It’s easy to think about the special appearances, film premieres, concerts, and other cool things coming to Austin in March. But did you know an army of volunteers staff the events and lounges at SXSW? They work long hours, answering questions and scanning badges with smiles on their faces. It’s quite a commitment!
I volunteered at SXSW back in 2018 and it was a marvelous experience. And I would recommend doing it for more than just the free badge. From someone who lived it herself, here’s what it’s like to be a SXSW volunteer.
Bringing Together People From All Over the World
When Tami Richter started volunteering with SXSW in the early 2000s, she didn’t realize how big of an impact it would have on her life. Not only was it an amazing experience, but it became her career.
After growing into a crew manager role for one of the volunteer teams, Richter joined SXSW as a staff member for the music festival. The next year she moved over to the volunteer program, which she took to new heights.
Richter, now Director of Event Staffing and Resources, calls the position a wonderful opportunity to give back. Since her volunteer days, the program has grown from 800 volunteers to nearly 3,000 volunteers from all over the world.
SXSW volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds, something Richter loves learning about when she gets to speak with them individually. But no matter how different each volunteer is, they each have something in common: a charisma that gives a special personality to SXSW.
What Being a SXSW Volunteer Entails
There are two musts if you’re interested in volunteering for SXSW:
- Be at least 16 years of age
- Be able to work a minimum of 24 hours
The first stop as a potential volunteer is the Volunteer Fair held in January at Austin Conference Center. There you can learn more about the program and its requirements, and meet the managers for over 30 different crews that encompass all of the festivals, from EDU to Music.
The crews fall into one of three categories:
- All-Conference Exclusive
All-Conference allows you the opportunity to work with multiple crews, while All-Conference Exclusive and Music require you work with only one crew. For example, the year I volunteered with SXSW, I was able to help out with two different crews: Lounges and Special Events (which have since joined forces).
SXSW just launched a new online scheduler in 2020 that allows volunteers to go online to choose a crew. Once they’ve signed up for a crew, volunteers receive an email with instructions on how to sign up for shifts. There are a variety of shifts available to allow volunteers to work around their job schedule, from 7 a.m. shifts, to shifts that start later in the day and end at 2 a.m.
Note: Some volunteer crews have age restrictions, so make sure to check you are eligible for a crew before signing up!
Perks of Being a Volunteer
There are different hour requirements for each crew type to receive free SXSW badges:
- All-Conference and All-Conference Exclusive Crews:
- EDU Badge: 24+ hours
- Interactive, Film, & Music Badges: 48+ hours
- Platinum Badges: 64+ hours
- Music Crews:
- Music Badge: 24+ Hours
- Platinum: 32+ Hours
Volunteers are free to use their badges the moment they are available, even if they haven’t worked a shift yet.
But that’s not all! Volunteers get two t-shirts to wear (which always have super fun designs) and a free meal every six-hour shift. There’s usually a big list of food trucks or restaurants volunteers can eat at, and they’re always easy to get to.
If a volunteer is at a venue out of the way, SXSW makes sure to get food delivered for the volunteer staff. Long story short, SXSW treats its volunteers well!
SXSW also hosts a party to thank volunteers for their help after the festivities end. It’s a great time for crews to relax together and give one last hoorah before going back to their regular lives.
Tips From a Pro
Between determining which crew to volunteer with and when you can attend events, there’s a lot to prepare for! Richter shared some tips that make the process a lot easier:
- If you’re interested in attending one of the festivals, plan your shifts during one of the other festivals. For example, you might want to volunteer during Interactive instead of Music, if Music is the badge you want.
- On the other hand, if you’re interested in learning about how the industry works, you might want to plan to work all your shifts during your festival of choice.
- Badges have primary and secondary access, so you don’t have to attend all Film events or all Music events.
- Shifts fill up fast! The longer you wait, the less flexibility there is to get the shifts you want. So sign up as soon as possible.
As a past volunteer, I also recommend making sure to wear walking shoes or tennis shoes for your shifts.
The online scheduler will be open until Feb. 23, 2020. If you miss the date, then you can still sign up until SXSW starts. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up with a crew and get onto the schedule.
Sign up to volunteer today at volunteer.sxsw.com.
@theAustinot wants to know:
Have you volunteered with SXSW before?