Some insight into the inner machinations of BMOrg

Over at the “official” Burning Man blog, Caveat Magister has a post about the open bar leaving party for Andie Grace aka “Action Girl”, who has been the face and voice of Burning Man for 13 years. The Master provides his own caveat: “His opinions are not statements of the Burning Man organization”

The post gives us some insight into life inside the BMOrg HQ. I was particularly struck by this observation:

This story also might be enlightening for those who think Burning Man’s organization works like a well oiled machine, and who think that the Org is always plotting five steps ahead.  It’s not.  From the very first experience I had volunteering for Burning Man, it’s been clear that rather than leading from the front the Org spends much of its time desperately trying to keep up with all the things the rest of us do.

Andie Grace and Larry Harvey at BMOrg’s Market St HQ. photo by Scribe

Do tell, Magister! He filled out their volunteer survey with amusing answers.

That’ll do it, I remember thinking.  That’ll either amuse the hell out of them, or get me blacklisted.  There wasn’t one useful piece of information in the survey – except insofar as it demonstrated that I was the kind of person who would answer a volunteer survey this way.  Sometimes it’s good to go for broke.

I sent it off.  I didn’t hear back that day.

Or the next day.  Or the next one.

Or that week.

Or that month.

Or that fiscal quarter.

Or that year.

By that point, I’d long given up hope.  Sometimes these things just don’t work out.  And hey, I figured if Burning Man was the kind of organization that would be turned off by a survey like that, we probably weren’t meant to work together.

… Stupid Burning Man …

After almost exactly 18 months, I got an email.  From Andie.  “Well hello!” it said …

I was just perusing the Volunteer database over here looking to fill a role on the media team, and came across your questionnaire — and my first thought was, “Wow, how’d I miss THIS one the first time he came through? We must capture him at once!”

Andie suggested that this incident showed just how desperately the team really, really, really needed someone to fill that Volunteer Coordinator role she’d been hoping to get looked at a year-and-a-half-ago.  Would I like to do that?  Would I?

Thus began my five-plus years volunteering for the media team.

Now I see what they mean when they say “we prefer slow growth”! 120,000 people want to go to their party, not even half of them can get tickets, people would do anything just to get a ticket, let alone be a part of the HQ… and yet it takes 18 months to fill one volunteer position?

It’s so easy for a big organization to lose track of the fact that each volunteer has a unique experience that can’t be reduced to a checkmark or a number.  The best way to deal with people is always by being a person.  Andie’s greatest skill (among many) may be the way she brings out the humanity in others.

It’s worth noting that on the media team 5 years ain’t nuthin’ for a volunteer to put in and come back smiling.  I’m still a relatively junior volunteer:  a lot of exceptional people have been coming back for decades.   Andie’s been a big part of the that.

So don’t let BMOrg fool you that the party’s not immensely profitable. Most of the workers, inside the HQ, are doing it for fun, not pay. What other party in the world, can charge $400 for a ticket, and not pay its admin staff or artists?

The key is fun, it seems:

 it turned out that Andie hadn’t put me in a leadership role on the team in spite of my being a freak, but because of it.  She, too, felt that competence wasn’t enough.  She never needed to tell me to have fun with this job – she brought me in exactly because she knew I’d go the extra mile to make sure that happened.  That fun is contagious, and the result has been a new batch of volunteers who enjoy the hell out of the work we do.

Sounds like the volunteers are losing a much-loved boss. We wish Action Girl well on wherever her career takes her now, and hope that volunteering is just as much fun for everybody in the new non-profit structure.

3 comments on “Some insight into the inner machinations of BMOrg

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