it’s still the economy, stupid
‘Tis the season for finding new paid assignments from non-profits in the area. Like many other freelance performing arts professionals in the DC area, I am looking for opportunities to expand my knowledge and feed my clothing habit by doing what I love: helping performing arts organizations get organized to present successful concerts and plays. The more I do this, the more I learn. I have been doing this for quite a while; so my knowledge base has grown to the point where not much surprises me.
The most likely scenario in these uncertain times is that organizations will try to save money by not spending it. “Get a volunteer” is the watchword these days. The process is getting qualified people who will do professional tasks just for the fun of it is sometimes a learning experience in itself for everyone involved. On the rare occasion that the group is able to find someone who actually knows what to do and how to do it, the likelihood that this will be more than a one-night-stand is not great. Chorus America and other service organizations spend valuable workshop time stressing the importance of appreciating and rewarding volunteers in a way that makes them eager to return. Unfortunately, no matter how earnestly you profess your gratitude, the volunteer may become burned out, or go somewhere else the next time you need them. We all tend to have short attention spans when the rewards are less tangible. All of us look for the next big thing and the adventure that lies around the next corner.
Of course, there is always the other side of the coin. Despite repeated pleas for help, many organizations may find themselves without the requisite number of hands on deck. Members may not have the expertise or the time to get deeply involved in a project that promises to be labor intensive, is challenging to the point of needing Advil, or comes with an unannounced agenda from other members or the Board. Groups may find themselves in the position where they must turn to a paid staffer (or consultant) to manage the process so they can be free to just perform. This is where I generally come in.
I respect volunteers, since I have spent many years being one for several groups in the area. Doing things for others without hope of money in return has taught me to relish every moment and grab all I can from each experience. It also helped me figure out what I enjoy doing, what I do well, and what I’d rather not do again. Fortunately, there is not much that lies in the last category. Throughout my life, I have been fascinated with performing arts. The entire process of going from a wish to a fully formed and executed concert makes me quiver with excitement. When the lights come up and the music finally starts, it is almost anticlimactic. Once the show begins, there is not much that can stop the process. If I have done my job correctly, it just rolls along and the music enfolds, surrounding the audience with the most exquisite marriage of individual talent and group cooperation known to man. The performance may not be perfect but the moment is priceless.
The call usually starts with “Ann, are you available to help with…” While my heart races, I work to keep my voice steady as I attempt to positively assess the situation. Is this a short term assignment or an ongoing chain of events for this season? Who will I report to, and how much detail will they need to approve along the way? Will I get direct access to all the key players? Are the expected outcomes clearly defined? More importantly, how much of the process will they want to see on a daily basis? Micromanagement makes me crazy, but I have little problem with checking in regularly and being the voice of reassurance (or sometimes becoming the agent of reason.) Most importantly, how much has been done on this already? This is a nice way of asking if I should start by doing some damage control.
So here I am, hoping the group will realize that they need ME to help their dreams become a reality. For the moment, I’ve done all I can do. My resume is updated, the outline of the possible project has been compiled, and (hopefully) my prior work speaks well for my ability to stay on task. This is the hard part before the exhilarating process can begin. “Waiting in the wings” is not just a term but a temporary way of life.
There is an old saying that says you have to spend money to make money. The question is: do they value the outcome enough to spend some money getting there?