Con Season on a Budget: How to Volunteer at Your Favorite Convention

Con season is gearing up! Looking to connect with your spec fic tribe? Conventions are the way to go!

If you’ve never been to a con before, they are amazing fun but can be daunting. Check out my Conventions 101 post for some info on how to prep for and “survive” conventions if you’ve never been. (This was also my very very first SpecChic post!) But right now, we’re going to talk about how to get a volunteering gig at your favorite convention. This is Part One of a two-part series. In Part Two we’ll talk about how to actually work the convention as a volunteer.

Most conventions offer compensation for volunteering in the form of free or discounted admission. And most cons always need volunteers! So it’s not too difficult to score a position, though it may not be in the department you want initially. There’s seniority among convention volunteers in most cases too. Let’s get into how to actually do it.

1. Research what you might want to do

Most conventions have a ton of areas where they need volunteers, ranging from registration workers, to volunteers for specific tracks, to security folks and a bunch of areas in between. Before you reach out to throw yourself into the volunteering fray, figure out what areas you’d enjoy working in or which could utilize your strengths. For instance, if you like meeting people, working a registration table or an information desk might be something you’d enjoy. If you’re strong and don’t mind breaking a sweat, you’d want to look into load in/load out positions (the advantage of which is all your volunteer hours are before and after the con, so you get to enjoy every minute of the actual convention to yourself!).

The Con Suite can be a great place to volunteer. You meet people without having to figure out a topic to talk about. “Would you like some noms?”

You can often find information about the volunteer areas on a convention’s website. Look for a page that lists what tracks the convention has — writing track, gaming track, etc. Most tracks need volunteers of some sort.

Beyond the tracks themselves, there are infrastructure departments as well. Common departments include:

  • Registration
  • Guest Relations
  • Security
  • Information
  • Hospitality
  • Vendor Room

All of these departments need people to help them. So explore what department volunteer opportunities might be available at the convention you want to attend, then write down two or three departments you’d like to help out on. In some cases you might need additional qualifications or training (such as for Security or for Guest Relations), which the con will often provide. Most conventions will place you in the department or track you request if there’s a spot available.

2. Make contact

The “how” depends entirely on the convention, but most cons post pretty clearly how to apply for a volunteer position. Some larger cons will have staff meetings (or volunteer meetings) some time before the convention that prospective volunteers can attend to meet department heads/track directors. This would be where the heads can announce what’s open in their department.

Dragon Con does this. They have three staff meetings in the Spring and Summer where the
track directors explain what their track does and announce how many volunteer spots they have open. Then interested people approach the director after the meeting to discuss the opportunities.

Some conventions have a central volunteer coordinator whose responsibility is to gather the info for all volunteers and assign them to various departments. This can be helpful because the volunteers have a single point of contact and there is a certain uniformity to the initial volunteering sign up.

Conventions will often announce a call for volunteers on social media, their website, and/or their mailing list, so it’s beneficial to make sure you’re following them on some channel. They might have an online form to fill or simply an e-mail address to reach out through to offer your services.

Other conventions don’t announce volunteer opportunities, but put a note on their website to e-mail the department heads/track directors for information. Generally speaking, all conventions will have some sort of information on how to volunteer posted on their website or Facebook page.

3. The ask

Like anything else, first impressions are important. You certainly don’t need to dress up if you’re meeting in person, but do remember that how you present yourself will have at least some bearing on your success.

In person: If you’re meeting the director or other volunteer-coordinating person, introduce yourself and let them know you’re interested in volunteering. If you don’t know whether they have positions, ask now. Definitely show your enthusiasm, but don’t go overboard. No one wants to work with a fanatic. 😉 If you have specific skills that would be useful, mention them once you’ve got confirmation that there are positions open. If they seem agreeable, ask what the next step would be. Often there’s a registration process. Get their e-mail address and follow up right after the meeting.

Sometimes asking for things like this is daunting. We go through an entire litany of questions ranging from “Will they like me?” all the way to “What makes me think I’ll have anything to offer them that they would want?” We can’t always stop those gross thoughts from surfacing, but you can decide how to handle them. My take is that I say to those voices, “Okay, thanks for your input. I’m doing this thing anyway. If I fall on my face, you can laugh at me then.”

Remember, if you did Step 1 above, you identified a place where you can be useful and where you do have skills that will benefit the convention. So just keep that top of mind when you’re doing the ask, whether in person or not. You have the skills necessary to fill the position you’re requesting.

Via e-mail: If you’ve met them already and ironed out preliminary details, make sure that you introduce yourself in your e-mail and remind them of where you spoke and briefly of the conversation you had. Then let them know you’re following up for the next steps in the process. If you didn’t get a firm “yes” at the meeting, then simply let them know you’re still very interested and you’re looking forward to hearing back from them. Also, address them by name, so make sure you’ve noted their name when you met them!

If this is a cold e-mail, say from looking up the director or volunteer coordinator online, then introduce yourself and tell them that you’re interested in volunteering for their track. Ask them if they have any positions available and what you’d need to do to work with them. If you’re e-mailing a volunteer coordinator rather than a specific director, then mention what departments you’d be interested in volunteering for. Limit it to your top three, in preferential order. For example:

Dear Ms. Volunteer Coordinator,

My name is Venessa Giunta and I’d love to help out with AwesomeCon this year! I’m especially interested in working with the Writers Track since that’s what I do, but I’d also be a good fit for Registration or Hospitality if there are no positions available with the Writers Track. Would you let me know what I need to do to get on your volunteer team?

Much thanks!
Venessa

If you’re unsure what volunteer opportunities there are, that’s okay too. Just ask what’s available.

And that’s how it’s done! Stay tuned for Part Two of this series next month! We’ll be talking about how to be a great volunteer so you’re welcomed back again and again.

Do you volunteer at conventions? How did you get started?

Do you plan to volunteer at any conventions this year? Which one(s)?

Let me know down below!

Unless attributed otherwise, all images are CC0 licensed.

2 Comments

  • davidbrawley March 9, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    I volunteer at BaltiCon every year, usually in Registration. It’s a great way to see EVERYONE!

    Reply
    • Venessa.G March 10, 2017 at 10:43 am

      Oooh, BaltiCon! That one’s been around forever 🙂

      And, yes, Registration is a *great* dept to volunteer on! You do, literally, get to see everyone 🙂

      Reply

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