Work Hours, Shifts, T-shirts and more

Deciding what offerings to exchange for volunteer work hours can be quite the balancing act – ensuring volunteers see value in providing their time and energy to the event while ensuring the event sees value in the work trade deal.

You may be wondering where to start?! What are you looking for from the volunteers? You want their work hours of course! The event will want as many work hours as possible, and most likely there will be departments asking for MORE work hours than probably should be asked of fan workers. As the volunteer program manager, it’s your job to keep both the departments and the fan volunteers happy.

A fan worker at Electric Forest Festival in a sweet event T-shirt

A good place to start when figuring out the program incentives is to start with the price of the event ticket. It’s a pretty simple metric to trade 1 work hour per $10 of the ticket cost, usually taken as the ‘day-of-show’ ticket price, or the cost of the ticket at the Box Office when the gates are open. So if your event’s ticket costs $150 at the gates, then you can easily expect 15 hours of work total from each volunteer, as if a volunteer work hour costs $10. Now, if your ticket costs $300, it may not be in the industry acceptability to ask for 30 work hours during the event, but you may be able to ask for this many hours for volunteers pre or post event. Missing 30 hours of the event due to work shifts might not be the most realistic – remember, the volunteers are coming to the event to ultimately enjoy it as a fan!

Once you have decided on the ideal total number of work hours you will ask volunteers to trade for their ticket entry, you can decide how those work hours will be split into shifts, and also decide if some departments will have different shift structures. It’s a good idea to keep the shifts as uniform as possible across departments as this makes it much simpler for volunteers and the clock in process, and also makes it much easier to move volunteers around based on changing department needs. However, there may be some departments that require longer or shorter shifts. When deciding to allow these exceptions to the shift structure, it’s best to look at the total number of volunteers the department is requesting, and base a decision off of that number. For example, if the department is front gates, and the department is requesting a large bulk amount of volunteers per shift, then it would make sense to accommodate their shift anomalies. However, if the department has a small number of volunteers, it would not make sense to bend the program boundaries for it as it will inevitably create headaches for all involved. Remember, departments will be requesting their best scenario possible, but you must decide what the program boundaries will be, and when it makes sense to bend them. Stay strong friend!

Volunteers at WayHome Festival checking in cars at the Toll Booths

Don’t forget to check with local state and federal laws governing breaks and meal requirements based on shift length. Even though this is a volunteer program, you want to structure it in a way that’s not going to raise any eyebrows.

OK, so you’ve got total work hours and shifts. Your program is based on trading a valuable ticket for valuable work hours. Should the program provide anything more? Many programs offer items such as t-shirts, or catered staff meals of vendor meal tokens, swag or merchandise, a place to camp or free parking, or perhaps even special access to areas of the event or special parties. I am personally a big believer in offering t-shirts as it unifies the program and gives the event a polished look, and makes managing the workers much simpler for departments. Catered meals and vendor tokens are necessary if shifts are longer and volunteers will need to eat on shift. Fed volunteers = happy volunteers = happy fans! Perhaps keep the event cost down by offering meals for only those workers that require them on shift.

A volunteer manning the water stations at Boots and Hearts festival

Additional items of value are always cool, but really they are not necessary nor will they really assist that much with recruitment if you are in a recruitment rut. The only value that really shines for the volunteer is ‘how much do they have to work each day of the event.’ Beyond that, adding smaller items won’t change the program basics. However, smaller swag or merchandise, or special privileges can be added on as special incentive to work a particularly long shift, or to recruit into a particularly difficult department, such as early morning trash clean up. When volunteers feel like they are going above and beyond what the general program volunteers are doing, it’s a great idea to give them something as a special thanks!

I hope this article helps you come up with the magic formula for your event, meeting your recruitment goals while providing the best value for the event! Happy Festivaling!