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Volunteer Department

Burning Man happens because 2500 volunteers are inspired to contribute to the building, running, and cleaning up of Black Rock City. In many cases, their work goes beyond the event itself and extends year-round. Bringing the event to fruition is a yearlong endeavor, and the work of some volunteer teams continues without the rest. The Volunteer Department is the hub of the volunteer resource action and works closely with all other departments to help them fulfill their volunteer needs. Over the past year, the Volunteer Department significantly expanded and enhanced Burning Man's capacity to meet the varied challenges of running a city, and a year-round organization.

Structure of the team

In previous years Burning Man had one organization-wide volunteer coordinator. In 2001 the Volunteer Department divided its structure into two vital/critical areas: the Volunteer Management Team and the Volunteer Coordinators. The Volunteer Management Team consists of a core group of ten generalist volunteer managers who plan and execute all of the activities of the department. This team oversees the application and connectivity process for all volunteers, networks with Volunteer Coordinators from each department, and plans volunteer recruitment and social events, including the March Town Hall meeting and the volunteer barbeques in April and July.

The larger group of about 50 Volunteer Coordinators work within each specific team such as DPW, Web and Tech, Rangers, Café, Greeters, etc., taking responsibility for welcoming and placement of volunteers onto their team and generally perform other team functions as well. Decentralizing the responsibilities of volunteer coordination by mandating each team to identify the person with these duties, and then bringing these coordinators together to learn from each other, has significantly improved the volunteer placement process.

The Volunteer Management Team also worked hard on a volunteer Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) guide which is updated on a regular basis. Quick hint: the FAQ answers guide answers most questions you may have about volunteering for Burning Man, whereas this report talks about the activities of the team that makes it all happen.

Training Program

The Volunteer Management Team designed and implemented a training program for Volunteer Coordinators. In February 2001 over 40 volunteers and staff members from 20+ departments attended the first training session. During this meeting we introduced the database to the staff. By summer, the Volunteer Management Team rolled out a training program for team leaders (also called captains, leads, foreman, shift managers, etc. depending on the department) who directly manage volunteers. Our goal for these trainings was to provide support to the staff to enable them to integrate volunteers more effectively and to facilitate the use of resource tools that help us place as many volunteers as possible in the Project.

These trainings provided a rare opportunity for cross-training focused on what works and does not work. Team leaders also learned about the roles of other departments and how everything fits together into the big picture and the goals of the Burning Man organization.

Onsite Volunteering

In 2001 the Volunteer Management Team had the largest presence ever on the playa. Stationed at Playa Information, we educated participants about the various immediate volunteer opportunities available and handled overflow needs from Playa Information during busy times. Throughout the event the Volunteer Management Team stayed in constant contact with other departments needing walk-up volunteers and worked to find people to meet these needs on demand, usually with success.

Challenges and future plans--- The hardest challenge for the Volunteer Department is in assisting potential volunteers, who really want to contribute, navigate through the large organization and to a team which suits their interest, skills, and available time commitment. While there are more people involved than ever before, the sheer size and complexity of the Burning Man organization sometimes makes it difficult for each new person to feel warmly welcomed.

Getting to know such a large number of volunteers in a short amount of time is a challenge and answering the literally THOUSANDS of emails we receive is a time-consuming task. In the future, the team wants to expand, to improve the use of data in the database, and to continue to organize fun events for recruiting and rewarding volunteers. Training will be the largest push in the next year so we can provide every person working with volunteers all of the skills and support they need to accomplish their goals.

volunteers(at)burningman(dot)com, etc. can be sent at any time to members of the Volunteer Management Team.