Volunteer Coordinators: Manual and Training
A volunteer and team management manual developed at Burning Man continues to be used for Volunteer Coordinator training. This manual is updated on a regular basis and has proven to be a valuable resource to the greater Burner community in recent years, including a student’s thesis on Organizational Management and Alternative Community-Building Structures.
During this year’s Regional Summit, the manual was shared with the Regional Contacts and proved to be a most timely and informative set of instructions for them, as they are going through the same growing pains as Burning Man has, throughout its development.
A total of 17 people received volunteer coordinator training this year, the majority of whom were new Volunteer Coordinators. A few were veteran VCs returning for a refresher and a few were staff members learning about our volunteer management philosophy and policies.
Remote training is possible but continues to be a challenge. Managers are usually encouraged to choose their VC from SF Bay Area pool of volunteers. This makes it easier to train the VCs as they can attend other staff training workshops as well.
Our VC training in the past also included accessing the People’s Database. As teams grew into much larger groups and more management details needed to be tracked, our People’s Database could no longer adequately accommodate our needs. Many teams looked outside of our technological support structure for more practical solutions. In order to meet the needs of the teams, the tech department is looking into various options, and has introduced a few new software solutions, which are now being used project-wide. Meanwhile, the People’s Database continues to function as an archival resource. We hope to eventually combine our people management tools, contact information and team history in one central database.
Looking to the future, we have begun the conversation about the importance of training our staff properly on volunteer management regardless of whether their position involves working directly with volunteers or not. We believe volunteerism to be an essential part of the Burning Man experience and we acknowledge the importance of all our staff being on the same page in regards to ethics and practices. We kicked off this effort by organizing a VC Training for Managers and will continue to pursue the idea in the coming years. This conversation includes the possibility of developing a year-round educational program for our staff, and opening all or some to the Burner community and the general public.
In April of 2011, we held a VC Roundtable at the Regional Summit where regional leaders and Burning Man VCs brainstormed over common issues and ideas. The session was deeply gratifying to both groups as an exercise in mentorship, community building and resource sharing.
We continue to explore ways we can include remote participants in these Roundtables. However, as smooth flow in conversation is a strong contributing factor, the sessions are more enjoyable and satisfying in person. Notes from the Roundtables are shared with VCs and Managers.
Here’s an update of the projects which originated with the Vol Squad proposal of April 2010.
–Recording history and the experience of volunteering at Burning Man.
A video documentation project called LOVE Project, short for “A Living Organism: Volunteering and its Evolution at Burning Man” has been kicked off and went through a test run in 2010 when we produced material for two prototype videos featuring two volunteer coordinators. This year, we joined forces with Media Mecca’s video documentation projects and successfully recruited several videographers who volunteered their skills and talents during the event. The project is now in editing phase.
We plan to produce 3 to 5 minute videos that are mainly focused on the teams volunteer coordinators and feature them on our website’s Participate section. There is enough material to be considered for longer edited material used for acculturation, and/or archival purposes. There are several benefits to creating a lively and engaging “participate” section on our website by featuring these videos, but we also hope that by highlighting the VCs in this way, we have found a new and exciting way to honor our VCs.
The LOVE Project will eventually include interviews with pioneering and veteran Burning Man volunteers for the benefit of the future Burner generations. These are people who started and developed volunteering philosophy and structure for Burning Man, their story is our history.
–Improving volunteer management tools and communications.
Our focus in this area has been mainly on communication. The ‘participate’ and ‘volunteer’ sections of the website were revamped and updated in June 2010. A few updates to the volunteer questionnaire, the teams list in “participate” section, and Volunteer FAQ section, awaits transition to the new central database system which will very likely be connected to our questionnaire intake system. The central database system is currently at proposal stage, yet to receive approval.
In addition to having representation at Vol Squad, in an organization wide effort for more transparency, the tech team now conducts open meetings in order to bridge the communication gap experienced in the past by some teams. These measures have helped maintain regular communication regarding tech related decisions that affect volunteers.
Vol Squad also conducts open meetings and makes meeting notes available to VCs. We feel that the open Sr. Staff and Tech Team meetings have been instrumental in improvements in communication and plan to hold open Vol Squad meetings frequently to encourage a more robust discussion.
–Review and evaluation of recruitment processes and tools.
While some teams have become self-sufficient in their recruitment process and may not need as much effort as was necessary in the past, there are other teams that continue to look for alternative recruitment opportunities to meet the staffing demands for their ever-growing community. The VC training manual is updated regularly as our recruitment processes and tools evolve. We are currently in flux in this area however as we wait for new central database that may effect our online recruitment process. Among many possibilities that the new software can offer, there is the possibility of individual account creation which allow volunteers to update their contact info and have access to their previously submitted information as well as their volunteer history. The new database is projected to also include search capability for VCs, making it possible to conduct searches based on skill set, etc.
Our spring Open House and Volunteer Recruitment event, where most teams had representation and an opportunity to meet face-to-face with some potential volunteers, has not happened for a couple of years, a result of the office relocation to smaller, temporary facilities. Re-christened a “Participation Faire”, the event will return in April of 2012 at the new Market Street offices.
–Volunteer orientation, on playa and off.
The new V-SPoT location on playa (see below) was a big hit this year as THE go to place for participants interested in volunteering on playa, with a dedicated volunteer staff in a space that can potentially serve as a great orientation classroom. The Vol Squad, as well as the Media Team, are looking at creating acculturation and newbie orientation videos. There are several ideas floating around regarding where these videos can be featured, and we’re looking forward to further discussion and execution of these ideas.
–Creating a feedback loop for volunteers.
Even though most Burning Man teams already have a feedback process in place, there are hundreds of participants who volunteer for projects other than Burning Man’s core teams. We wanted to create a feedback process that includes all volunteers, including the ones volunteering for teams not managed by Burning Man such as Art Projects, Theme Camps, and Regional Events.
We launched the first volunteer feedback survey in Dec. 2010. The results were tabulated and reported to Sr. Staff, Executive Staff and the Board. Hard copies have been made available to managers as well. The survey will allow us to follow trends and make proper improvements in volunteerism where needed.
The survey asked if vols felt empowered to provide feedback, and 72% answered in the affirmative. Did vols feel adequately trained or appreciated? Both of those questions scored 89% “yes”, and 97% hoped to volunteer again.
–Developing a project wide tradition of mentorship.
We continue to work on a mentorship template, which will be available as a tool that each team can customize to develop a successful mentorship process.
–Review and evaluation of titles and roles vs. responsibilities, and expectations on both sides. In an effort to better understand the management structure of our teams, number of roles and related responsibilities, we have created a comparative list that allows us to track team growth as well as develop a fair allocation of people care resources. We continue to work on clarifying these parameters for the benefit of our organizers and their crew.
–Creation and project-wide adoption of a proper exit process for departing volunteers in leadership roles.
A checklist is already in existence to help managers process new and departing VCs properly. It is necessary to remind our committees of this checklist with on regular basis to make sure correct measures are taken and our hardworking volunteer coordinators are well taken care of.
–Creation of a volunteer hub in BMHQ that serves the VCs, trainings, and orientation.
This idea was discussed extensively with VCs, the Vol Squad, and with the office move team and incorporated in floor plans for our downtown location. Considerations are being made to accommodate our volunteers in every area of the office design as we settle into our new home.
The Vol Squad is exploring the idea of developing an internship program template that can be customized by various departments. This project is in its initial stages at this point. In the meantime, interns are being processed by each department individually, as needed.
None of the Vol Squad’s projects would be possible without the help of talented and generously dedicated volunteers. Even though the team is mainly composed of employees, each member is volunteering their time on this team in order to improve volunteerism at Burning Man.
Volunteer Resource Team
The most significant and important change to the Volunteer Resource Team in 2011 was the establishment of our own headquarters on the Playa. Previously, we shared our ‘desk space’ and shade structure with Playa Info. As we are part of Community Services and work closely with Playa Info, we still wanted to be in close vicinity. The solution was to get placed directly adjacent to our old Playa Info HQ, made possible by the wider block design of Center Camp Circle. The position of our 24 x 24′ shade structure created a triangular-shaped plaza between the VSPoT and Playa Info. Benefits of this new shade structure included improved access for Volunteer Resource vehicles, greater visibility, increased volunteer interface, and the chance to develop our own decor and identity.
Our new space allowed the Team to continue to have fun while providing a vital and important service, as well as increasing collaboration with a wide range of Community Services departments. Our new home was made possible by the hard work of the Department of Public Works, to whom we would like to extend a special thanks.
The theme of this year’s DMV prom was Rock n’ Gnome High Schooool, which was a hilarious mash-up of Ramones style punk and red-capped garden elves. Once again held at a Burner-owned metal working and sculpture studio in the East Bay, this event has now become a yearly staple. Prom king and queen were crowned, while gnomes, punk rockers, chaperones and others mingled and danced the night away.
The first ever Regional Spark mixer was produced by the Team in March. In keeping with the original intention od Spark events, this the regional spark was quite successful as both a social gathering as well as a networking opportunity. Held at a Burner-operated artist studio and dance space in the Mission District, the event was a true taste of quirky San Francisco to all those in attendance from around the globe.
As always, our amazing Volunteer Picnic was scheduled for early July in Golden Gate Park. A strange late-season storm drenched the Bay Area the night before, and our reserved site, Lindley Meadow, was particularly hard-hit. Inspection of our site revealed a swampy mess with freezing-cold kitchen-table sized mud puddles scattered about the meadow. Due to these circumstances, the decision was made to postpone the event.
2011’s Holiday Party was held in a National Register of Historic Places-listed, 1890’s era Queen Anne-style mansion on Alamo Square, owned by a local long-time Burner. Despite the unique requirements of this house and its sensitive location in a heavily residential neighborhood, the Team produced an amazing event! Participants were asked to dress with the house as inspiration and our wonderful community did not disappoint. Delicious holiday cocktails, catered menu, live music, a white elephant gift exchange and tours of the house added to the festive atmosphere.
Termeh Yeghiazarian – Volunteerism Management, Vol Squad
Corey Christopher – Volunteer Resource Team