The thorny issue of volunteers?

Linda Wilks from Open University submitted the following provocation before the symposium:

Events/Festivals are…..often heavily reliant on volunteers to organise and steward them. But how much ‘fun’ is festival volunteering, is it really worth the effort for organisers, and how sustainable is a reliance on volunteers in the long run?”

This was picked up in the open space discussions and has been summarised by James Musgrave. I suspect that this issue will be something that we will return to again…

Process for volunteering – different departments in universities have different rules – many a blanket ban on unpaid. But does it create a professional experience?  “We expect you to volunteer” at undergraduate. Student experience is positive.

Questions about commitment and quality of doing a good job – certainly separates those that are good. Festivals are different scales – business model is that they won’t exist. Debates about exploitation for particular events. However, some argue that it develops career. Talked about filtering opportunities to students.

Volunteer management and good conditions will increase retention. Why do sub companies take fees – should they change this approach? Debates about surrounding conditions. Discussion of poor management.

Took step back, looked at festivals, and volunteering at festivals as community. So a difference between community festivals and corporate festivals and the corporate affect – questions of morality here. So there is a ethical dimension to the use of volunteers at festivals. Not criticised but should be….brings in the discussion. Is it the same as poor conditions in the workplace? Isn’t there an element of choice? There are benefits to getting out of it.

Is it worth festivals to work with volunteers? Dropout rate is huge….so why not temp staff? Benefit analysis good thing to do. Few regulations but there is guidance. What is the benefit of the volunteer – can’t give them clear responsibility – that should lay with employees. Does depend upon approach to volunteer management to the extent of benefits – such as networking, career development, observations etc. Does link to systems and processes that festivals have in place for volunteers. Trust is a major key – linked to long-term trust.  Divide between volunteer sector, arts and festival. Don’t engage in national organisation and support mechanisms. Are there different values related to a community festival and a corporate festival?  Some volunteers are too committed and possibly don’t like change.

Need to look at volunteering from an organisation perspective and a volunteer perspective. Is it related to sustainable values – needs to be at the core of what the company is and invested in. Refer to National Trust….


One thought on “The thorny issue of volunteers?

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  1. This is an important issue, particularly where students are concerned – as you say, we do encourage students to get experience through volunteering at events.

    I often get emails from organisations asking me to put the word out to students, and am usually more than happy to do so. However, the other day for the first time a business approached me looking for students to volunteer… I was a little taken aback and to be honest wasn’t quite sure whether I was entirely happy about it. But at the end of the day I still posted their request. This time anyway…

    Keep up the great discussions people!

    All the best from the Southern Hemisphere Eventers 🙂


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