Volunteers can be a big help around your busy studio, from lining up students backstage during recitals to leading fundraising efforts to even painting your building. These five studio owners share their tips for recruiting and effectively utilizing volunteer staff.
At All That Dance, parent volunteers are involved in almost every aspect of putting recitals together, including handing out costumes and hair and makeup information, passing out tickets and selling tights, says studio director Maygan Wurzer. As the show nears, volunteers work in shifts during class hours, Monday through Saturday. Wurzer recruits more than 150 helpers by mailing recital information packets that invite parents to serve on one of five committees: sewing/accessories, backstage, ushers, refreshment and costume handout/information. She handpicks veteran parents to lead each group and a (paid) studio performance director manages all helpers. “It’s great to be able to trust parents who have been in the studio for a long time and know what we’re about,” she says.
Becky Seamster recruits around 50 parent helpers during her studio’s annual recital. They are responsible for behind-the-scenes jobs, like supervising backstage and ushering attendees. The self-proclaimed “control freak” oversees the entire event, from meeting with volunteers and assigning jobs (based on strengths and weaknesses) to supervising the support team. To avoid recruiting parents who only want to gain favors for their children, Seamster tells them up front, “You’re not going to get anything out of it.” She equips every parent with a set of guidelines, and she will reassign a volunteer’s position if they aren’t being productive.
When Erin and Joe Sanfelippo opened their studio five years ago, they were reluctant to ask for assistance. “We wanted clients to think that we had everything under control,” says Erin. But they later realized that the parents wanted to pitch in to feel like part of a studio family. Now parents assist students backstage during the studio’s holiday show and end-of-year recital, as well as relay information from teachers to each competition team member’s family. Sometimes too many parents sign up for certain jobs, like staying backstage with the younger students during shows, so staff members monitor who signs up for what and will move certain parents to other jobs if problems are anticipated.
Parents whose children are in Dance For Joy’s annual Nutcracker are expected to work behind the production’s scenes in some capacity. “The problem is finding enough people who are really able to handle the responsibility and take charge,” says studio director Roberta Humphrey. She selects about 70 to 80 people she knows will be good for the job. (One tip: Schoolteachers tend to be best for dressing room duty.) Those who prove less skilled for certain tasks are moved to other jobs, like handing out programs. And showing reliable parents full trust will encourage them to willingly take on more responsibilities. For instance, one studio mother volunteered to head Dance For Joy’s fundraising efforts to help send 32 company dancers to London to perform during the 2012 Olympics. “We have to raise about $1,600 per dancer, so that’s a big job, but I know this mom will get things done,” says Humphrey.
In her five years running Broadway South Dance, director Michelle Adams-Meeker has established an incentive program, called Broadway Bucks, to entice volunteers to lend a helping hand. “They’re worth money off of everything from students’ tuition to dance apparel,” she says. “It’s how we say thank you and it seems to work very well.” The studio gets a third of its volunteers through e-mails sent to each student’s parents. Other helpers consist of alumni, relatives of current and former students and Adams-Meeker’s local contacts. Together, they assist with everything from working backstage during dance shows to painting her building and classrooms. DT
Karyn D. Collins is a New Jersey–based writer and dance teacher at the King Centre for the Performing Arts in Wanaque, NJ.