The BJC couldn't work without the volunteers that man the registration desk, run workshops, check passes, and empty bins.
Many of the customers may not know that the BJC is volunteer-run, and not all of them are old enough to know that rubbish is not removed by pixies in the night. Almost everybody, though, will help out cheerfully once asked.
It's good to have a volunteer co-ordinator whose job it is
- to set up a volunteer rota at the front desk
- to recruit volunteers to fill the gaps in the rota
- to tour the site looking for empty badge control points and grab people to fill them
- make sure the volunteers know what they should do
- make sure they have the tools to do it
- make sure they are relieved when they have finished doing it
- chat to the volunteers, be friendly and smiley
- address any concerns they may have
- thank them copiously where possible
The longer in advance you ask people to volunteer, the more likely they are to flake out.
Past BJCs have used various methods to encourage volunteering:
- Sending people who've pre-registered an info pack including a paragraph asking everyone to help out.
- Asking people to select their choice of volunteer task on their pre-registration form.
- Providing volunteer time-slot sign-up sheets at reg desk
- Putting notices on bins asking people to empty them and replace the bags when they are full
- Putting notices in toilets next to cleaning equipment, asking people to give things a quick wipe if they are getting nasty.
- Simply walking around site asking people to lend a hand
- When an attendee mentions that something needs doing, asking them cheerfully if they would like to volunteer to do it.
- Early in the event, having a compère from a show mention that an hour's volunteering would be appreciated.
Other ideas include having a "lucky dip" at reg desk where people pick out a task to do and sign up for it.
Many BJCs have had incentive schemes for volunteers where they are rewarded with badges to show they have helped the convention. Some reward volunteers with refreshments. Nottingham 2007 tried to reward volunteers with better seats at the public show but this was not popular with everybody.
Volunteers who work long shifts or miss meals can be given food tokens for the caterer.
Providing the reg desk with drinks and snacks is particularly important since people work long hours during which it's difficult for them to leave the desk to get their own refreshments.
BJC Norwich, BJC Huddersfield and BJC Southend had a reward badge scheme where the more times (hours) someone volunteered the different colour badge they were awarded. Some people are still wearing their badges from several years ago.
At BJC 2008, small children were coming to reg desk demanding bin bags so they could go and litter pick (in return for the plastic centres cut out of the passes).
BJC 2010 had a small number of extra crew coloured hoodies (due to a mix up) which were given to people who worked very long hours for the event.
Deliberately ordering two colours of hoodies and reserving the crew colour for sale to people with volunteer badges is something that hasn't been tried yet but could work!
Some people will volunteer every year whatever the scheme, but they should not be taken for granted. Make sure volunteers are thanked for their help. For example, if there's a public "thank you" to the crew during a show or the business meeting, that's a good time to get everyone who's volunteered to stand up and take their own applause.
Some BJCs have had special prices for helpers (eg Norwich 2009, Cardiff 2001) where people paid less for their tickets in return for working a certain number of hours. This can be helpful as it gives the convention a cheap source of labour and allows people who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford to go to BJC to come, but it can be divisive as many of the other volunteers will have paid full price to come in.
BJC 2009 ran a scheme where people could sign up to be a full-time volunteer, in return for a ticket refund at the end of the event. This attracted interest, but some of these volunteers lost enthusiasm rapidly once they arrived, and failed to turn up for the shifts they were assigned.
Here are some suggestions of jobs that might be entrusted to volunteers, the list is not exhaustive:
- Manning registration desk (for trusted and reliable volunteers only!)
- Manning the Info point (a good job for locals)
- Running workshops
- Badge control
- Marshalling/ushering people on to buses for public show
- Erecting/dismantling fencing
- Airport runs to pick up performers (pay for their fuel!)
Other Things to Bear in Mind
Volunteer badge control should be done in pairs for safety.
Only trusted people that you know well should handle cash, and even then, the more often you can cash up the better.
Overnight security is best left to professionals.
Little things can make volunteering more pleasant: making sure people on badge control have somewhere they can sit, are protected from adverse weather and are relieved at the end of their shift. Giving the people emptying bins or litter picking some gloves to wear. Making sure people marshalling or ushering for the show have some seats saved for them. Giving marshals tabards or sashes so they are identifiable and have some authority.
The page Working with volunteers deals more with people who volunteer to help plan and manage the event.
What needs doing? gives a full list of all the tasks involved with running a BJC.
Who can help? has the names of some people who have been involved in BJC in the past and may be available to help out with your event if you ask nicely.