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Volunteering: How and Why You’d Enjoy Getting Involved!

Posted May 6, 2011

By Ellen Klowden and David Reynolds

(1) Congratulations on becoming Volunteer Manager! Quite an honor, and well-earned, after not only working Info Booth, but having started as a volunteer, yourself. How did you get started? When did you first volunteer? What did you do, and how did it feel?

Thank you… I'll do my best. How I got started? It was actually by accident… I came down for K-Con 2004 with a couple of people after seeing a flier up in Jay's Anime [in Kent, WA] a few days beforehand. The con was sold out, but someone was kind enough to let the people with me in if I put in some time as a volunteer. I loved the feeling of being able to do something good for my friends and getting to help out behind the scenes.

And it definitely didn't hurt that we had a wonderful volunteer manager, Tammy, who was great at making people feel appreciated. (My secret goal is to be even half as good as she was.) I wound up putting in so many hours helping out at Info Booth that she actually had to kick me out from time to time, for my own good. The next year, I was happy to sign up for staff, as her assistant.

(2) In what ways would you like to see volunteering grow within Kumoricon? What areas of service, and what ways of integrating into the larger whole?

Just for a start, I'd love to see more people who want to help but don't know how come on board. I think sometimes we give the mis-impression that you have to jump through hoops to volunteer, discouraging people who have limited time or resources. I'd like to change that perception, because when it comes down to it there are only two requirements:

  1. that you want to help, and
  2. that you can have fun doing so.

The second part might sound strange, but it's actually pretty important. Kumoricon exists to bring people together to have a good time, to make great memories, and that goes for everyone. We don't want people to help because they feel obligated; we want them to help because they enjoy the experience and find it rewarding. That can mean anything from working in their favorite department, to helping only before con; or from volunteering only a couple of hours, to putting in so many hours that we make them honorary staff.

(3) Given our experiment this year with spreading across two hotels, volunteers are more essential than ever. What would you like to see Kumoricon do to support, recruit, train, and retain volunteers?

The Kumoricon Directors have actually been taking a good look at that, and we'll all be doing more this year to support volunteers who are putting in long hours by giving them some of the same perks as staff. Also, the Volunteer Coordinators and I will be doing our best to ensure that each volunteer can take breaks as needed, and to tailor each volunteer's schedule around any specific panels or events she or he is running or would like to attend.

As far as keeping people goes, much the same is true. We want people to get a chance to see what it's like behind the scenes, and find out whether they like the experience. If they do, then we'll try to provide an extra point of contact to help them get in touch or stay in touch with the departments they like best. And if they really like the experience and want to become staff, we'll help with that as well.

(4) That makes sense. Volunteering and staffing are both valuable ways to become involved in sustaining Kumoricon and its community. The efforts of each dovetail, and moving between the two avenues is possible and honored in either direction. What are some of your favorite experiences of volunteering, or of working alongside volunteers?

Some of the experiences that stand out most clearly have been simply getting to interact with the regular attendees. The enthusiasm and warmth they show reminds me of why I love doing this: It feels really good to help friends. And at Kumoricon, almost anyone you meet is just a conversation away from being a friend.

But the ones that keep me going have been when I get to work with staff who have a gift for bringing out the best in people. There are seriously too many to list, especially some of the people I get to work with most closely on a regular basis. I've been really lucky in that regard.

(5) Logistically, what are the steps someone should take who aspires to volunteer this year? Whom do they contact, and how? Are there age requirements or any other requirements? Papers to fill out? Meetings to attend? Hours commitments?

I'm glad this is one of the easiest questions to answer. There are a lot of ways to sign up to volunteer!

  • Get in touch with us at volunteer@kumoricon.org.
  • Inquire about volunteering in the "Get Involved" section of the forums.
    (After becoming accepted as a Volunteer, you will also gain access to a Volunteer section of the forums.)
  • Private-message me on the forums (randompvg).
  • If you are able to attend any of the Kumoricon General Meetings, find where Operations is meeting during breakouts and ask for me; and/or, participate in the breakout of any department for which you might wish to volunteer.
  • Ask about opportunities within a specific department by emailing that department's KC address: e.g., publicity@kumoricon.org.
  • Visit our booth at the events where we have a presence.
  • At con itself, stop by the Volunteer Desk and offer your services.

As far as requirements, that's one of the benefits of volunteering: Compared to committing to a staff position, there is less paperwork, a lower age requirement, no set number of hours, and no mandatory meetings (though you're always welcome to come hang out with us). The more hours you volunteer, the more perks there are—but how many hours you sign up for is completely up to you.

(6) What opportunities are there for volunteers to be of service before and after con weekend? Do those hours "count", toward perks?

There are definitely opportunities to volunteer before and after con. Just for a start, no matter what city you live in, Publicity can always use help in getting the word out. Also, though not everyone knows, we have mini-events throughout the year. We can always use help at those.

Not just at the mini-events run exclusively by KC, but at those at which we volunteer, such as Oregon Asian Celebration, and those for which we collaborate with other cons, such as GameStorm and last year's Halloween event.

True. And certainly not least, we sometimes have work parties for a specific purpose—making buttons, creating goodie bags for registration, loading and unloading materials before and after con, and so on. Even if you don't think you'll have free time during con itself, there are lots of ways to help get ready beforehand—and they still count towards volunteer perks.

(7) What perks are available as rewards for fulfilling volunteer obligations?

Several new ones this year, actually. We're still in the process of working some of them out, but one that we are considering developing, in which people may especially be interested, is the opportunity to earn guaranteed tickets. Based on how many hours you volunteer, we'd give you tickets to make sure you get in to whichever available ticketed events interest you. No waiting in line, no head count, no sitting in the back behind the tallest person, hat, or prop in the room.

(8) Sounds like a nice potential perk. If someone is trying to decide which will be more comfortable for them, what aspects should they consider?

If someone is more comfortable taking direction in the moment, floating to the locations and tasks in which help is needed in the moment, and having flexibility in terms of the quantity and scheduling of their hours, volunteering could be a good fit for them. If someone is more interested in bottom-lining a specific niche of responsibility, possibly largely self-directed in the moment though accountable to coordinators and managers, and able to commit to the minimum of 16 hours of work (usually but not always conducted during con), staffing could be a good fit for them. Both are very valuable ways to contribute, and it's entirely possible and welcome to do one one year, and the other the next, in either direction.

Thank you! I'm really excited to be collaborating with you in getting the word out that Volunteering is a tradition that is alive, well, thriving, fun, and expanding within Kumoricon for 2011!