Did you always set out to be a leader of volunteers?

No, being a Volunteer Coordinator was not my initial plan. Originally, I had aspirations of owning or running my own Cafe/Bar. However, due to the impact of COVID-19, I shifted my career path and entered the field of International logistics. By the beginning of 2022, I decided to leave my logistics job and return to my passion for Hospitality. This decision eventually led me to become involved in production shows, brand activations, and both major and smaller events. As I progressed in these fields, I found myself taking on leadership roles with volunteers, which was not something I had initially set out to do.

Tell us a little about the Sydney Film Festival and the volunteer program.

The Sydney Film Festival volunteer program has been around since 1954 and we have volunteers who have been with us for more than 10 years. During the 70th Film Festival, which was the year I began, there were approximately 700 individuals who expressed interest in being a part of the event as volunteers. Eventually, this number was filtered down to 462 volunteers who participated in various capacities. The volunteer team consists of individuals from diverse age groups, backgrounds, and skill sets. Throughout the festival, the volunteers are assigned to 9 different venues and worked across a span of 12 days, with each volunteer typically covering 2 to 3 shifts at their respective venues.

Photo by Belinda Rolland

How did you find yourself working for the Sydney Film Festival?

It happened thanks to the influence of a friend who happened to be a Volunteer Coordinator at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. They encouraged and motivated me to apply for the position, emphasizing that it would be an opportunity for me to take on the role independently for the first time. Their support and encouragement played a significant role in my decision to pursue this exciting new venture at the film festival.

What does the volunteer recruitment and onboarding process look like?

The volunteer recruitment and onboarding process for the Sydney Film Festival has undergone significant improvements, especially with the integration of Timecounts. In the past, we used Google Sheets and other programs, which sometimes proved to be more cumbersome and time-consuming. However, since implementing Timecounts last year, the process has been streamlined and much more efficient. The platform has played a crucial role in enhancing the overall experience for both volunteers and coordinators.

Timecounts' user-friendly interface, makes it easy for volunteers to sign up and express their interest. The system's automated communication features have simplified the onboarding process, ensuring that volunteers receive all the necessary information promptly. We've been able to manage volunteer shifts, assignments, and communications seamlessly, resulting in a smoother and more organized event. Based on my positive experience with Timecounts, I am eager to continue using it for future events I coordinate.

What kind of perks to the volunteers receive or access as part of the festival?

At Sydney Film Festival they receive a shirt and lanyard - but we offered an Admit-One ticket to any film at the festival for each shift they did. This year we also gifted them a Crumpler "complete flop" bag that was branded for the SFF's 70th birthday.

Photo by Belinda Rolland

What skills and qualities do you look for in volunteers?

I look for volunteers who are hardworking overall, patient, and understanding. Adaptability is crucial, as not every event runs smoothly from the start. In the end, having someone with a smile and a positive attitude towards life and the event is always a great asset to have.

What is your favorite part of your job?

Being able to stand back and watch the volunteers and patrons have fun and enjoy what I have worked on with the SFF team.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging aspect for me is having to decline volunteers who are eager to be a part of the event. It's difficult to convey that we have reached our capacity and cannot accommodate more volunteers. I understand the excitement and fulfillment that comes with volunteering, as it creates a fun, engaging, and long-lasting community. 

How important are volunteers to the Sydney Film Festival?

Volunteers play an incredibly vital role. They are the backbone of our event. From scanners and line management to ushers and various other responsibilities, we have dedicated individuals covering almost every imaginable role. Their contributions are immeasurable, and without them, our event simply wouldn't be possible.

How important do you think it is to prioritize investment in volunteer programs for film festivals?

Investing in volunteer programs is crucial for film festivals and events worldwide. Volunteers play a fundamental role in the event's success, and supporting them leads to better engagement, enhanced event management, and cost-effectiveness. A well-funded program fosters a sense of community and ensures a committed and skilled team, benefiting the festival and its attendees.

Photo by Belinda Rolland

What changes you would like to see next year?

I hope to be in charge of the the volunteer program for the Sydney Film Festival again next year. My wish is to have more time to spend with the volunteers one-to-one. This year, I only had myself and two interns assisting me. Unfortunately, I couldn't meet all of the volunteers or witness them fully enjoying the event. 

We love hearing about volunteers that have truly made a difference. Can you share a story that stands out?

This exceptional volunteer (who I won't name) has been a steadfast presence in our team, returning year after year. Their commitment and loyalty have made them a key member, offering valuable assistance not just in assisting busy venues, but going above and beyond to provide support to others. Their genuine kindness shines through as they selflessly make way for individuals with mobility issues, ensuring they receive the care and attention they need. Their dedication to making a difference and looking after others makes them an invaluable asset to our volunteer program. We are incredibly grateful to have such a compassionate and dedicated volunteer as part of our team! 

What advice would you give to someone who is new to volunteer coordination?

My advice: take your time. Be compassionate and do not rush. Volunteers will understand if things take time like rosters and handbooks, but the key is to always keep them updated via email or Facebook. Remember, they are volunteers not paid workers. Do not get them to do things you are not willing to do yourself.