March 9th, 2018


Little red book of conrunning #3: Your volunteers

This is part of an occasional series of posts on the art and craft of fannish volunteer-run conventions. These are my opinions and my experiences. As always, YMMV.

HanaLena Fennel writes:
"...If somebody is volunteering their time, resources, or experience to help further your dream you need to be respectful of the gift they're giving you and actually value their contributions. If you are running something that is dependent on volunteers, you are in a position of power to sculpt their experience. If you are not honoring that, you shouldn't be in charge."

Beginning lesson: Say "Thank You." Say it early, say it often. Having a meeting? Thank the people who are giving up their afternoon to attend. Doing an end-of-the-convention dinner? Stand up and thank everyone who made it happen. And so forth.

I was founder and eleven-year chair of a convention, and most years here's what I did. I would buy a large number of small stuffed animals, usually from Ikea. I'd go around the convention with a printed copy of the staff list, and give each staff person and volunteer that I could find one of these little thank-you presents and give them a short little speech thanking them for making the convention happen.

And then, after the convention, once we'd compiled a complete list of everyone who'd been on staff or had volunteered for an hour or more, I would hand-write a letter to each of them. I'd thank them for the thing they helped with, and mail it off. I set myself a goal of completing and mailing at least six a day. It might take two or three months, but everyone would get a thank-you.

They made the convention happen. The least I can do is thank them for it!

(I did say these were my opinions and experiences. I'm not saying that if you're in charge of a department, or a convention, or are organizing a bunch of donations, that you have to thank them the way that I did. But you better be doing something to live up to HanaLena's charge!)

Little red book of conrunning #4: Take care of your people

This is part of an occasional series of posts on the art and craft of fannish volunteer-run conventions. These are my opinions and my experiences. As always, YMMV.

More from HanaLena Fennel:
“For my Staffers a lot of times I'll bring reusable water bottles so they’re staying hydrated throughout the convention. Also I fill them full of candy because it's fun.”

“In addition to treating a volunteer well being the right thing to do, it also sets the tone for the convention. Volunteers who feel respected turn around and respect your attendees. They're generally more happy to be there, which creates a more successful convention experience.”

That’s a key thing. Take care of your volunteers during the event. On a convention-wide basis, I believe in providing food for the staff is important, not just so that they don’t faint from hunger, but also because it shows you care about them. I know of one department head who puts meals together for the staff of the department, so they don’t have to go across the street to pick up and use the “meal tickets.” (Cf. the UK convention scene’s Gopher Refreshment Tickets aka Groats.) And more than once through the years I’ve seen departments where a couple of different people including the dept. head will bring in things to share.

At FanimeCon in some years, the convention provides a budget to each department to cover feeding them. Some of the departments disburse the monies in the form of meal tickets that can be redeemed at the venue’s food outlets. The Operations department, however, would put together a massive take-out order each day, for example they might get Thai food one day and Mexican food another.

It’s not necessarily always about free food, though; in some situations, esp. outside of cons, it may not be as appropriate. My lovely wife Lynn was President of her genealogical society, and at the end of her term she gave the board members high-class Moleskine notebooks. I was president of a middle school PTA a couple of decades ago, and I gave them all plastic lawn flamingos.

Treat your volunteers well. If the staff enjoy being a part of the action, they’ll make the convention worth attending and they’ll come back and help you again.