I have often welcomed volunteers to Houston Cinema Arts Society with this statement, “It all starts with a pencil.” It’s my way of letting them know that all volunteer tasks from the small and easy to the more challenging are equally important. Like a connect-the-dots image, each task is related to the big picture.
For several years in a row one of our stalwart sponsors has contributed 1,000 pencils annually. Pencils are needed for attendees to fill out demographic and opinion surveys. Our sponsor’s pencils were much appreciated; however, they weren’t sharpened. Have you ever sharpened 1,000 pencils? Well, I’ll tell you it takes quite a long time, even with an electric sharpener.
Time is something our staff of four doesn’t have a lot of, especially as we approach the Opening Night of the Festival. Sure, we could purchase those small yellow golf pencils that are already sharpened, but every penny counts and we are grateful for both the contribution and the understanding of how important it is that we have pencils.
You may be thinking “Why are the surveys so important?” The simple answer is that surveys provide the demographic and quality measurement data that we need for local, state, and national government and foundation grant applications. This year alone, grant awards accounted for $95,000 in funding. That is approximately 16% of our annual budget! Without the pencils, Festival attendees can’t fill out the surveys. Without the surveys we can’t provide the data required for the grant applications. Without the grant awards we would lose up to 16% of our annual financial support. It all starts with the pencil!
How do we solve the pencil sharpening challenge? Volunteers come to the rescue of course. We do what we can to make the task as pleasant as possible by providing a space in our office, all of the electric sharpeners from staff desks, a monitor and headphones to watch screeners (yes, the ones screened in the Festival), and popcorn (donated of course). Once volunteers understand the importance of the pencils, they are eager to serve on the ‘pencil sharpening team.’ We have even had a few volunteers come back for multiple sessions and request that no one else finish the job.
Whether it is sharpening pencils, running errands, taking tickets, counting heads, distributing marketing collateral, or serving on the ‘standing by team,’ in case we need something we didn’t even know we needed, all volunteer hours are essential to the smooth operations of our various programs. On average, 100 volunteers provide Houston Cinema Arts Society over 1,000 hours of service. I was a volunteer in 2009 before joining as Executive Director in 2010. Operations Manager, Angelina von Graff, was a volunteer too. She contributed over 200 hours in 2012 and then joined the staff in 2013.
We have volunteer opportunities all year long. It takes months to prepare for the Festival and in the meantime, we have ongoing year-round programs like our new Artist’s Choice Film Series, Julydoscope, and HCAS on the Road Education Outreach.
Volunteering is fun and rewarding. You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you have helped us bring excellent and unique arts programming to the city and you can also earn festival tickets and passes. To learn more about the details of volunteering click here: http://houstoncinemaartsfestival.org/support/volunteer
I invite you all to join the fun. Please sign up to volunteer today.