Volunteer FAQ

Q: What makes Burning Man happen?

A: You.

Q: How many volunteers does it take to put on Burning Man?

A: While the entire population of Black Rock City participants can be considered co-creators and volunteers, it takes conservatively over 10,000 departmental infrastructure volunteers to build, run, and clean up the city. For more information on this massive effort, how it happens, and the intricate details of the magic of Burning Man volunteerism, please take time to read about each group under the Volunteering section of the web site. You can also peruse the Public Infrastructure section. If you have any questions, please write to the dedicated souls who answer volunteers@burningman.org.

Q: What can I do to help make Burning Man happen?

A: There are many ways for you to participate at Burning Man. Please read through the Ways to Participate section of the web site to see what strikes your fancy. Many people prefer to contribute their time in more than one way! Some people prefer to volunteer year-round; others only help out during the event. If you would like to volunteer with the infrastructure of Burning Man, you should read the Volunteering section. If you already know where you would like to volunteer, please fill out the Volunteer Questionnaire. Once we have received your questionnaire, you will be contacted by the Volunteer Coordinators from any departments that you expressed interest in. We also maintain a database (made up of questionnaires), so that as our needs change throughout the year, we can quickly identify people who might be interested in helping out.

Q: Do I get a free ticket if I volunteer?

A: That’s perhaps the most common question. Here is the scoop: receiving a ticket in exchange for volunteering is incredibly rare. If it does occur it usually applies to people who work with-in the organization year-round as volunteers and are highly accountable. These are not roles that are easy to jump into. Generally a person will volunteer with a group for a while, sometimes years. Then they become a team leader or more involved. Ticket sales are Burning Man’s primary source of revenue. There is no corporate sponsorship of the event. Ticket sale dollars help pay for fixed costs of putting on the event, including porta-potties, emergency services, land-use permit fees, and building materials. It is best not to expect a free ticket for any volunteer work you do. Ask around, most people feel that volunteering only brings you closer to the Burning Man community, it enhances your experience there, and that alone is enough of a reward.

Q: Where can I learn more about the different departments and areas to volunteer in?

A: To find a brief description of each department and their volunteer needs, check out the Volunteers section. Each group has contact information posted on their pages, so you can email them directly with any questions that you may have.

Q: Can I volunteer even though I have never been to Burning Man?

A: Yes, first timers are welcome to volunteer. There is plenty of work to do both on and off the playa. Be aware, first time burners can find themselves completely overwhelmed by their experiences and don’t always fulfill their onsite volunteer commitments (even though they mean well and want to). You may want to consider volunteering your time before or after the event if it is to be your first Burn. If you do decide to lend a hand during the event, please make sure to schedule some relaxation and play time into your day. Depending on the length of your stay in Black Rock City, a good rule of thumb to keep in mind is Do Not Sign Up for More than Three “Shifts” if this is to be your first Burning Man experience. If you fulfill your three shifts and love it, you can always sign up for more.

Q: Where do I go to volunteer during the Burning Man event?

A: Even if you have not chosen a group to volunteer with or committed to helping a particular department, we recommend that you fill out the Volunteer Questionnaire. Upon arriving in Black Rock City, if you aren’t sure where to report for volunteering with your chosen group or are just not sure where to volunteer in general, stop by and visit the happy crews of the V-Spots in the Portals of Center Camp and the 3:00 and 9:00 Civic plazas. They will do their best to guide you in the right direction. Although many people commit to volunteering before the event, some people also decide to volunteer once the event has started. Visit the folks at the V-Spots to learn about volunteer opportunities and any critical needs there are for that particular day.

Q: Can I volunteer for more than one department?

A: Yes! You may volunteer in as many different departments as you wish. We need volunteers year-round, on and off the playa. Each department hits their “busy season” at different times of the year. When volunteering during the event, please be careful to not double-book yourself or spread yourself too thin. Remember to schedule some relaxation and play time into your day. First-time burners tend to suffer from a condition known as the “Ack! Factor” and find themselves over-stimulated. Be careful not to over-extend yourself. If you volunteer and really enjoy it, you can always offer to come back and fill in for more shifts.

Q: How much time does volunteering take; do I have to volunteer everyday?

A: Only you can decide how much time you would like to spend volunteering. Each volunteer department varies as to how much time they need, expect, or ask of their volunteers. There are a wide variety of commitment levels available. For some departments, such as: Lamplighters, Greeters, Bus Depot, Earth Guardians, you are welcome to volunteer as often as you would like, be it one day or the whole week. Other areas such as Café, Rangers, and Gate have a more structured schedule that they follow. A few groups have a required training session (Rangers, Greeters) that you should plan on attending. Some groups (Café, Rangers, Greeters, and the Gate) ask their volunteers to sign up for “shifts” during the event, others (Recycle, Lamplighters) encourage “walk-up” volunteering. If you have an abundance of time and like physical labor, DPW might be the place for you. Plan carefully, try not to commit yourself to something that you will not do or follow through on. If you sign up for one “shift” and then show up for it, everyone is happier than if you signed up for 10 shifts and made it to none.

Q: Is there a volunteer information briefing that I should attend?

A: There is no informational briefing for volunteers to attend, however most departments have pre-event meetings and training sessions. If you expressed interest in any groups when filling out the Volunteer Questionnaire, you will be contacted by the Volunteer Coordinator of that department with any pertinent information that you may need. Once you have signed up to volunteer, you will be signed up for a list-serve called the Volunteers-Announce. We will periodically post information about volunteering as well as information concerning events for volunteers. Sometime in March, we host a Town Hall meeting where potential volunteers can meet with representatives from each department. In April and July, we host volunteer bar-b-ques to help facilitate connecting people with volunteer opportunities.

Q: Can I still volunteer even if I am unable to attend pre-event meetings?

A: Yes! We need your help! A great deal of work takes place during the event. All groups maintain an announcement list. If there is any important information discussed in pre-event meetings it will be passed along via the announcement list for all to read. There are also several web-based and computer oriented groups that require volunteers year-round. Since these teams operate mostly via computer, it is a great way for anyone with that knowledge to volunteer, no matter where they may live.

Q: Is there a way for me to participate locally year-round?

A: Our Web and Tech teams work throughout the year, from many different locations. They maintain our fabulous web site and create new programs and software to help the Burning Man community. Our Art Installations Team and SF Office Squad are always in need of volunteers as well. Other departments generally have organizational meetings to plan what they will contribute on the playa. If you are interested in participating year-round, please check the box on question # 10 of the Volunteer Questionnaire. If you do not live in the Bay Area, check out the ePlaya and the Regional Contacts page to find other burners and activities in your area. If you don’t find something in your area, start you own group or event and post it to the ePlaya.

Q: What should I do if I have a specialized interest or skill to contribute (such as rigging, pyrotechnics, medical, legal, computer knowledge)?

A: Please indicate any special interests or skills that you may have when filling out the Volunteer Questionnaire and we will try to connect you to the right person, place, or group. If you have checked off a special skill, that information will be stored in our database and quite possibly used to contact you for other volunteer needs in the future.

Q: Can I volunteer with an art project?

A: To learn more about the various art installations and how to hook up with artists who are in need of extra hands please visit the Art and Performance section and click the link for this year’s theme. You can also browse the ePlaya for art projects looking for help.

Q: How do I volunteer as a medical, fire, communications or mental health/crisis volunteer?

A: When filling out the Volunteer Questionnaire, please indicate any of these special skills that you may have, you may also want to indicate that you are interested in volunteering for the Emergency Services Department. If you indicate Emergency Services Department (Professional Medical, Fire/Rescue, Crisis Intervention, and Dispatch), you will also be prompted to fill out an Emergency Services Questionnaire. You may also email Emergency Services with any specific questions you may have about their special needs at 911@burningman.org.

Q: How can I find a stage to perform on, or offer my stage for performance?

A: There is no official “main stage” with a schedule at Burning Man. Rather, individual theme camps often build their own stages and then invite performers to come and fill them with entertainment for the masses. If you would like to get in touch with either performers for your stage or stages for your performers, visit the E-Playa. Look for discussion groups that say “stages looking for performers” and vice versa. If you do not find what you are looking for, start your own discussion and see what happens. You can also scan the listing of theme camps by clicking the link for this year’s theme camps on this year’s Theme Camps page in the Event section for any willing venues.

Q: How can I volunteer with a theme camp?

A: Check out this year’s theme camp listings, which can be found in the Event section. If you find a theme camp that you think you may like to help. Send them an email (their contact info should be listed) introducing yourself and letting them know you would like to help. If you decide that you would like to lend a hand once the event has started, stop by the camp of your choice and ask somebody in it if there is anything you can do to help.

Q: Do I have to wear a uniform if I volunteer?

A: While most departments do not ask their volunteers to wear uniforms, there are a few exceptions. The Black Rock Rangers wear khaki, DPW wears T-Shirts, Media Mecca volunteers don silver cowboy hats when on duty, the Lamplighters wear robes during the nightly Lighting Ceremony, and the people who volunteer at the Gate wear T-shirts.

Q: Is volunteering fun?

A: Yes!!! Volunteering allows you to participate, meet new people, learn new things and will add to your and everyone else’s overall experiences.