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Artful Collaborations: A Guide to Volunteer Management in the Creative Sphere
Volunteers are the lifeblood of many organizations and activities we often take for granted. From volunteer firefighters to the Salvation Army bell ringers to events like the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, people who are willing to volunteer their time and talents have a huge impact on our lives.
Unfortunately, getting enough volunteers continues to be a challenge. In a mid-2022 study, 46.8% of non-profit CEOs said that recruiting volunteers is a big problem for their organization. It’s hard to retain volunteers as well, especially when there’s such high demand.
As an art business or organization, how can you recruit the volunteers you need, manage those relationships, and encourage volunteers to make a difference without burning out? It’s a delicate dance, but these kinds of artful collaborations fit well with your skills as an art entrepreneur.
People are desperate to have meaning and fulfillment in their lives. There’s a reason that 70% of American workers want their jobs to provide a sense of purpose. Volunteering — giving back — is another way that people find meaning.
To you, the sense of purpose and fulfillment in volunteering with your organization to help with art exhibits, charity events, and more may seem obvious, but to others, it’s likely to be less clear. That’s why it’s important to always emphasize the impact those events have on others and the difference volunteers make.
For example, if you have a charity auction of local artwork, talk to your volunteers about the people who will receive the proceeds. Share their stories and the way the funds will change their lives. This helps volunteers realize they’re the heroes of the story — their selflessness allows you to balance creativity and commerce in your business.
When people feel a strong sense of purpose and fulfillment volunteering with you, they’ll be more likely to help out, bring friends with them, and stick with your organization over time.
One of the things that can discourage volunteers is that they aren’t sure how long their help will be needed. It’s easy for volunteers to assume you’ll want them to help every evening and weekend forever, which of course they don’t want to do.
Another common problem is that volunteers feel the work they do doesn’t make much of a difference. It can feel like a long-term process without a lot of benefits. Immediate wins are very rare in day-to-day life, which is why so many people enjoy playing mobile games — finishing a game of solitaire can be very satisfying when so much about life takes years to accomplish.
Fortunately, you can design your volunteer opportunities to address both of these concerns. When people know exactly how long they’ll be helping out, and you create immediate wins from the volunteer experience, people will be excited to sign up.
For example, if you need volunteers for the charity auction of local art we mentioned earlier, make it clear to volunteers exactly what hours they’ll be helping and what tasks they’ll do. Then, let the group know how much money you hope to raise and the significant impact it will have on others’ lives.
The result will be motivated volunteers who know exactly what’s needed and the precise impact of their day’s work. They’ll go home knowing they made a concrete difference in someone’s life. These experiences will make them eager to volunteer again.
Being an effective leader requires specific skills, but some professionals don’t realize these skills are just as important in managing volunteers as they are in managing employees. Not taking volunteer management seriously can cause your helpers to have bad experiences and not be willing to volunteer in the future.
What are the skills that will help you attract volunteers? It’s important to communicate clearly, delegate tasks effectively and follow up in a timely manner, and make volunteering fun. It’s also essential to recognize the achievements of volunteers just as much as you would an employee who is doing excellent work.
Make sure you get feedback from volunteers after each event so you can understand what went well and what was challenging from their perspective. This can help you improve volunteer opportunities in the future, making it easier to attract and retain volunteers.
Many organizations make things needlessly complicated — and you might not even realize you’re doing it! A lot of your processes may be based on how you think through tasks, rather than the most efficient and effective way to accomplish them. As a creative person, you might find that your processes don’t make as much sense to others as you would assume.
As you plan different events that use volunteers, evaluate your processes to ensure they are clear, efficient, and reasonable. Get feedback from others as well, because it’s possible something is clear to you but isn’t to others. Our minds often fill in the blanks from our own experiences and we don’t even realize we’ve skipped several steps in explaining the process to someone else.
Looking carefully at your workflows can identify bottlenecks that affect how well your art events go, best practices other galleries or businesses use that you can adopt, and more. The result will be more satisfied employees and volunteers, and a better experience for those that attend your events.
We touched on this briefly earlier, but it’s important enough to deserve its own section. Volunteers are not being paid, so the primary reward they get from working with you is the appreciation you and your organization show.
Yes, volunteering is intrinsically rewarding as well, and making a difference matters a lot to people. But if someone has a chance to make a difference, or a chance to make a difference and be recognized for doing so, they will almost always take the second.
Let’s say a volunteer did a great job marketing an event through social media and email, resulting in a large crowd attending and the event being a resounding success. Make sure you let that person know how much you appreciate their work — publicly or privately, depending on their preference. Talk about the impact they made and how others’ lives were affected in a positive way. You might even get a small gift for a particularly impactful volunteer.
People love to be appreciated, and unfortunately, our daily lives don’t include a lot of affirmation. Ensure you reward and appreciate volunteers, especially when they go above and beyond or make a big difference for your organization.
As a creative person, it may be hard to be organized, manage people well, and keep your processes efficient. However, it’s essential so that your business and events can be successful. If you find it a significant struggle, consider hiring someone with those skills specifically to recruit, manage, and retain volunteers.
Even if you do hire a volunteer director, however, it’s important to understand the concepts behind attracting and retaining high-quality volunteers. That way you can help your director and enable them to do the best job possible.
When you do, both your organization and your volunteers will thrive!