Three Ways to Get More From Your Volunteers

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Just about every non-profit theatre company depends on volunteers for everything from building sets to passing out programs.  We couldn’t do so much with so little if it weren’t for these generous people. They believe in what we’re doing and they help just so they can be a part of the fun. It’s possible though, that your organization is missing out on the value that these volunteers provide.  By using some basic Human Resources (HR) tools and techniques you can increase the value you get from your volunteers.

 1. Time Keeping

No, you don’t need a time-clock! But, here’s the value you’re missing if you aren’t keeping records of the hours that your volunteers are spending in the theatre. The Independent Sector, a group that researches the non-profit sector, set the value of a volunteer’s time at $22.14/hr in 2012. This means that 10 volunteers who come in to put up a set on Saturday at 9:00 am and work until 4:00 pm have given the theatre a benefit equal to $1550! By keeping records of who volunteers, and how many hours they work you’ll have quantifiable data to use in your grant applications or follow-up reports.

2. Training

Ushers who “reserve seats” for friends in a general admission house before the audience is allowed in, Concessions Sellers who help themselves to cookies and sodas, Ticket Sellers who can’t work the credit card process, and Stagehands who leave before the show is over – I’ve seen all of these in small theatres.  And all of these problems have the same root cause – nobody took the time to train the volunteer in the job responsibilities and performance expectations that the group requires.

 All too often, the training of theatre volunteers is a hit-or-miss event. Chances are that the newbie is paired with a seasoned volunteer and “shown the ropes.”  This works, obviously, but it can also perpetuate some bad habits. The quickest way to a more professional and profitable organization is to set expectations, and that’s easily done through training.  The process for volunteers training is essentially the same as any other HR training. First, you’ll need a basic Job Description for each position. Once that’s done, put together a training presentation for each position and insist on the attendance of those who want to volunteer in that capacity. No training, no volunteering! Don’t worry, they’ll play along. Meanwhile, your insistence on the new program will send a signal that the group is going a new direction and the old ways won’t wash anymore.  

 I know this seems like a LOT to do, but there’s a good chance you already have an HR professional among your volunteers who would be happy to help you. Which brings us to the next thing…

3. Keep a Skills Inventory

You’re probably wondering what this is. Easy. It’s a record, as simple as a list in a notebook or as sophisticated as a searchable database (I prefer the database) of your volunteers and the skills and experience they possess. How does this give your group value?

 Scenario: It’s time to renew your liability insurance and you’re not sure your current policy is adequate. You bought from an online company (very common nowadays) so who do you turn to?

 Chances are that one of your volunteers is in the insurance industry, or used to be! Knowing this about them gives you a starting point for solving your problem and making the volunteer feel needed,  and that’s always a good thing!  I remember one show I directed that had among the cast 2 CPA’s, 2 HR Managers, several Computer Programmers, a Web Designer, a professional Poker Player, a Medical Transcriptionist, a Drama Teacher and a Bookkeeper. That’s a lot of expertise on one stage!

Use the expertise of your volunteers. We volunteer in order to be part of something we believe in, and we feel needed when our contributions are appreciated. Your volunteers are your biggest asset in community and regional theatre. Use them to their fullest ability and you’ll be amazed at the value they can add to your group.

How do your volunteers add value to your organization? Leave a comment and let me know!

Next time: Why All the Drama? (The Stages of Cast Development)

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Katie Strickland

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