What are the benefits of volunteering for arts organizations and for the volunteers? What should we have in mind when recruiting volunteers? How to measure the volunteers’ involvement in the arts programs and events?

Volunteers are an important resource in any cultural organization as they bring new spirit and enthusiasm and help keep costs low. Volunteering is primarily a phenomenon of the non-profit sector. Business companies rarely use volunteers – and usually only in some specific cases when partnering a charity event or for special fundraising campaigns for social causes.

 Hill Strategies Research Inc.  report (2003) shows that 351,000 Canadians 15 years of age or older volunteered for arts and culture organizations in Canada in 2000. This figure represents 5.4% of all volunteers in Canada and 1.4% of the Canadian population 15 years of age or older. Canadians who volunteered with arts and culture  organizations provided about 51.9 million volunteer  hours in 2000. This represents 5.0% of volunteer hour s in all types of non-profit organizations in 2000.

In 2010 13.3 million Canadians contribute 2.1 billion hours, the equivalent of 1.1 million full-time jobs (Canada Survey on Giving, Volunteering and Participating, 2010 (Source: Volunteer Canada website).

Benefits and risks for the arts organization

Working with volunteers has it pros and cons. The benefits are that:

  • volunteers are usually enthusiastic and willing to learn;
  • they do it for fun, contacts and image;
  • they have less demands and expectation;
  • they cost less money (but on the other hand require more co-ordination and training).

Volunteers work without contracts and without payment. They might not feel responsible and committed enough because of the unpaid nature of their work. Therefore it is important to be prepared that they might leave any time. To avoid this, it is important to do everything possible to increase their commitment by; organizing motivation sessions and providing detailed and structured explanations about the expected work commitment.  Constant encouragement is a must as volunteers need to feel needed, useful and appreciated. Volunteers are not responsible for the event, managers are. They only help and they should not be expected to deal with problems and risks that might occur.

Some benefits for a volunteer to donate his/her free time could be that it is an opportunity:

  • for professional development, learning and skills development in a specific area;
  •  to explore the  ’back stage‘ of the artistic processes
  • for a higher visibility in the arts community;
  • for a self satisfaction and pride;
  • to have fun, meet new people and socialize.

Volunteers are usually attracted to arts programmes that are highly recognized, focused on positive, honest and enthusiastic appeals and have valuable social causes. Volunteers can practically perform any job and duty in an arts organisation – from low to high skilled jobs.  Hill Strategies Research Inc.  report shows that the most common activities reported by arts and culture volunteers include organizing or supervising  events, serving as a board or committee member, and performing consulting, executive, office or administrative work.  Volunteers could be involved also in functional areas, such as marketing, fundraising, financial operations or the production process. These volunteers are usually students that are studying in these fields or people interested in obtaining training.

Recruiting volunteers

Finding the right volunteers, training them and involving them, is a time-consuming job that has several stages:

  • Identifying the volunteer job positions and preparing short job descriptions.
  • Developing applicable policies and procedures for attracting volunteers.
  • Recruitment of volunteers.
  • Orientation and training sessions for volunteers.
  • Educating others in the organization about how to involve and motivate volunteers.
  • Supervising volunteers in their work and securing a system for mentoring.
  • Brief evaluation at the end of the volunteering services.
  • Provision of recognition and thanks for volunteer services.

Useful places to find volunteers are: schools, colleges and universities; social networking platforms (such as facebook), announcement for volunteer recruitment on the organization’s website, through friends and colleagues’ friends.

How to measure the effectiveness of volunteering?

If an organization regularly uses volunteers to perform certain activities, the evaluation of volunteer involvement can be managed using several indicators such as:

  • number of volunteers;
  • number of volunteering hours/days;
  • percentage of increase/decrease of voluntary participation;
  • saved salary costs as a result of volunteering
  • improving creativity, innovation and organizational capacity as a result of volunteering
  • feedback from the volunteers about their satisfaction and learning during the services performed.

Look at these websites providing placements and projects for volunteers:



Read also the Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement – http://volunteer.ca/content/canadian-code-volunteer-involvement-2012-edition

Read more on volunteering as part of the strategic management process in an arts organization in the book Strategic Management in the Arts, Routledge (2013).


Image credit: Art photo by Darina V: A sculpture by Oleg Dergachov

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