Attract and Retain Volunteers
More than free labor, volunteers are the lifeblood of the performing arts community.
Volunteers bring passion, knowledge, and dedication to your thriving organization. For smooth operations, most performing arts organizations need to have multiple people scanning tickets, distributing programs, and ushering patrons to their seats. In addition to that, volunteers serve as your eyes and ears with the public. Having a big, knowledgeable volunteer crew that directly interacts with the public nightly helps you know what the public is saying about your venue and productions.
If patrons have complaints or difficulties, it is often the volunteer ushers and ticket scanners whom they go to first. This is a customer service necessity. The last thing you want is a patron with a bad experience stewing on that experience until they find a manager, which could take the whole of the production.
Having engaging, devoted volunteers staves off other issues as well. Do you have a patron seated in someone else’s seat? Volunteer ushers spring into action to fix the situation. Do you have an attendee who is hearing impaired and needs auditory augmentation? Volunteers running patron services take care of that without needing management to intervene. Do you need a message run backstage? Hand that message to a volunteer who knows the venue, and that is a worry off your mind.
It is essential for your success to attract and retain great volunteers.
People are busier than ever, and many need more than one job to make ends meet, so it can seem like a difficult task to attract people to unpaid positions. But, you have two immediate advantages. One, many people feel good about themselves devoting time to causes and organizations they believe in. Two, you have productions which attract the public, which means you have a built-in way to attract volunteers.
Here are some key ways to attract new volunteers:
- Be flexible: Volunteers have diverse lives and many responsibilities outside your organization, so offer a flexible schedule with an undaunting commitment.
- Advertise: Put up fliers and announcements in programs, mailers, your venues, and partner businesses. It is helpful to include QR codes that link to applications.
- Communicate: Craft articulate descriptions of volunteer positions and follow-up to questions and applications in a timely manner.
There are many software programs for easy management of your volunteers that make things so much easier for everyone in your organization. Most of these programs have apps that are easily accessed and utilized by volunteers and staff.
Check out some of the many free and paid programs available such as the following:
Research shows that most performing arts organizations retain 60-70% of their volunteers from one season to the next, which is great. That said, losing 30-40% of your labor force every season poses difficulties for continuity and training, so you must make the volunteers feel needed and appreciated.
Essentials for successful volunteer retention:
- Clear Communication: It is vital to provide clear job descriptions, articulate needed tasks, and state required time commitments. Ideally, you need a member of your staff to update volunteers on upcoming events, projects, and opportunities, and to be the contact if volunteers have sudden conflicts. Everyone needs easy access and quick responses, as well as a single location to find out everything from traffic/parking issues to open positions.
- Training and Support: Providing comprehensive training and support is crucial. Offer orientations that clearly explain duties, expectations, mission statements, and directions. You should also provide an easily accessible volunteer handbook for future reference, which makes volunteers feel more confident and autonomous.
- Flexibility and Variety: Flexibility is key when attracting and retaining volunteers in the performing arts. Offer flexible schedules with varied time commitments along with a variety of positions to appeal to volunteers’ interests and skills. Allow volunteers to perform more than one type of task to avoid boredom. Some suggestions, besides ushering patrons and selling tickets, are the following:
- Guiding tours of facilities and venues
- Leading background presentations on the production
- Serving as a public liaison
- Administering refunds and exchanges.
- Recognition and Appreciation: We all want to feel needed and appreciated, so taking just a little time to acknowledge individuals for their achievements and commitment can go a long way to retaining staff.
- Publicly acknowledge when someone has hit various milestones, such as years of service or numbers of shifts.
- Individually thank a volunteer for a particular task they performed such as reseating a patron.
- Incentives and Freebies: Yes, people volunteer out of the goodness of their hearts, but sometimes people need incentives to keep them coming back, and you can provide them with minimal cost to your organization. Try providing the following:
- Free and discounted tickets to shows
- Discounts or freebies to partner organizations
- Parking passes, especially in cities with expensive and elusive parking
- Professional opportunities: Volunteers have shown that they are dedicated and knowledgeable about your organization. Adding them to your paid staff can reap many benefits to your performing arts community. Implement the following:
- Offer mentorship programs for a variety of positions
- Allow interested people the opportunity to shadow members of your staff
Attracting and retaining a dedicated volunteer staff in your performing arts organization continues to reap countless benefits for you, volunteers, and patrons. Let ThunderTix know how they work for you and if we can provide further guidance and assistance.