Molly Jackson: Treat Comic Con Volunteers Right!

It’s a New Year, a new me, and another 361 days of geekdom to look forward to! I started off this New Year by cruising the Internet and catching up on some geek updates and what caught my eye was the convention news. Usually, December/January is slow for cons, so I was shocked to find multiple stories that really caught my attention.

Some were positive, like diversity and inclusive Universal Fan Con getting fully funded. It looks awesome and needed and you should check it out. I’m a backer and I’ll see you there in April 2018. Others were sad, like the complete collapse of con company Geek Expos after they unsold their Marvelous New Year’s Eve Con with Stan Lee. It was a cool concept, but ultimately poorly promoted in a city that just couldn’t support it. And then I saw this next piece of news, which just pissed me off.

Phoenix Comic Con announced a new way for fans to apply for the volunteer army that works their convention each year. They want them to pay a yearly fee of $20 for the chance to apply. Amongst other things, I am not really sure that they understand the meaning of the word “volunteer.” It’s not a refundable fee either. This is going straight into the con’s pockets. PCC stated that they are doing this to ensure that volunteers do not just take the badge and not complete their volunteer shifts.

Here are the flaws with that plan. People bailing on their volunteer hours is still going to happen, even with paying. A $20 weekend pass isn’t as good as a free one, but it’s still cheaper than the full $55 price. But wait, they say. They will ban volunteers who do exactly that! But what was stopping you from doing that before??? If you want more reliable staff at your con, then hire people like ReedPop does. Or overbook your volunteer staffers so you have plenty of people. See who shows up for volunteer training and who doesn’t and keep records. Use the new popular tap system so many conventions are using so that you can deactivate badges from wayward volunteers, or only give them a badge for the day they are working. Do anything but forcing them to pay for the ability to apply to volunteer with no guarantee of getting the spot.

A good chunk of volunteers are people who don’t have the disposable income for tickets or for fees. I know this first-hand, as at one point I was one of them. I volunteered and I had a great time, meeting people and hanging out. So much so that I kept volunteering at that con, just for the experience. Volunteering is great and I highly recommend that everyone try volunteering at least once for the experience.

The thing that keeps making the story worse is that the convention is now getting into public fights. The con director and a former volunteer/vendor have been duking it out in comments. It’s a petty he said/she said fight. It became such a big comment war that Bleeding Cool even published an article about what happened in their comment section. What happened to the unwritten rule to not read the comments?

Volunteers are usually a convention’s biggest and most dedicated fans. Treating your fans with respect shouldn’t be a stretch for a business. It’s true, some people wrongly try to game the system. Those people should be banned, with no question. But don’t use the few bad apples as an excuse to abuse the rest. Cherish your fans or they will eventually abandon you.