Welcome to the official Hamilton Players blog: All the world's a stage...

Thoughts and ruminations on all things theater...and then some!

Friday, February 9, 2018

The volunteer conundrum

I don't know how it works at other nonprofit community theaters, but here at Hamilton Players we have only a tiny paid staff:  Executive Director (FTE), 2 box office interns (>.5 FTE), a house keeper (.25 FTE) and a handful of transient or "seasonal"  artistic staff that come and go; tied to a specific show.  Everything else is staffed by volunteers...which is amazing...and also difficult.

For years our organization has had a paradigm of very loose leadership for volunteers; if you want to volunteer, great!  Have at it! That worked well when Hamilton Players was a loose collective that came together to put on a show and then disperse.  But once the Players had a formal venue that required constant attention and upkeep, and expanded the programming to more than two isolated shows per year, AND became a corporation and nonprofit; the volunteer needs increased substantially and more often than not, the old-school "Have at it!" concept led to dissatisfaction for both Hamilton Players and the volunteer.  Projects would get started by one and then finished by another; leaving both frustrated and dissatisfied.  Information, or rather; misinformation, was passed along according to each individual's varying understanding of the situation.  The administrative learning curve for nonprofit and corporate legal requirements was steep and suddenly there were a lot more volunteers to keep informed and many of them were disgruntled to find that the way they had been doing things was no longer acceptable to the organization. Plus there was the added pressure of satisfying insurance requirements or face constantly increasing premiums. This led to a huge turnover in volunteers, a variety of unsafe practices, and a widely varying quality of experience for volunteers, patrons, and donors.  Dissatisfaction led to reduced volunteerism which in turn led to more work and responsibility being heaped upon volunteers, which led to more dissatisfaction and reduced volunteerism.  It was a slow, deepening spiral of negativity that was impacting the organization on all levels.

Fast forward to today.  2016 marked the 20th anniversary of the Hamilton Playhouse, Hamilton Players home venue.  It also marked the start of a newly reorganized volunteer committee with a commitment to growth and excellence.  By "growth" I refer to volunteer recruitment and by "excellence" I refer to both the experience to and from the volunteer.  Hamilton Players has made some mistakes in the past, but we are working hard to create an environment where volunteers are integrated into the day to day culture of the organization, given responsibility and autonomy, and are appreciated and rewarded.  We want volunteers to become a part of the fundamental structure of the Playhouse day-to-day activities. In the name of transparency, volunteers need to know that there will be some training up-front.  Policies and expectations will be clearly outlined as will the structure and processes of the organization.  Depending upon the position, there will also be periodic evaluations to help keep expectations - on both sides - in alignment. Sure, there are rules, but within that framework real magic can happen.  Change cannot happen overnight, but Hamilton Players is making a dedicated commitment to develop an organizational culture that is open and appreciative and values dedication, creativity, collaboration, and accountability - both from employees and volunteers. 

Hamilton Players invites you to become a part of the theater family. See what's new and bring your own special talents and strengths to work with us at the Playhouse!  We look forward to seeing you soon!

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