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Volunteers

Overview

Depending on the size of your project, you may want to consider engaging volunteers. The information included in this section is based on best practices as outlined in The Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement.
The Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement has been updated and is currently available for review at www.volunteercanada.ca.

Contents

  • Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement
  • Volunteer Statement (Vision)
  • Marketing/Communications
  • Production
  • Front of House/Box Office
  • Stage management
  • Policies & Procedures
  • Code of Conduct
  • Screening
  • Orientation & Training
  • Scheduling & Technology
  • Support & Supervision
  • Evaluation & Recognition
  • Additional Resources
  • Summary

Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement

The Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement is a document that outlines best practices when engaging volunteers. The document was first launched by Volunteer Canada in 2001 to mark the International Year of Volunteers.i It functions as a reference tool in support of volunteer management professionals and organizations who wish to offer meaningful volunteer opportunities to individuals interested in giving back to the communities of their choice. For more information, please visit www.volunteer.ca.

Volunteer Statement (Vision)

Prior to proceeding with finding suitable volunteers, it is helpful to think about the questions listed below and develop a volunteer statement which could be posted on your website or added to a “call for volunteers.” Questions you may want to ask yourself include:

  1. Why would I like to engage volunteers? Are there any negatives?
  2. Why is volunteering important to the individual who is volunteering for this project? Are there any negatives?
  3. How do I define “volunteer”?
  4. Are there other words I would use (or would prefer using) when referring to volunteers?


In addition, it is a beneficial to identify the areas in need of support ahead of time and create clearly defined roles. For instance, roles could include, but are not limited to participation in:

  • Marketing/Communications
  • Production
  • Front of House
  • Stage Management
  • Other

Marketing/Communications

Volunteers with excellent communication skills and sound judgment could assist with spreading the word about the planned production. Others may want to contribute their design skills and develop marketing materials to be distributed at community centres, cafés, galleries, theatres, and other suitable locations in a variety of neighbourhoods.

You may want volunteers to sign an agreement prior to publishing any posts about the event to ensure that they adhere to proper etiquette when using social media. In addition, you could provide them with pre-created messages you deem appropriate for sharing.

Production:

Consider getting help during the production phase. A volunteer could take on any number of tasks:

  • Conduct research
  • Fulfill general administrative tasks
  • Act as a runner during rehearsals

Front of House/Box Office

Volunteers could support venue staff with ushering and scanning duties. They should get a tour of the venue to familiarize themselves with the layout and meet staff ahead of the performance so that they can assist with way-finding and provide excellent customer service, answering questions such as: “Where are the washrooms?”, “Do you offer accessible seating?”, “Do you have a coat check?”, “Where could I get a drink or snack?”

Box Office should be handled by paid staff only. Generally speaking, volunteers shouldn’t ever handle money transactions or manage a coat check, to protect personal belongings and valuables

Stage Management

Performance art-based university and college programs may be a great resource to find volunteers who would like to gain experience in stage management and other skills associated with this field. Even if a particular task is not the most exciting, but still necessary to execute a successful event, explain to the volunteer why it is important to have someone fulfill this role. It creates meaning and context.
Please refer to the list of possible programs in Additional Resources below.

Policies and Procedures

The following key policies should be considered when you onboard volunteers.

Code of Conduct

  • Anyone involved with the project should be supported and treated with dignity and respect.

Confidentiality

  • Confidentiality should be maintained at all times. A breach of confidentiality may result in dismissal
  • Private information should be carefully protected, unless there is a legal reason for disclosure
  • Social Media should be used in a professional manner and adhere to any confidentiality clauses

Harassment

  • Participants should be informed that harassment and discrimination won’t be tolerated. This includes unwanted advances, suggestive or other aggressive remarks, racial or ethnic slurs, practical jokes which result in embarrassment or insult, and physical assault

Health and Safety

  • It is recommended that possible risks be assessed and reasonable precautions taken to protect the health and safety of volunteers and other stakeholders at all times
  • Volunteers have the right to refuse to perform an assigned task if they don’t feel comfortable or safe

Guidelines for Engaging Volunteers

When you set out a call for volunteers, you may receive an overwhelming number of people who are interested in volunteering their time for your organization. It is always a good idea to go through some procedures prior to engaging your volunteers. Think about how many you will need and also consider including volunteers with disabilities.

Screening

  • Consider screening volunteers prior to getting them involved with the project to minimize risk and to ensure that they are a good fit
  • Develop an application form
    • If you don’t use a volunteer database, you could create a simple Google form that includes any of the following information and questions:
      • Name
      • Address
      • Phone
      • Email
      • Why they are interested in supporting your project?
      • What skills and experiences they could contribute?
      • How they wish to be involved?
        • Include available roles and tasks
        • Assess how their skills align with the roles and tasks
        • Consider setting up a meeting or phone call to discuss their suitability
  • You may also want to ask for references

Orientation and Training

  • Meet with the volunteers to introduce yourself
  • Talk with them about the planned project
  • Discuss the type of roles/opportunities they could get involved with
  • What is the time frame? What are the deadlines?
  • How many hours do you expect them to commit to the project and when?
  • Follow up with training
  • Include how to interact with people with different disabilities with dignity and respect for independence.

Sample role description:

  • Describe the event
  • Outline the tasks and responsibilities:

As an usher and/or scanner you are responsible for welcoming audience members to the venue, scanning tickets, guiding them to their seats, and answering questions they may have about the performance or venue.

This role is suitable for anyone who is comfortable interacting with the public and possesses great customer service skills.

  • Include location (address, contact, meeting point)
  • Dress Code:

Please wear black trousers or skirt and black shirt or blouse.

You will receive a name tag and a brief on-site training upon arrival.

  • Additional notes you wish to share

Scheduling and Technology

Depending on the budget and the number of volunteers you hope to engage in the project, you may wish to invest in a Volunteer Database (Volunteer Management Software). If you employ more than 50 volunteers, it is recommended that you use one of the available databases to keep track of them. Here are some of the options available:


If you have fewer than 50 volunteers, you may want to use an Excel spreadsheet or use Google drive to develop forms, documents, and schedules to keep track of applicants, the shift schedule, orientation & training documents, and feedback.

  • Doodle.com may be a helpful tool to set up meetings and coordinate schedules

Support and Supervision

During the event, it is important to offer support to the volunteers on shift. Check in on a regular basis to ensure that everyone has a positive experience. You should also be prepared to answer questions and troubleshoot. Give everyone the opportunity to provide you with feedback at the end of each event, especially if it is a multi-day event and you could apply some of what has been learned to the next day.

Evaluation and Recognition

Thank the volunteers for their support and ask for feedback from everyone involved (volunteers, co-workers, venue staff, and audience members) so that you are able to improve systems in place in the future. The evaluation process could be based on a survey you share with everyone.
Additional perks you could offer include:

  • Snacks and water, coffee, tea
  • Tickets to the show
  • Act as a reference
  • Organize a party/dinner/picnic
  • Send a personal thank you note

Additional Resources

When the time comes to recruit volunteers and your immediate circle of friends and family are not an option, additional resources are available:

  • V.A.A.C.T (Volunteer Award for Arts & Culture Toronto) - This committee is managed by Volunteer Managers/Coordinators who supervise volunteer programs at different arts and culture organizations, including Arts in the Parks, Caribbean Carnival, EDIT@ Design Exchange, Fringe, Hot Docs, imagineNATIVE, Inside Out, Luminato, Pride Toronto, Reel Asian, The City of Toronto – Special Events, and TIFF. They would be happy to share a “call for volunteers” with their volunteer teams.

  • In your call for volunteers you should include:
    • Details about the event
    • Your contact info
    • Deadline
    • Any accommodation requirements

Be prepared to receive a high number of emails

  • Conduct strategic outreach; if you require volunteers who could contribute certain skills in support of a successful event, you may want to reach out to specialized College or University programs, such as:

Arts Administration and Cultural Management Programs:

  1. Arts Administration and Cultural Management at Humber College
  2. Arts Management at Centenniel College
  3. Department of Arts, Culture and Media - University of Toronto Scarborough

Performance Art Based Programs:

  1. School of Media & Performing Arts at George Brown - https://www.georgebrown.ca/performingarts/
  2. School of Performance at Ryerson University - https://ryersonperformance.ca/about/contact-us
  3. School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design at York University - http://ampd.yorku.ca/contact/
  4. Theatre Arts and Performance at Centennial College - http://www.centennialcollege.ca/programs-courses/full-time/theatre-arts-performance/
  5. Visual and Performing Arts at Sheridan College - https://www.sheridancollege.ca/academics/faculties/animation-arts-and-design/visual-and-performing-arts

  • Postings:

The sites listed below may be able to post a “call for volunteers” at no or low cost. Volunteer Toronto may offer additional support if your project qualifies as a “Community Group.” If you operate as a group with a budget less than $75,000/year you’ll get a free subscription with 6 postings per year:


Other Volunteer Opportunities:
Theatre Ontario List
Theatre's around your town are always looking for new and keen volunteers! Think about where you would love to spend your time and reach out to them, they are more than likely seeking some enthusiastic volunteers to join their team!

Summary

Engaging volunteers should be functional, but also fun. It is an opportunity to establish positive relationships with individuals who contribute their skills and time at no cost in support of a successful production with the expectation that they will have a meaningful and enriched experience in return.


References

i Background in Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement, Volunteer Canada, 2017, Également disponible en français, ISBN 978-1-926530-24-6, page 3.'
ii Stallings, B., (2018, January) New Year’s Resolution for Executive Directors of Volunteer-Involving Organizations. Retrieved from https://energizeinc.com/hot-topics/2018/january#.