Managing festival volunteers by balancing duties and perks

Having volunteers at your music festival is a great way to engage passionate people in work that needs to be done. Since most of your volunteers will care about the happenings and events, giving them festival perks is a great way to show your thanks.

In fact, many volunteers sign up because it makes the cost of a ticket more affordable. For example, a ticket to the Roskilde Festival in Denmark can cost more than $300, but volunteers get free access to the festival when they’re not working

Illustration of a folk music festival

Volunteer perks at festivals

When you’re managing festival volunteers, it helps to know what you’re offering in exchange for volunteers. After all, having an enticing perk from the beginning will ensure that you get enough top-notch volunteers interested in helping out.

Here’s how to make sure your volunteers do the work while still having a good time.

Be honest about what they might miss

Volunteering at a music festival is a great chance to see artists, shows and events without having to pay big-ticket prices. However, a volunteering gig isn’t a free pass to the show. It’s important that volunteers are clear about this early on. You’ll want to clarify when they’re needed to help, and how those duties might cut into certain acts.

For example, HeadCount is a non-partisan organization that partners with musicians to get more people registered to vote. They stage voter registration events at concerts and festivals to get more young people signed up to vote. On their volunteer FAQ page, they clearly state what the job entails:

“Note that you will usually miss all of the opening acts while registering voters, and may miss some of the headliner’s set in some circumstances. For this reason, we discourage anyone from volunteering when their absolute favorite band is playing.”

They also explain that seeing live, free music is an essential aspect of the volunteer experience they provide. This lets volunteers know they’re encouraged to see the music and enjoy themselves.

The popular Tennessee music festival Bonnaroo also explains that volunteers will have to miss some of the music. Organizers explain that all specifics are contained in a volunteer schedule, which will say when work is expected (and what artists are playing during that time).

The schedules are released two weeks before the show. This gives each volunteer enough time to make schedule changes and swap shifts with other people if needed. That way, volunteers know they’ll have the opportunity to see their favorite artists — even if they were originally scheduled to work during that time.

Create time for fun and friendship

Once you’ve explained the terms of the job, make sure your volunteers have fun. After all, it’s cheaper and easier for festival organizers when volunteers come back year after year.

As Saving Country Music explains, most festivals and events will need volunteers to put in their time before and/or after the festival. “Many festivals also allow volunteer hours to be turned in before or after the festival for setup or tear down, not taking away from the time spent enjoying the music.”

Creating shifts where people can work either before or after the festival opens up more opportunities for volunteers to enjoy the show.

Another idea is to provide volunteers with special access to the festival. At Shambhala Music Festival in British Columbia, volunteers are given free extra early arrival. This allows them to get into the festival, stake a tent and settle in before the festival starts. This can reduce the stress of getting to the festival to work, which can be amplified when thousands of other people are doing the same thing. It also gives volunteers the opportunity to mingle with one another and create friendships before shifts begin.

Emphasizing the importance of teamwork and community can ensure that volunteers go into the festival open-minded and ready to make friends. Edmonton Folk Fest outlines a list of values that volunteers are expected to abide by. These include respecting other volunteers and guests, following a code of ethics, and being open to new ideas and possibilities.

Organizers also explain how important it is to be part of a community: “Help your crew mates and others when needed, focus on solutions and problem solving, and generally contribute positively to your crew and wider volunteer community.” While outlining volunteer duties, organizers also show how much community and positivity matter.

Meals, showers and more

There’s nothing quite as amazing as a delicious meal after a day of festivities — except maybe a hot shower. Give your volunteers these kinds of perks, and they’ll be more likely to stick around, complete their shifts and come back next year.

At the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, there is a designated village for all volunteers. This is a comfortable space where helpers can indulge in free drinks, WiFi, live music, massages and yoga classes. There are also free hot showers available, as well as a campground just for volunteers.

Food is another perk to consider. Meal service should be available to volunteers as long as they work, and freely available coffee and water is a good way to ensure people are energized and hydrated.

If there isn’t a set meal plan for volunteers, provide them with vouchers to get food during their shifts. You might also set out grab-and-go snacks, like granola bars, to keep volunteers fueled throughout the day. This will ensure everyone stays happy while on duty, which in turn contributes to the positive atmosphere you’re trying to create.

Some festivals even go so far as to host special events to honor the volunteers who have served. This is the case of the Sisters Folk Festival in Sisters, Oregon. This September festival has about 400 volunteers working shifts of 10 to12 hours in exchange for a full weekend pass. A few weeks after the festival, in October, the festival leadership committee hosts a volunteer party and concert. This event is specific to volunteers and helps them come together to share festival memories — and make new ones.

You’ll also want to think about whether you’ll pay for the volunteers’ tickets to the festival in full. Some organizations, like Planet Bluegrass, ask volunteers to purchase the ticket, then refund the entire price after all volunteer duties have been completed. Other festival hosts may ask for a non-refundable deposit alongside the volunteer application to ensure peoples’ inquiries are serious.

Offer learning and career opportunities

Volunteering at a festival is about having fun and giving back — but it can also be about career development. There are plenty of professional lessons a volunteer can learn at a festival.

“If you’re planning a music festival or film festival, people may be attracted to volunteer because they have career goals that relate to that theme,” says Gigcentric CEO Matthew Long. “They may want to be a stage manager in the future and are eager to get experience.”

Long adds that volunteers may simply want to be part of the action, meet their idols and learn what it takes to put on a successful event. Keep in mind that volunteers may also come back year after year, and those veteran volunteers can take on bigger roles in your festival over time.

Consider the career path of James Shinault, vice president of festival projects and fan experience at AC Entertainment (which produces Bonnaroo). Shinault, who always wanted to work at live events, began his career in the industry by volunteering at South by Southwest (SXSW) in 2006. After networking with staff members, he landed a volunteer position and eventually became a full-time SXSW staff member.

In his work at AC Entertainment, he’s been in charge of vetting volunteer applications. Among applicants, Shinault says he looks for volunteers who are outgoing, eager to learn and interested in leadership.

Another organization that highlights the professional perks of volunteering is Connolly Music, which explains that volunteering is a great resume-booster. It shows real-world experience for music students. That experience can be valuable for people looking to land jobs as a VIP assistant or a stage assistant, Connolly Music writes, both of which require talented people who know how to interact with successful artists. That’s part of the finesse necessary to pull off a set, a concert or an entire music festival.

By offering meaningful perks and freebies when managing volunteers at your festival, you can create a culture that’s supportive of everyone.

How we can help

Zelos Team Management is a modern volunteer management app focused on quick task signup and live communication – a perfect combination for managing festival volunteers.

Sign up for a free account on our website, or get in touch with our team for a free product demo.