Festival Planning 101 — Part Six: Staff and Volunteers

Image courtesy of Omar Lopez on Unsplash

There are no two ways about it. You can’t run a festival of any size without some help. Whether your help comes from trusted friends and family, paid staff, community volunteers, and/or folks who have bartered some percentage of their registration in exchange for work, you’re going to need more hands than just your own to accomplish all of the work that goes into running your event. 

Lots of hands, in fact. Typically, anywhere from one-quarter to one-half of all the people present at your event will be helping in some way (including your presenters/performers). 

Helping Areas

Your event may have more, less, or different categories of helpers than the ones that follow, but this list should give you an idea of what might be needed to help your festival run smoothly. These are the current categories of barters at the largest of the festivals I help run (Babalon Rising):

  • SET-UP/TEAR-DOWN — (moderate to heavy labor) builds/strikes carport shelters, hangs banners, moves temple furniture, etc
  • ADMIN — (light to moderate labor) delivers messages, takes care of presenters, etc.
  • GATE — (light labor) registers guests as they arrive, handles money, checks IDs; MUST be available by Thursday afternoon for a training shift
  • MAINTENANCE — (light to moderate labor) picks up trash, neatens showers/port-a-johns
  • FEAST — (light to moderate labor) prepares and transports food, decorates Feast of Flesh tent, assists in cleaning up after Feast
  • SECURITY — (light to moderate labor) patrols grounds regularly, handles all manner of security issues (typically: vehicle violations, unregistered attendees, noise disturbances, substance abuse, minor harrassment; CAN INCLUDE: physical altercations, sexual misconduct, and contact of emergency services)
  • FIRST AID — (light to moderate labor) provides basic care (typically: heat exhaustion, sunburn, sprains, minor cuts, ticks, excessive alcohol consumption, dehydration, etc; CAN INCLUDE: triage for major injury/illness and contact of emergency services)
  • FIRETENDING — (moderate to heavy labor) pulls/cuts wood for, builds, and maintains safety of bonfire and attendees at fire circle
  • DRUMMING — (light labor) must have proven drumming skills and experience and be available for 3-5 hours each night for bonfire drumming  (NOTE: Your name must be on our pre-approved drum barter list OR you must get special authorization from Laurelei PRIOR to filling out this form)
  • CAMPING TROLLS (light to moderate labor) assists attendees in finding camping spots in an efficient manner
  • PARKING TROLLS (light to moderate labor) assists attendees in parking efficiently, assists in parking-related security (including light patrols of parking lot and finding vehicle owners as needed)
  • KITCHEN/CAFE (light to moderate labor) takes orders, makes change, expedites food prep
  • GNOSTIC MASS — (light to moderate labor) officiating the Gnostic Mass, building/striking the temple (2 shifts of any type = $25 barter, 1 shift of any type = $45 barter)
  • TRANSPORTATION — (light to moderate labor) picking up and dropping off special guests from the Indianapolis airport (usually Wed/Thurs pick up and Sun drop off); car must be tidy, smoke-free, and able to accommodate 1-2 guests plus luggage; round-trip = $45 barter, one-way trip = $25 barter (To qualify for this barter, the festival directors MUST know you.)
  • ASL INTERPRETATION (light labor) provides sign language interpretation for classes, workshops, and rituals (1 “shift” = 1 workshop/class/ritual); ASL fluency required (interpreter certification preferred but not required)

Because festival can be a psychologically-intense place (new experiences, new people, new environment — sometimes with the addition of sex, intoxicants, challenging ideas, etc), we’ve also started discussing a “psychological first aid” role. However, this can be complicated — making sure the festival isn’t taking on a level of liability, making sure the folks filling this role are competent, trying to provide adequate coverage during appropriate times, not overtaxing the volunteers in this role, etc.  This is an area that is, as yet, under-developed in the festival community.

Other roles may open present themselves to you for exploration, as well. We don’t have a need, for instance, for roles dealing with teaching, entertaining, or supervising children (because our attendees must be at least 21 years old), but your event might. You may want a small retinue of town criers/MC’s/heralds to announce events, rotating those duties between each other. Maybe you have artistic needs that require a few helpers.

Leadership and Delegation
The financial and legal responsibility for the festival may ultimately be yours (or that of a small council/partnership), but delegating the oversight of your festival’s creative and practical aspects will help you accomplish so much more than if you try to micromanage every bit yourself. 

Using Babalon Rising as an example again, the festival was founded by four friends who each brought different skill sets to the table. One had deep connections in the Thelemic community and was a high-level degree in a magical Order, making recruiting authors, Gnostic Mass teams, and other content-specific help easier. Another was a Witch with fantastic web- and graphic-design skills. There was the Chaos Mage who brought some of the initial funding and was willing to help with a little of everything. And, finally, there was the Halloween event organizer (ie “professional scarer”) who had roughly a decade of event-planning experience. 

In the first 2-3 years of the event, roles weren’t clearly delineated (which caused its own set of complications), and there was a lot of overlap, collaboration, and creative growth.  This is fairly typical for young events who are going through their “forming” and “storming” stages of organizational life (as described by psychologist Bruce Tuckman). 

My history with the event starts in year 3 (as a presenter) and progresses into year 4 when I joined the organizing team. By that time, there were seven of us, and roles were still vague, but moving toward more defined. In fact, I came on board to help with a specific aspect of festival organization, which really marked the beginning of the “norming” period for the event. Roles got much more defined over the next few years as we brought in other folks to help run very specific areas. 

Compare this list of organizer titles with the “help areas” above:

Co-Director ~ Iron Dragon Overlord

Co-Director ~ Den Mother of Abominations 

Asst Director (Safety) ~ Demon Monarch of Safety  & Dragon Wrangler

Asst Director (Admin) ~ Demon Monarch of Organization & Den Mother in Training

Asst Director (Grounds) ~ Demon Monarch of Grounds & Badassery

Asst Director (Ritual) ~ Demon Monarch of Circles & Circuses

Gate Organizer ~ Nanny Gate-Goat Wrangler

Feast of Food Organizer ~ Maeven of the Feast of Food 

Feast of Flesh Organizer ~ Master of the  Feast of Flesh 

Stage Organizer ~ Wrangler of Cats 

Mass Organizer ~ Gnostic Mass Orchestrator 

Vendor Organizer ~ Merchant Queen

Info/Hospitality Booth Organizer ~ Hospitality Madame

Maintenance Organizer ~ Princex of the Potties

Sacred Sexuality Track Co-Organizer(s) ~ Co-Scarlet Whoreganizers

Chaos Track Co-Organizer(s) ~ Minister(s) of Paradox

Emergent Magick Track Co-Organizer(s) ~ Usher(s) of Emergent Realities

Head Firetender~ Pyromancer

Head Security ~ Minister of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Head First Aid~ Boo-Boo Fixer Extraordinaire

Cafe Organizer ~ Kitchen Goddess

Lighting Designer ~ The Light-Bringer

Social Media Organizer ~ Magister of Hype

Sharing a little of the whimsy we’ve wrapped around our roles, the titles to the left could be considered “official” while the ones to the right are what was listed in our last event program. (This isn’t Corporate America. We don’t have to be very proper, after all.)

The two Co-Directors (me and my husband, who was one of the original founders) are the festival owners and have legal and financial responsibility for the event. We also take a hand in the broad creative direction, though we recognize how much that effort is a group creation involving the entire community.

We each work closely with two of the Assistant Directors. These four individuals do most of the handling of on-site organization, people wrangling, problem solving, and other duties needed at the event. They also have some pre- and post-fost duties. These are PAID positions. We offer these four folks a stipend for the weekend and meal vouchers (redeemable with an on-site food vendor) in addition to fully comped festival entry.  They arrive to the venue early, stay late, and are the last position where the buck stops before finding its way to us as Directors. 

The roughly 20 other folks on the team are Area Organizers for some aspect of the event. Most of them have barter-volunteers who report to them, and they are responsible for creating schedules, communicating with their teams, and ensuring that tasks happen according to plan. All of them are responsible for enough work that we fully comp their entries. A few, depending on their duties, act in an on-call role throughout the event, while others may have duties that primarily happen before the gates open. A few (like the programming track organizers) share duties. In every case, if someone on their team (or in their area) misses a shift or doesn’t come through, the Organizer has both the authority and expectation to find a workable solution. 


Good communication needs to start early in the organizational process. This is especially true for the folks who are working to make your event a success. They should know when they are expected to arrive, what they will be doing, when they will be doing it, and where they should report for work shifts, at the very least. If they owe any remainder for attendance, this should also be made clear.

I like to use the following types of forms and form letters to communicate with folks who have expressed an interest in helping with the festival:

  • Barter Application Form — (Google Form) — We use this to collect all the info we need from prospective helpers, including area of interest, date/time of arrival, number of shifts they would like to work (and associated reduced ticket cost), as well as all the needed contact details and qualifications (where applicable)
  • Barter Confirmation Letter — (form letter, sent via email) — Our confirmation letter states the worker’s legal name (for the gate log), the area they are assigned, the number of shifts they agreed to perform, the amount of money they owe, and a reminder to bring photo ID and a physical/digital copy of THIS letter with them when they arrive. 
  • Barter Pre-Fest Reminder Letter — (form letter, sent via email) — This letter includes all of the notes we give all attendees (address, ID reminders, packing tips, and more), PLUS it includes a list of the Organizers, instructions for where to report for the first work shift, and repercussions for missed shifts.
  • Organizer/Asst Director Confirmation — (form letter, sent via email) — Includes much of the same information as the “Barter Confirmation Letter,” except that it specifies Organizational Area and scope of duties. It states that registration is complimentary for the year of service, and it also indicates that if an Organizer “retires” after 3 or more years of service, they will be given a comped festival entry to come as an attendee. In the case of Assistant Directors, the stipend (“gas allotment”) is also listed, as is the amount of the meal voucher. 
  • Thank You notes — (email, program, Facebook group) — We try to thank our incredible staff early and often for their work with notes in their email after the event, a mention in the event program, and another public “thank you” in our Facebook group.


No matter how clear your expectations are, how detailed your lists, how thorough your schedules, there are some problems that you’ll experience.

Someone won’t show up to the event at all, leaving you short-handed in one or more areas.

Someone else will absolutely show up to the event, but they won’t arrive for a work shift — because they forgot, got sick, had emotional upheaval that took precedence for them, etc.

Someone may even show up to a work shift under the influence of drugs or alcohol, start a fight with another attendee, or engage in other wholly unacceptable behavior.

Let’s handle these one at a time in ascending order of their problematic-ness.

A staff member doesn’t show up to the event. Depending on what they were slated to do, this could be a real crisis — or it could be a minor inconvenience. Let me reassure you: You can find a work-around, even if the person is an Organizer. You’ll be shocked at how quickly folks will lend a hand to make things happen if you let them know you need help. Do yourself and your event two big favors: 1) Ask for the help, and 2) Reinforce your expectation that folks follow-through on their commitments. That second favor takes some finesse and sometimes compassion. Don’t flog a person who is undergoing a trauma just because they had to prioritize their life (health, family, etc) over your festival. At the same time, don’t give a notoriously flaky person the opportunity to let you down again and again. 

A staff member misses a work shift. Did they miss the shift because their kid got injured and they had to rush to the ER? Or did they miss the shift because they got wrapped up in a fun shenanigan and spaced their commitment? We’ve taken a relatively straightforward approach with the Babalon Rising barter rate. Each work shift equates to $20 off the regular ticket price, and we let workers know that if they miss a scheduled shift, they owe that money back. At the end of the event, Organizers report who missed shifts (and how many they missed). Those staff members are contacted with a note that asks for payment and/or explanation. Being sick because they drank too much the night before, being exhausted because they overexerted themselves for three days straight, and having to leave before the known clean-up shift (which was mentioned in every communication we sent) are not valid reasons for us to waive those fees. These, incidentally, are the most common reasons for missing a shift. The festival relies on workers to do the jobs they signed up for. Someone else had to do that work. Until the remainder of the registration is paid ($20/missing shift), that person can’t register for future events.

A staff member reports for a work shift under the influence, starts a fight, etc. There are probably a few work areas that wouldn’t be compromised by a touch of booze or weed (provided that marijuana is legal in your locale). Hospitality. Maintenance, maybe. Content Track organizers, possibly? Those could all be gray areas, depending on the culture of your event and what you need people to do. But there are some areas that absolutely must have sober workers on shift: firetending, security, first aid, gate, kitchen. Be clear about which roles you expect this from, and count it as a missed shift if a person has to be dismissed because they aren’t fit for duty. Depending on how egregious the transgression is (flagrant violation of the event’s policies), the staff member may even need to be removed from the grounds and barred from future attendance. Consent violations, violence, selling drugs. Some people will use your event’s free or reduced entry rate for workers as a cheap way to ingratiate themselves into the community and then prey upon your attendees. Don’t let them. Be swift and consistent in creating safe space for your true community.

Final Thoughts

The staff and volunteers who work alongside you for the shared vision that is your event are a dedicated, hard-working, and invaluable part of the community you are building. Treat them well, give them clear expectations and guidelines, and let them know how much you appreciate them using both words and deeds. 

Tuckman, Bruce W (1965). “Developmental sequence in small groups”. Psychological Bulletin. 63 (6): 384–399.

Tuckman’s stages of group development (Wikipedia)

Participation at Babalon Rising Pan-Thelemic Festival (barter application, expectations, etc)

[Laurelei Black is a co-Director of the Babalon Rising Pan-Thelemic Festival, co-Founder and co-Director of Midian Festivals and Events, proprietress of Blade & Broom (on Etsy and YouTube), and publisher at Asteria Books. She is an author, speaker, Witch, and badass.]

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