How (and Why) to Volunteer in the Art World

By Aletta de Wal in Art Business Advice > A-Z Art Marketing Guide

Welcome back to “The ABC’s of Art Marketing”—an alphabet guide to marketing your art, from A to Z.

In today’s article, I’ll be focusing on the letter “V” for Volunteer.

When I moved from a city of over 3 million to a town of 22,000, I knew one person. I told him that I especially wanted to meet artists. Then, on a return flight from a business trip, he talked to an artist who mentioned an exhibit at a nearby local arts organization.

This casual comment opened the door; I walked through.

I visited that arts organization and offered my services for anything they needed done and were having trouble fulfilling. They were ecstatic. I was too. I started with sitting reception, receiving art for exhibits, assisting with jurying and helping with the annual fundraising event.

While I volunteered, I felt good about contributing to my new community and I was meeting lots of artists. I had no idea where this might lead. There is rarely a direct correlation between a single marketing action and a single outcome. So I just enjoyed meeting people and getting to know each other.

These artists suggested a nearby larger arts organization. Again, I started with entering submission applications on the computer, filing the paperwork, and helping promote the open studios.

A year later, I was at a gala fundraiser for yet another arts organization in the state. Artists were coming over to meet me because they had heard about me, seen something I’d written, or attended one of my art marketing classes. I had gone from knowing one person to having 800 artists on my mailing list in less than a year.

Volunteering is a personal choice

Why you volunteer is your personal choice. You are not obligated to divulge that reason, but there are times when doing so helps the cause.

I moved home, office and studio last year so once again, I’m in the early stages of locating personal services, contractors and artists to hang out with. Letting people know that I am new elicits the helping gene in everyone I meet.

Think about your motivation. Would it help to share it with others?

Volunteer where you fit best

Your level of satisfaction as a volunteer depends on matching your interests, talents and skills with a cause that needs them. As this article explains, volunteering may be best understood as an exchange of skills in the form of an unpaid job.

And, whether you’re applying for a traditional paid job, or one that’s unpaid, your first task is to make sure you’re a good match:

• What is the job description and what outcomes are expected?
• How does this role interact with other volunteer jobs?
• What are the time commitments?
• What resources are available to perform this role?
• What do other volunteers say about this role or organization?

Think of volunteering as a marketing opportunity

Volunteering is a marketing opportunity that provides you with a non-retail place to talk about what you do when people inevitably ask. Be ready for conversations you’ll have with other volunteers, donors, and volunteer leaders. If you are not used to public speaking, practice a series of different short introductions before you venture out.

Always have postcards, business cards, selected images, and if possible, a small piece or sample of your work on hand. In short, be ready to market yourself.

HOWEVER – don’t torpedo your relationships with other volunteers (or with the organization you’re working with) by being too strategic and promotional. Know when to simply be a volunteer.

Five questions to ask about volunteering

Before you leap into doing good for others, take a few minutes to think through each volunteer commitment.

Here are five questions you can ask that may help you better understand your motivation and make sure that you can keep any commitment that you make:

• Who or what brought this volunteering opportunity to me?
• What would be the best outcome of volunteering here?
• What would be the worst outcome of volunteering here?
• What skills and knowledge do I have to offer any volunteer opportunity?
• How will I incorporate this volunteer opportunity into my life and schedule?

No matter why you want to volunteer, asking a few of these will help you make good choices, and make it easier to see what is truly best for both you AND the organizations who need your help.

Follow the links below to read more articles in “The ABC’s of Art Marketing”—an alphabet guide to marketing your art, from A to Z:

A – Appreciating your Audience

B – Building your Business Base

C – Communicating Clearly, Consistently and Cleverly

D – Diversifying Your Delivery

E – Educate, Entertain, Engage, Enrich, and Evolve

F – Fostering Friendly Familiarity

G – Give to Gain

H – Hiring Help

I – The 5 “I’s” of Art Marketing

J – Joining Juried Shows

K – Creating Good Karma

L – Listening and Learning

M – Mastering your Marketing Messages

N – Negotiating 101

O – Turning Obstacles into Opportunities

P – Procrastination & Perfection

Q – Quality & Quantity: Creating Art that Sells

R – 8 Rules to Improve Your Artist/Collector Relationships

S – S is for Sales

T – 30 Ways to Say “Thank You”

U – Switching from “I” to “Us”

V – Volunteering in the Art World (current article)

W – Write, Write, Write!

Y – Just Say Yes

Z – Zen, Zoom, ZigZag & Zowie


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