In essence, the volunteers get the joy of contributing to the festival and helping to build Ottawa’s music scene from the ground up, he says.
The rewards for the festival itself are priceless, he adds, as the people attracted to these opportunities tend to be upper-income citizens who are in professions such as law. They spread news of the festival through their own networks and attract more people to come.
“We can’t give tax receipts for people’s time. They do it because they love it,” Mr. Armour says.
No festival in Ottawa can run without volunteer efforts. The myriad of hours volunteers donate save festivals anywhere from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in labour, allowing the festivals to use the money instead to attract talent, rent venues or provide services.
Ottawa Festivals, a membership-based group of local festivals, places such an importance on volunteers that it opened an Ottawa Volunteer Lounge website in April to match potential volunteer openings with its members.
The website was set up with the assistance of a $133,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the provincial government.
“The tool is meant to help with attracting volunteers to the sector,” says Barbara Stacey, the executive director of Ottawa Festivals. “It responds to the need of filling that gap to post opportunities. The volunteer is engaged through the year, and it keeps them in the industry.”
In Music and Beyond’s case, the festival has 300 volunteers, with 200 or so running the 80 concerts and events. The remaining ones participate in the strategic planning and perform services such as proofreading and translation of distributed materials.
Mr. Armour estimates these people put in 8,000 hours of volunteer time during the year. Assuming these people would be paid the minimum wage of $10.25 an hour, this saves the festival $82,000 every year.
The rewards are magnified in the case of larger festivals. Bluesfest’s approximately 3,000 volunteers cost the festival about $200,000 annually. However, their combined efforts translate to just over $1 million in saved labour every year, says Tammy Parent, the festival’s director of volunteer services.
One of the main expenses related to the volunteers are the services within the volunteer village, which houses a trailer and a check-in for everyone working on site. This costs $80,000 every year, including the salaries of those who help to run it and the computer system to track volunteers.
Every volunteer must register at the beginning of his or her shift. The work is tracked to ensure everyone is working the alloted number of shifts before receiving free tickets to Bluesfest, Ms. Parent says.
Another large expense is feeding the volunteers, which costs $80,000 to $100,000. As a part of that, Bluesfest rents a kitchen at Algonquin College, buys the food and provides a kitchen server. The college, under a sponsorship agreement with Bluesfest, uses students and chefs at the culinary school.
A smaller amount of money goes to perks for more senior volunteers, such as paid parking close to the Bluesfest site, she says.
Beyond the savings in labour costs, Ms. Parent says the volunteers provide priceless enthusiasm year after year.
“It’s awesome to be part of it. The volunteers come and they say how they love the experience. They get to meet or learn about so many different artists they could never have seen before.”
In a 2011 in-person survey of its 68 members, Ottawa Festival tracked 12,000 volunteers within the membership that collectively contribute 141,000 hours of their time annually to local events. (The response rate to the survey was 70 per cent).
More specific details for the festivals in this article:
Volunteer services costs: $200,000 (mainly food, volunteer village, free tickets as incentives)
Estimated savings from labour: $1 million
Tasks: Serving beer, directing guests, processing tickets
Music and Beyond
Volunteer services costs: Negligible (incentives include the occasional free ticket)
Estimated savings from labour: $82,000
Tasks: Ticket sales, ushering, stage management, strategic planning