burning Man Project. Year-round, the VRT hosts the spring volunteer drive as well as Spark gatherings for managers, volunteer coordinators, and volunteers. These gatherings allow volunteers from different projects to interact and learn from one another—and hopefully spark new ideas for managing people and processes. On-playa, the VRT is stationed at Playa Info in Center Camp, and available on staff radio, to support Burning Man departments by announcing and directing participants to volunteer needs.
2006 was a year of challenges for the team. Most significant were the mid-year resignation of our project manager to pursue default world opportunities and the declining attendance at Spark gatherings. On the positive side, our former project manager continues to train new volunteer coordinators and maintain the volunteer database. Also, we gained capable new team members and created a database to support VRT activity planning.
We held our annual spring Town Meeting/Volunteer Recruitment Drive at Burning Man headquarters in San Francisco for the first time. It was a busy weekend for the team, which prepped for and hosted the Volunteer Coordinator’s Shindig on Saturday and the Town Meeting/potluck barbeque, followed by two trainings, on Sunday.
Incidentally, there is really no general public meeting at the Town Meeting, which in the past included a public forum and was called a Town Hall. In 2007, we will likely reconstitute the Town Hall event but call it what it is: a Burning Man Open House/Participation Faire. Teams that happen to benefit little from the recruitment component of this event will hopefully find new activities and resources available on this day. Stay tuned!
This was a banner year for the Community Services-led professional training program, and the VRT supported a broad curriculum. Meeting Facilitation and First Responder First Aid training were both offered again in 2006. A distinguished Burning Man alumnus (who has excelled in volunteer management in the default world) returned to speak on Working with Volunteers. The project’s Conflict Resolution advocate presented a CR class where we learned that mediation is a valuable topic for future training.
Our ongoing dedication to Communication training saw another dimension this year, and our in-house faculty presented project-specific management training to two groups. Our Time Management training fell a bit short of the mark when a discussion of planning around life goals, which we intended as a gateway to exploring time management, ended up dominating the training. However, the training did provide some useful team-building interaction.
We still need better technical support for remote broadcast of our trainings, but several of our volunteers attended trainings via Quicktime Broadcast and Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Some little progress was made in recording a selected training for archive use. We created and expanded a reference library to support professional training.
Our Spark events followed the pattern of recent years, with the VRT co-hosting some parties with the Tech Team and Special Events. As in 2005, participation from theme camps added much color and entertainment. However, the Spark parties have lost focus and need to be re-thought. The original networking opportunity (for managers and volunteer coordinators to compare notes and learn from common experiences) has been eclipsed by the appreciation-party component of the gatherings. In 2006, we did depart from the frequent bar-party format for a café night of trivia and talent. While this “Café Spark” succeeded in breaking the mold, it too was under-attended.
The VRT has created a subcommittee with the objective of realigning Spark events in 2007. Our desire to put more emphasis on inter-departmental networking at these events may lead to a divide-and-conquer approach. Current feedback is that when recruitment, networking, and reward are co-mingled, they all become diluted. One idea is to divide the year into thirds, and focus on one component of the trinity at a time.
Probably the most successful event of the year was our Barbeque-A-Newbie potluck picnic in Golden Gate Park. (The picnic was in its death throws in 2005 despite valiant efforts to infuse things with a fun pirate theme.) For 2006, we teamed up with the Special Events group to re-invigorate the picnic.
Diverse volunteer musicians performed throughout the lovely summer day under a small stand of trees, and participants from theme camps swelled our ranks to a stunning turnout. Radical self-entertainment was achieved through face painting and interactive games — including the Hydration (balloon) Toss-Off and Playa Twister — complete with simulated desert whiteouts. Game prizes of lip balm and dust masks were appropriately playa-centric for this newbie acculturation event. Groups such as Burning Moms and Anonymous Camp represented the diversity of our community and handed out information to attendees.
Last year’s early volunteer scout returned to Black Rock to ferret out early arrivers who didn’t have work assignments. The VRT struggles to present a higher profile on the playa. We tried to promote the Volunteer Resource desk as the alluring “V-Spot” with signage and on the Greeter map, but we were a bit lost in the crowd at Playa Info in Center Camp. The small team took shifts at the desk — supplemented by several enthusiastic, last-minute volunteers who stepped up to help participants find their playa V-Spot. We made a sturdy new easel to support our white board, where we display current volunteer needs.
The year was capped by our triumphantly successful Holiday Spark party in December. Every member of our team was involved and crucial to the event’s success. Along with some awesome DPW volunteers, the VRT put the holiday bling on Burning Man headquarters. Staff and volunteers enjoyed a delicious Mexican buffet while community artists and performers served and entertained the crowd. Highlights of the night included a costume contest; a feeding-frenzy white elephant gift exchange; a potluck table of holiday cookies; and the gift of a string quartet performance, sponsored (and performed) by a member of the VRT office staff.