At the 10th annual Global Leadership Conference this past weekend, volunteerism was the main topic of two workshops. Why were volunteers the focus of so much discussion? Because incredible, transformative, art-filled cities of weirdos don’t build themselves.
A “do-ocracy” is “an organizational structure in which individuals choose roles and tasks for themselves and execute them. Responsibilities attach to people who do the work, rather than elected or selected officials.” Bam. This is the heart and soul of Burning Man. Forget the music, forget the art, don’t worry about the workshops or dream about that amazing connection you made with that guy dressed like a bunny rabbit at the porta-potties. The do-ocracy of Burning Man is one of the most transformative things about the event. People are empowered by their mobility within our fairly non-hierarchical community and their ability to create change.
The center of this do-ocracy is the volunteers. They greet you at gate, they show up months early to create the trash fence, they stay late to de-MOOP the desert, they provide support during emergencies, they serve you coffee in the café and ice at Arctica, they give you Exodus traffic reports on the radio on your ride back to the world beyond the playa. There are countless ways volunteerism — sparked by our do-ocracy — forms the foundation of Burning Man. Without it there would be no Burn.
The discussion of volunteerism at the GLC was mostly about supporting, encouraging and collecting volunteers. Burning Man Regional Contacts and community leaders from all over the world brainstormed and shared their tools and tips on keeping volunteers happy and continuing the spirit of do-ocracy by increasing the volunteer force.
Schwag was a repeatedly suggested perk, and clearly we all love our hoodies, t-shirts, pins and patches. It’s a small piece that connects us to our “home” and the roles and responsibilities that we proudly take on in BRC. The material stuff is great, we all enjoy gifting, but what struck a chord during the workshop was stated perfectly by Hellkitty from Flipside: “Being a part of the club is the schwag.” We aren’t in it for the Temple Guardian bandana or the DPW hoodie. The true gift is the community and ownership that these volunteer groups create. By creating a culture rich in history and ritual within volunteer departments, people feel connected and invested.
Burnout still happens no matter how much community and ritual we create within our volunteer groups. What can we do to stop burnout? Take care of your people! No one wants to get stuck on a parking lot shift for ten hours because they were forgotten about, but sometimes people fall through the cracks. How can change that? Fluffers! By having designated “cheerleaders” or “Burning angels” who make the rounds, hand out water and snacks, check in with volunteers and provide encouragement, we can make sure all our volunteers have what they need throughout their shifts. Gratitude and acknowledgement are also crucial for supporting volunteers. Leaders can give personalized, specific compliments to volunteers, which acknowledges their hard work and dedication. Everyone in BRC and at Regional Events can show gratitude to volunteers by delivering high-fives and compliments as often as possible.
Our do-ocracy and volunteerism are vital. They do more than build our city or run our Regionals. They let accountants learn welding, hairdressers drive forklifts, grandpas build scaffolding. They allow us to transcend our limited ideas of self that to which we’re restricted in our default lives. If we want to grow and spread this kind of transformative magic, we need to stand up and thank our volunteers, and to volunteer ourselves.
Top photo by Sidney Erthal