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The Value of a Volunteer

Volunteers serve as the face and voice of many arts organizations and can play an important role in supplementing staff capacity. Over the past six months I’ve been learning more about what motivates people to volunteer and what it takes for an organization to successfully keep volunteers engaged.

A few years ago, I volunteered for the Red Poppy Art House, an arts collective in San Francisco’s Mission district. After a few months, I was taken aback by how consistently engaged, helpful, and generous the volunteers and staff were with each other and the public. What was Red Poppy’s secret? To start, they held regular volunteer gatherings to welcome new volunteers, share best practices, and keep everyone informed of the latest news. Feedback was encouraged, and regular incentives were offered to volunteers during their shifts. To show appreciation, staff members created thank you cards and threw a holiday party for volunteers. Volunteers also had access to the space during off hours to practice their art and explore their ideas. Over time, I began to call the Red Poppy Art House my second home. It was my community.

More recently, I’ve been working with a number of Bay Area organizations and their volunteers. The level of commitment, excitement, and devotion apparent in many volunteers is inspiring. At one concert, I even observed audience members who were not volunteers pitching in to help by collecting survey materials and putting away chairs without being asked. Some volunteers shared with me how their volunteer activities serve to cultivate their interests and general sense of community. This makes me think: How can volunteer programs help arts organizations foster audience engagement and community building in general? What roles do volunteers play in the perceived value of an arts organization? And in what ways is a strong volunteer program an indicator of organizational success?

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