Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Truth About Volunteers

LARPs rely on a lot of volunteer work in order to get things done. But it always seems like people forget an important aspect of volunteer work.

You have to work quickly and efficiently.

See, I have known a couple of instances where people who were volunteers put time and effort into something, just to have it discarded and wasted. This is about the worst thing you could possibly do. Not only was that time wasted, but the volunteer will recognize that their time was wasted and be less likely to donate their time in the future.

When using volunteer labor, you really need to get the most from the time invested by volunteers. And at a certain point, you need to let loose of micromanagement and let them act. Time is the most precious resource, and every minute you keep them from working on the problem at hand is a minute that is wasted.

Just some food for thought.


  1. I like that you have the courage to use this bully pulpit to hector game organizers, a bit. Kudos!

  2. And I am impressed with your excellent use of the term "Bully pulpit."

  3. I think it would be even more helpful if you were talking to the owners and stuff directly. I mean in most games they are volunteers too, and just trying to get things done for the game. if they're any good they probably would want to know how you feel. Because I'm sure they aren't even aware of what they're doing sometimes. If they are aware, then that's one thing. But if they arent then making unclear statements on your blog is kind of a passive aggressive form of feedback, imo. I don't know the situation here, just making a suggestion.

  4. I don't believe that this post is unclear in any way. It's very clear in the fact that sometimes doing things fast is better than doing things slowly, because time is a very real resource, especially when it comes to volunteer time.

    And for the record, I am quite vocal to those involved that once I feel my time isn't being utilized that I'm out. So this isn't a form of "passive aggressive feedback." Nice try though.

  5. I should be more clear. Doing things fast is always better than doing things slowly if the results are the same.

    What I meant was "Sometimes doing things fast with a good outcome is better than doing them slowly with a great outcome."

  6. ok, you're saying the post was about doing things fast. but half of it at least was talking about wasting your volunteer's time. It seems like two different topics to me. Like, what happened that the volunteers time got wasted, that also involved doing things fast? I'm sure you'll just come back and say I'm too stupid to read your blog, but I just didnt' get what you were saying. Can you give an example?

  7. The point about wasting time is that administrators often refuse to act on something that is perfect, and they don't know what they want, so perfect is something that can't really be achieved.

    Doing stuff like this is pretty common in the business world, and is the reason why a lot of projects take a lot of time. And usually the people working those projects accept that, because they're being paid hourly, so whether it takes 10 hours or 100 hours is of no consequence.

    People often bring business mentality into a game where a fair share of work is done by volunteers. They're not being paid by the hour. So doubling the amount of time required to finish a project because it's not perfect is going to reduce the number of hours on something else. And in the case where X feels like their time has been wasted (nothing comes from the work they've done, just because it wasn't perfect), that resource has been alienated.

    The old adage of "Never look a gift horse in the mouth" applies. If something given to you by a volunteer is good (ie better than it was before), move forward with it, rather than leaving it in limbo.

  8. Has Bill every called someone stupid on here before? I can't remember that ever happening.

  9. Dear Billy T,

    Would you say that as a volunteer within different LARP's your feelings on this matter change depending on the format of the LARP? For instance NERO is sort of ran as a business while other larps are ran as a non-profit group or something similar. If you were to be say involved in a super cool larp (*cough exiles*) that ran as a non-profit would you feel less prone to keep tabs on this?

    No real agenda here, just curious about your thoughts on the subject.

  10. Truthfully, I don't think the status of the game would change my opinion as much, as it's more based on how my time is spent.

    As a volunteer, I want to make a difference. That's why people volunteer themselves to non-profit activities more often, because you're more often to be helping people in need. Whether a LARP is a business or more of a club, they're all in need. And by stepping up and helping, you can see what you're adding to the game.

    So in the long run, if I feel like I'm adding to the game, I'm going to keep helping. If I feel like my input is not appreciated, I'll stop. If someone told me to sit in a corner and do nothing to help cure cancer (and there was no kind of donation or fundraising associated with my sitting), I wouldn't do it, despite the good of the cause.

    So I guess the answer is yes, all games need to be aware that players who feel their time isn't going to good use may stop volunteering. I will say, though, that it's a lot easier to see your individual impact in smaller games, so I think the threshold is a little higher in bigger games.

  11. I love this blog, even though I'm a New England larper.

    I believe the posts are short and not too comprehensive because its meant as (as stated in many of the posts) "food for thought".

    Clearly these posts beg for further conversation via comments, though I've been guilty thus far of not furthering the discussion.

    Great job Bill, I read this blog every day.

    -Scott Eerie

    P.S. As far as I know, even larps that are run as "businesses" still utilize free labor and volunteers to run the things, or at least as NPCs. Some games are guilty of not valuing this enough.

  12. @Scott

    I'm glad to hear that the blog is reaching that far and wide. And your post script is totally right. I couldn't have said it more succinctly.

  13. My son has a beginning interest in larping and as a mother I am wondering if any other mother's volunteer at larps? Also, what do they do bring the rice krispie treats or?

    I realise all larps are not for children but are some of them?