Excerpts from “How To Recruit Staff for Fannish Conventions” by Tom Brady, April 2007
Bolded sections chosen by Brant for emphasis.
So, how do you build a staff from the ground up? First off, I would urge you to remember that not everyone is interested in working at an event, and that’s OK – this is a hobby, something that we do for fun. If it’s not fun for someone, pressing them into service isn’t doing anyone any favors. And for heaven’s sake, don’t use guilt to persuade someone! It will only foster resentment and unhappiness further down the line.
The key to recruiting a staff is networking. In order of preference, I recommend starting with your close friends, then friends of friends, then acquaintances, then finally open calls for help. I say in order of preference because you want a staff that you can rely on, and you don’t want to have to guess whether someone will show up for their shift or not. That’s not to say that you can’t recruit reliable, trustworthy people through an public posting, but there’s a big difference between thinking you can rely on someone and knowing. Still, if an open call succeeds in netting you volunteers, then it’s certainly not a bad thing!
So now you have a list of people who have said they are interested. Your next job is communication. They need to know what you expect of them, and even more importantly, what’s in it for them. Make sure you know your event staff policies: do people need to work a minimum number of hours to be considered staff? How many hours need to be worked to earn a membership rollover? Do staff register separately from the public? All of these things need to be communicated to your staff. They will feel better if they know that they are a part of the process, and know what to expect when they arrive at the convention.
In my departments, I prefer that a shift schedule be issued before the event, so everyone knows where they are expected to be and when. Before you make the schedule, consider the following: how much does each person wish to work? When are they arriving, and when are they leaving? Do they want to work at the same time as another staff member (or NOT work at the same time as another staff member)? Be flexible, and remember that they are doing you a favor by helping you out. I generally wait until the event programming schedule has been published before I begin asking these questions (usually only a few weeks before the event) so that staff members can look at the schedule and see what panels or events they don’t want to miss and I can schedule them around it.
When it comes time to make the actual schedule, the first thing I do is try to figure out how many people I need on hand at any given time. Past experience is a good guide for this, but if you’re new in a department also check with past department heads or volunteers familiar with the department to get an idea of what the demands might be. Generally speaking, I try not to schedule anyone for any shift longer than two to three hours at a time – that seems to be a good time for them to get settled into their jobs and also to leave plenty of free time for them to do other things. Sometimes it’s unavoidable that I have to schedule someone longer than that, but that’s the exception to the rule, and I usually try to make sure they’re OK with it.
Now, take all of the information that you’ve gathered and try to build a schedule (I recommend Excel for this, but use what works for you). It’s a frustrating task, a weird logic puzzle that usually takes a few tries to get right. Once the schedule is done, you need to get the word out: publish it to a web page, and e-mail it to your staff (both in graphic and text formats) at least a week before the start of the convention. They will have questions and changes will be necessary. Be flexible.
So now the event has started. You must remember one very important fact: No schedule survives contact with the convention. And that’s OK. If you’ve chosen your staff well, you can substitute people on the fly, making sure you have the correct number of people on hand as needed.
Make sure that you know who your staff are, and that they know who you are, and how to get into contact with you if necessary. Again, remember that these people are doing you a favor in helping you, so be good to them. Keep them happy! For example, Thursday night Registration can be crazy and hectic, and people have to work right through the dinner hour without a break. I make sure that we have pizza and soda for the staff in return for their efforts. I’m not saying that you can or should buy off your staff, but recognize when you’re asking a lot, and be prepared to show appreciation accordingly. Finally, check with your staff often – make sure they have everything they need, answer any questions they might have, and again, make them feel appreciated. The worst feeling they can have is that they’ve been abandoned at their post, and that’s a sure way to foster ill-will toward you and the event.
The event is over, and teardown has begun. Be sure to thank your staff for the time that they put in. In general, a staff dinner is good for this too, but be sure to thank them personally as well. And after the event is over and everyone has gone home, be sure to e-mail your staff and thank them again. If you have the opportunity, thank them publicly – everyone wants to feel appreciated, and this reinforces the fact that they were an important part of it all – and in keeping you sane! Finally, don’t forget the follow-through. These people knocked themselves out for you, so it’s your responsibility to make sure that they get whatever is coming to them, be it T-shirts, rollover memberships, or whatever in as timely a manner as possible. If it’s going to take extra time, be sure to stay in touch with them and keep them updated on what’s going on. This is the surest way you have to keep good people on your staff from year to year.