Those of you who know me, know that I do a lot of volunteering. I generally enjoy it and much of my volunteering has also paid me in other ways - experience, friendships, skill development, artistic satisfaction, etc... Because of the work I have done volunteering or free of charge (like this blog when I use it in support of Edmonton Theatre) has started to bring requests from people for more.
Some of these requests are very flattering and even exciting. Being asked to work on a show by someone you respect and on a project that you feel challenged and inspired by is very cool. Being asked to be a part of a Board or Committee that contributes to an enriched experience for artists and their audiences can be amazing. I do not want those requests to stop. I always hope when I ask people to work on my shows that they know that I am asking because I respect their talent AND that I think the artistic pay-off for them will make it worth their while. I understand when people say 'no' because it's unpaid and there are people that I only ask when I know that there can be some sort of financial compensation because it is their livelihood. I know that people are doing me a favour working on my project, and I work hard to make sure that it is a positive and fulfilling experience for them. I believe in quid pro quo. There are times when I am asked and I know that it is more to help someone out - a friend, someone who has talent but not a lot of experience, someone who needs a leg up - it may not be an activity that is particularly gratifying for me in action, but the gratification comes from helping someone to develop and grow. They are also usually someone that I feel has a level of respect for me and that I know well enough to know that they have talent that I want to invest my time in. Usually when this happens, there is also a level of 'thank you' that makes it even more worthwhile.
But over the last couple of years something weird started happening. I started to get requests from people that I barely knew, or people that I didn't even know at all, to help them. I have been asked to promote a company I know nothing about, to meet to 'pick my brain about how to produce a show', to act as a casting agent for an unpaid workshop of a new play that I haven't read for a playwright I have never met - all without any offer of compensation - not even a free coffee. I wonder at the chutzpah of these people. Some of them have been referred to me by a mutual friend. I wonder at my 'friends' who blithely give my name and contact information out. I know when I refer someone I tend to contact my friend first and ask if it is okay if I connect them to another person. But people need to know that just because someone volunteers this does not mean that their time and skills are free for anyone to use. That is a bit insulting.
I guess the bottom-line is that, while I like to volunteer, I also like to choose my projects. I not only want to work on something challenging and exciting, but I also want to work with people who respect me and are generally fun to work with. Just because I might work for free on one thing does not mean that my time is up for grabs. I continue to be involved in Board Work for various organizations and I love this. I will work the occasional casino because I know how far that funding goes. I have a project that I am working on in the fall that I am very excited by and it is volunteer but I anticipate that I will be paid artistically. I want the opportunities to keep coming in, but I do want them to be relevant and meaningful. What I do not want is to feel used and taken for granted. I don't think any volunteer does.