Volunteerism continued to be at the center of the Burning Man experience in 2012. Our community is deeply invested in our ethos of civic participation and gifting economy, and volunteering provides many fun opportunities to exercise the ethos that we hold so dear.
The Volunteer Squadron considers volunteerism as a whole and year-round, making sure the support system that we have built for Burning Man’s Volunteer Coordinators and Managers is functional, that we develop a proactive approach towards meeting the needs of our teams and that we explore opportunities for succession planning, acculturation, appreciation and preservation of volunteerism history.
Thanks to over twenty years of cumulative experience in volunteering and volunteer management, Burning Man now frequently serves as an informational resource to other organizations and leaders seeking training material and advice. Our Volunteer Management Training Manual is often praised as a great educational resource and often shared with the larger community. We are also frequently approached by graduate students writing their thesis on this topic and on the topic of innovative approaches to community management.
This year, by recommendations from various committees and departments, the Volunteer Squadron wrote its first charter and was incorporated as a subcommittee to the Organizational Development Committee. By the end of 2012, our charter will be reviewed for evaluation and revised accordingly. The goal is to accommodate growth and remain effective.
The Volunteer Squadron and Organizational Development Committee work together towards the well-being of our Staff, including (of course) volunteers.
SUCCESSES AND CHALLENGES
- LOVE PROJECT: Thanks to a great collaborative effort, The Gate video was completed and is successfully being used as a recruitment and acculturation tool. It is now available on Gate’s web page in the “Public Infrastructure” section of the website and has also been made available to the team’s managers to be used as needed.
- The 2012 LOVE Project team rocked it on playa! This year’s focus is on Center Camp Cafe. The project is currently in progress and targeted for a release in April or May of 2013.
- VOLUNTEER FEEDBACK SURVEY: Successfully collected and organized results after closing in January of 2012, and reported to the team managers. Each manager is expected to take the feedback results into consideration and make improvements as they see fit.
- In about three years, we will have enough data to reveal possible trends which will deepen our understanding of the volunteering experience at Burning Man.
- TEMPLATES: In order to help streamline team processes, Vol Squad created two helpful templates: one to support the internship process/program and another to be used as a guide by managers needing to create a VC role description. We are currently discussing proper process of implementation.
- TRAINING MANUALS: The Burning Man’s Volunteer Management Training Manual continues to be a valuable resource and is regularly updated. We are reviewing this manual to create a shorter version as a go-to easy reference that can be shared with other groups such as theme camps, art projects, etc.
- THE LEARNING LIBRARY: This important resource is an accumulation of numerous training material from past staff trainings and workshops, ranging from handouts to books, videos and CD recordings from these sessions. The library also includes donated books and technical guides for useful for professional enrichment. We look to our community members for donations or recommendations
- VOLUNTEER POWERED: Happy to report that the Vol Squad, Volunteerism office, and Volunteer Resource Team is mainly volunteer powered! We make a point to engage volunteers with projects and incorporate their feedback whenever possible.
- VC APPRECIATION PARTY: The Squad successfully collaborated with the Volunteer Resource Team to make sure this party is well attended. It was a delight to see so many Volunteer Coordinators at this most important event. We are awed and inspired by our Volunteer Coordinators!
- UPDATES TO “PARTICIPATE” SECTION: As the website is being reviewed for an overall update and reformatting, making it difficult to implement improvements quickly, the Vol Squad continues to review this area of the website and make recommendations that help create a user friendly, fun, informative and engaging web page for participation.
- BEING A RESOURCE FOR VCS: Burning Man Volunteer Coordinators are managed by team managers. The Vol Squad’s role is to make sure we provide additional support by listening to their overall needs in regards to people management tools, trainings, and communication, and to develop projects that address these needs.
- MANAGEMENT, ADMINISTRATION, COORDINATION OF VOL SQUAD AND ITS PROJECTS: The Volunteer Squadron started off almost three years ago with 16 team/department representatives as its active members. The Squadron was setup as a task force with each member taking the lead or being instrumental in development and moving forward of projects. With the organization’s rapid growth in the past two years, membership has been dwindling. We all find ourselves playing “catch up” with no spare time to volunteer. As a result, the majority of the operation of this team has fallen in the lap of one or two members. The Squad is currently in the process of reviewing this issue and coming up with an alternative solution. We are also reevaluating the Squadron’s position within the organizational structure.
Other Projects Under Volunteerism:
ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSIONS: We held a very well-attended and successful Roundtable for Volunteer Coordinators and Regional Contacts during the annual Regional Summit in San Francisco. The need for this group to have a more cohesive team structure is growing. The VCs and Regional Contacts have continually expressed an interest in events and opportunities for sharing tools, ideas, and feedback on people management. The Roundtables continue to fulfill this need.
- VC AND VOLUNTEER MANAGEMENT TRAINING: We trained over 50 Staff members this year! This is a noticeable increase compared to the average of 15 to 20 trainings per year. Although one-on-one sessions seem to be more successful, training groups of five to six people seems to also be popular, engaging and effective. We plan to offer this training regularly to groups and to Staff members on an as-needed basis.
- VOLUNTEER INQUIRIES: firstname.lastname@example.org serves as the ‘go to’ email for all sorts of inquiries by participants. The inquiries range from where to look for specific info on the website, how to get in touch with specific groups or individuals, to feedback about volunteer experience on playa and various other miscellaneous questions and requests. However, the question most asked is, “do I get a ticket for volunteering?” The Vol Squad has prepared a Newbie Volunteer information for the website that explains Burning Man community’s ethos in this regard and Burning Man’s policy based on that ethos. As the web site is being evaluated for redesign, we’re looking for the most proper area to add this new page. The Newbie Volunteer page also offers simple step-by-step explanation of volunteer recruitment process exercised by our teams.
- VOLUNTEER ANNOUNCE LISTS: The volunteers-announce and volunteers-sf-announce are our two main lists where major volunteer recruitment by Burning Man teams are posted first. This is also the first list for the occasional job opportunity announcements. All who fill out a volunteer questionnaire will be subscribed to either or both of these lists. A list administrator on a weekly basis handles subscriptions manually. We look forward to an upgrade to this system that offers self-updating capability to the applicants.
- VC EMAIL LIST: This list subscribes all Volunteer Coordinators who have received their official training. The list serves as an official announcements list and a low traffic discussion list.
- SHARING RESOURCES: Meeting notes, useful management tools, documents, step-by-step guides and instructions are all posted in a team specific “workspace” in our web-based file sharing software. We feel that some of this material would greatly benefit the Regional Contacts and theme camps with their people management effort. We are actively pursuing opportunities to share tools and information with these groups.
- A CENTRAL DATABASE: Getting started on developing a central database that meets all departments and all teams’ needs has taken quite a while for us as an organization. We started off with People Database which continues to its function as our volunteer application intake software. However, our needs have outgrown this software’s capabilities and the database is no longer used as a people management tool. We have been aware of the need for a new multifunctional central database for years but the project in its scale and scope has been too challenging to embrace fully. This year, the project received its much-delayed kick-start and there just may be a light at the end of this tunnel, not too far in the future. Meanwhile, in the void that has ensued, many of the teams have developed their own people management database, all of which will have to be considered for consolidation into the main database once it’s fully developed. It’s a task of monumental proportion, one which we need to discuss and prepare for.
As we move forward with our mission to support Volunteer Coordinators, and based on some expressed interest from them, we may consider organizing toward a stronger cohesion as a team. Ideas for conducting more frequent, if shorter, online meetings, and perhaps even a “center” on Playa – a gathering place to decompress, replenish, meet other VCs, discuss, exchange tools and ideas, have been flying around this year.
On a larger scale, this “center” or on-playa camp can also serve as an informational resource for theme camps, art projects, and participants in general. It can be used for volunteer management and conflict resolution trainings. It can hold the VC Appreciation party or, host a daily social/decompression hour and used as a respite, or a place where VC’s, managers and volunteers can schmooze. Perhaps it can even host an on playa VC Roundtable, allowing VC’s who feel left out of these SF-centric events to participate.
There is also an ongoing discussion of whether and how volunteerism may fit within the Burning Man Project. As such, it will continue to expand on our support of volunteers and volunteer based projects, including the VCs, Regional Contacts, art projects and theme camps, and our community in Mid-Market and beyond. It can collaborate with other non-profits to develop workshops and seminars, share resources, and be a beacon of information and support to promote civic engagement. Perhaps, it can develop into an urban center. Either way, it should be a well-planned and efficiently-operated tool to bring our disjointed efforts under one umbrella, moving forward guided by the same principles.
Volunteer Resource Team
The Volunteer Resource team had one of our busiest and best years ever in 2012. We had a strong team of returning veterans and highly skilled new team members who created a fun, inviting and efficient space for Burners to visit and find ways to participate. Now in our 2nd year of occupying our own participant-facing space on playa, our team had the V-Spot ready for business earlier than ever before. While the pre-event flow of volunteers was expectedly slow, once the event started, we had more visitors to the V-Spot than ever before. During the course of the event, 1415 curious Burners – wanting to see how they can be involved – visited the V-Spot. We placed 762 new volunteers to 33 different departments art projects and theme camps across the playa. Traditionally our visitors have been 2nd and 3rd year Burners who are looking to find a way to contribute to the community. This year, however, there was a noticeable shift in the folks who came to see us. By far, more virgin Burners were looking to participate and lend a helping hand to the community than ever before. It was truly wonderful to see the new blood at the event this year so excited to immerse themselves into the Burning Man community.
Once again and for the last time, the DMV Prom was held in an East Bay Art Studio. A devilish “Carrie” theme brought together volunteers from multiple departments for this annual event. In a wild evening of dancing and hilarious shenanigans we crowned the King and Queen of the prom. Is it possible to have too much fun?
This year’s Regional Spark once again brought dedicated Burners from around the world together to share ideas, laugh and get their wiggle on. In a historic San Francisco brick firehouse, the regionals found space to hang out and tell wild tales of Burning Man past and future. A custom-crafted thematic drink menu lubricated a bouncing dance floor. Many soulful connections were created and a grand time was had by all.
Our new mid-Market Street offices allowed us to resurrect this opportunity for new potential volunteers to meet Volunteer Coordinators from several teams, and to attend a newbie orientation and Q & A panel from members of our community.
With the weather on our side this year, the VRT produced a very successful picnic. With multiple departments and theme camps in attendance, Burning Man virgins were introduced to the Burning Man community. There were DJ’s, live bands, BBQ everything you would expect from a group of Burners having a day in the park. This annual event has turned into a extremely fun day for all who participate and is a great introduction to our community for those who are attempting to dip their toe into the burning waters.
We are looking forward to a celebrating the holidays and all of our volunteers this year at our annual holiday party.
Termeh Yeghiazarian and Jocko Magadini