Volunteering and Working…and why it’s time to exit stage left

Kelly Dingee Kelly Dingee, Sourcing

For years now I have volunteered with a non-profit community theatre group based in my hometown.   I know, I know…I strike you as the dramatic type, right?  Nope…not really.  I did it for my kid.  Because she loves to act and dance and it’s been her “sport”.  So making sure the show goes on seems like the least I can do.

Don’t ask me where I found this burning desire to volunteer…I came from a middle class family and both of my parents worked full time…my dad had a job that required traveling so way back then, my mom was often single parenting Monday through Friday on top of working full time.  There wasn’t any extra time to volunteer.  I started to dabble in volunteering in college with this group.

But for the last 8 of the 10 years I’ve been tied into this theater group, instead of taking on tasks like sewing or painting or….bedazzling….I’ve been coordinating a publicity campaign for this their main stage production.

I ended up in that job because I was naive, and dare I say, cocky.  I know how to place ads, in print and online…I find and assist in hiring people every darn day…how hard can a publicity job be?

This is where we all collectively say…dumb ass.  Publicity can be really hard.  Especially if you naively think all you have to do is place an ad.  Building a multi-faceted campaign with the end goal of butts in seats and heck…a few golden “earned media” moments is what it’s about.  Especially in a non-profit theater group – money is not a luxury.  Our budget? We fundraise it.  So let’s hope it’s been a good year so that I’m not restricted to freebies.

I’ve been schooled in this job…and had reinforcement in some standard business lessons that have definitely made me better in my day job, like:

Go learn from the pro’s.  This past winter I plunked down some cash to attend an event featuring one of our community’s PR pro’s and her TV Reporter husband.  Huge tips were provided on everything from crafting a proper press release, to timing, to working with the media.  I wish I had been a little less cocky in the beginning and sought out these pro’s.  With their advice this year I’ve reaped earned media moments plus secured a reviewer to check out our show.  And made a couple of good contacts, because I made sure I took them up on their offer to share information post event.

Email is not the only way to communicate.  And certainly not with media.  These folks want to meet you, shake your hand, put a face with the name and organization.  If you’re an introvert like me, it means putting on your happy publicity face and meeting them…for coffee…at their office..and so on.

We all just need to get along, and remember the end goal.  Volunteers don’t necessarily get to choose their co-workers.  And some people are going to be challenging to work with.  The running joke in our group is try as you might, you won’t be fired.  We’ll just find a more challenging job for you.

Time Management is a required skill.  I’ve found that I have to seriously be crafty about managing my time from January to when our show opens.  This volunteer job can be demanding and require 40 hrs a week on top of my day job.  That means evenings, weekends and so on are shot for a period of time.  It’s really only about 4 weeks of insanity but I’ve become a master at scheduling and prioritizing.  And in our family, it’s family first. Then my job.  Then the volunteer work.

It’s all about the team.  In a volunteer gig, if you’ve got the luxury of having people to work on your team, you have to delegate.  And guide them in getting the job done.  And…most importantly…say thank you.

There are perks for a sourcer.  In this group, 80% of the kids have parents that have never acted or danced.  And we are a diverse group ..a director of finance , an attorney, a biologist, a school secretary, a VP of Sales, a SVP of Data Analytics.  You see where I’m going with this, right? In retained search I could get any kind of sourcing assignment.  It’s nice having this group of people as a referral source.  And interestingly enough, the bulk of them don’t have profiles on LinkedIn.

With all that, it’s now time to go.  The kid is graduating and going out on a high note having been cast in a lead role in the production.  I’m proud of her and the opportunity I’ve had.  It hasn’t been easy, but the time…it’s been worth it.