Looking Ahead: Bringing Back Festival Volunteers

As festivals and events made their way back to the city this year, we’ve seen that not all volunteers have returned with them. The re-occurring issue of a lack of volunteers has shined a new light on the importance of volunteer work in the city.  

Just this summer, all over Canada, we’ve seen the effects that a lack of volunteers signing up for festivals can have on these events. Organizations in Manitoba had to deal with a significant volunteer shortage that Volunteer Manitoba’s communications manager said was due to the aftermath of COVID-19 among “a perfect storm of a lot of different things”. In August, there was also a major story where, only 5 hours before it was set to start, Montreal Pride was unexpectedly cancelled due to a volunteer shortage, causing a wave of disappointment among parade attendees and participants.  

This issue has been unexpected as most people would think that there would be an eagerness to get back to normalcy, but Nostalgia Festival’s volunteer coordinator, Susan Sloan, has a pulse on what the main cause of this is.

“What people fail to do is what I call a deeper dive and understand that the social interaction that we used to take for granted has been lost,” she said. “That ability to socialize has had a two-year hiatus… I was very fortunate I was able to start live volunteering in 2021 way ahead of everybody else and it was apparent immediately that there was an awkwardness in our interactions, even from people I have known for decades.”  

Sloan also points to COVID-19 as being a reason for the hesitancy to want to volunteer, as most people still aren’t comfortable with the idea of being in proximity to a larger group yet. Festival organizations must continue to prioritize safe and healthy workplaces and events so volunteers have greater confidence in coming out. For advice on this topic, tune into episode 3 of OFN’s podcast called FestForward Advisor Talks with Janet Sellery, where one of Canada’s leading experts on event health and safety breaks down crucial steps on what you need to know and do to protect your people.

Sloan acknowledges that in addition to COVID-19 concerns, there are multiple reasons for the lack of volunteers at events and something must be done to bring the engagement back up, as volunteers are vital.

“The impact of the volunteers at Nostalgia Fest is priceless,” said Sloan. “Without the power of the volunteers we would be stalled, we wouldn’t be able to do anything. The energy that they bring to the festival is an enhancement, so it’s not just a vehicle it’s a vehicle that’s supercharged by the energy, commitment, devotion, and passion of all volunteers that participate.”

To revive and reconnect volunteers to festival and events in the city, Ottawa Festivals launched a new website called ‘Volunteer Connect’ earlier this year. The website is a resourceful space where people of all ages can find the best-suited volunteer opportunities for them. It’s giving people, especially younger students, a great opportunity to collect volunteer hours, fun memories, new friendships, and the best opportunity you could get to explore the city in new ways. 

For Sloan, she hopes that people who are curious about volunteering know that it will give them a great opportunity to feel empowered. Her message to festival organizations is, “Volunteers are educated, experienced and productive people,” she said.  “The greatest gift you can give a volunteer is empowerment.”  

To sign up for notifications of volunteer opportunities visit: volunteer.ottawafestivals.ca