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Managing Festival Volunteers Onsite.

Andy Robertson

With some of the larger music festivals recruiting several hundred volunteers the task of managing them on-site during the festival can be challenging. What are the steps organisers can take to mitigate any potential issues and at the same time give volunteers a fair balance of work and free time?

In most cases music festival organisers are generally overwhelmed by volunteer applications in the months before the festival dates and recruitment is never an issue. Selection of volunteers from the many applications can be made based on several key factors. Primarily is any experience the applicant has working at other festivals plus any specific skills like first aid for example. This is generally balanced with the desire to ensure that new volunteers get opportunities too rather than using the same people.

Common Issues.
There are inevitably always some issues to contend with in managing such a large number of volunteers. The most common problem encountered is volunteers who go AWOL on-site and fail to report for their assigned shift. When the festival site is hosting 50,000 visitors is can be almost impossible to locate AWOL volunteers. When this happens, another volunteer must make up the numbers. Along a similar theme are volunteers that have received the training and been allocated shifts but never show up for the event at all. Volunteers being allocated to shifts where they struggle for one reason or another will need to be switched to less demanding duties requiring schedule changes. It is becoming more common for organisers to request a small financial deposit from volunteers as an indication of their commitment. 

Training, Schedules and Shift Allocation.
Volunteers are usually expected to attend at least some training to understand the site layout and schedules combined with the specific duties they are likely to be allocated. It is essential in this training that volunteers fully understand the requirements for fulfilling their duties as assigned and exactly when their free time has been allocated. Having a published rota that clearly indicates times, days and shift duty to every volunteer is essential. Making this shift
schedule dynamic in nature also helps.

Supervision and On-site Management. 
The festival organisers will have someone in house responsible for the recruitment, training and scheduling of all volunteers. Depending on the size of the event and number of volunteers being used this may be a standalone manager or small team. Organisers prefer to split up volunteers into teams along with a team leader for example. It is not uncommon for these team leaders to be volunteers themselves and they will have been selected by the organisers based on their
previous experience and level of trust.

Communication Channels.
Traditionally festival organisers have used walkie talkies to maintain communication between volunteers, their team leaders and managers. Although still used there are new technologies emerging that can make the management process easier. Using mobile apps can help in some circumstances (WhatsApp groups are popular) plus having access to shift schedules that may be subject to change at a moment's notice. For organisers keen to keep tabs on their volunteers on a large site it may be possible to demand that they use and switch on GPS location apps on their mobile devices too.

For any event organiser planning their music festival using a software management platform like Festival Pro gives them all the functionality they need manage every aspect of their volunteer logistics. The guys who are responsible for this software have been in the front line of event management for many years and the features are built from that experience and are performance artists themselves. The Festival Pro platform is easy to use and has comprehensive features with specific modules for managing artists, contractors, venues/stages, vendors, volunteers, sponsors guestlists and ticketing. 

Photo by C Technical from Pexels

Andy Robertson
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