The Australian Podcast Awards on the importance of volunteering

There are many ways to give to the arts and create meaningful partnerships between the arts and private sectors. Volunteering is one of the most rewarding.

The Australian Podcast Awards on the importance of volunteering

In 2016 Dave Gertler had an idea to create an Australian podcast festival to recognise the work of local podcasters. Dave got in touch with State Manager Marie-Louise Carroll to find out how Creative Partnerships could assist him in developing a business plan, who suggested that with a small budget for the festival, Dave should take on a business development volunteer.

Through our coaching and mentoring service, Marie-Louise matched Dave with Mark Thomas, a professional business mentor who volunteers his time to creative start-ups with big ideas.

The first year of the Australian Podcast Awards was a success and Dave and Mark have continued a strong, mutually-beneficial relationship, working together on the development of the 2018 awards.

We interviewed Mark and Dave to find out how they work together, what makes the partnership work and why volunteers are so important to art organisations.

Mark Thomas, professional business mentor and volunteer

What was the main driver in you volunteering your time to an arts organisation?

I believe that if you are able to do so, everyone should support the community because we all benefit. I am passionate about the arts and mentoring and guiding arts companies is the best way that I can support that community.

What did you learn from working with a start-up festival?

Besides learning about podcasting, I learnt that arts companies achieve amazing things with few resources. The for-profit community could learn many things, and improve their efficiency, from spending some time in the NFP sector.

Was it important to volunteer while the awards were just starting out? If so, did this allow you to influence any changes or important decisions?

Yes, it was important to get involved at that stage, otherwise, Dave might have waited another two years before he hosted the awards. All he needed was a nudge, but that nudge was important.

Did I influence decisions? Dave always had a clear vision on the awards. We therefore agreed from the outset that the Australian Podcasting Awards was Dave’s project, which was a very important agreement as it turned out.

During that first year, there were many people who gave Dave suggestions on how he should run the awards. Whilst all suggestions were gratefully received, many suggestions conflicted with Dave’s vision for the awards.

It was at these times when I reminded Dave of our agreement; it is Dave’s project. Through these reminders, Dave was able to incorporate those suggestions that enhanced his vision for the awards and pass on those that did not enhance his vision of the awards.

Why is it important to support small-to-medium arts organisations through volunteering?

They lack the resources, in every sense of the word. Founders tend to be creative types, so they need people with business and marketing expertise to help them bring their creativity to reality.  Unfortunately, though, they either don’t know these people or if they do, they can’t afford to pay them.

The only way for a small – mid arts company to present their work successfully is for people with organisational expertise to volunteer.

And for those who do volunteer, it is a wonderfully rewarding experience to see something that you worked on becoming a reality.

How will the Podcasting Awards benefit in the long-term from your time spent volunteering with them?

When I met Dave, he had an idea that he wanted to host the Australian Podcasting Awards. I was impressed by his passion for podcasting and his desire to set, and raise, the benchmark for quality podcasting in Australia.

My benefit to the arts was nudging Dave Gertler to take his idea and turn it into reality, through which Dave created a strong community amongst podcasters. My role was to give him the ‘nudge’ to take his idea and turn it into reality.

That event was such a success that the second Australian Podcasting Awards shall be held in Melbourne this year, and I am delighted to say that Dave has asked me to help him again.

Any advice to someone thinking about giving their time and talent to help an arts organisation?

Do it. It is very rewarding.

In the for-profit sector, we tend to get focused on our own world and get lost in its importance, and after a while everything starts to appear the same. However, I have found that volunteering in the arts has been a refreshing experience.

Whilst many of the challenges in the arts are similar to those we face in the for-profit sector, the people you meet in the arts and the passion they bring to their work introduces a whole palette of colour into your work, opening your mind to new ideas and innovative ways of achieving objectives.

I find that every new project in the arts sector is an opportunity to meet people who have achieved incredible things with very little. From these experiences, I learn new ways, and develop new skills, to manage problems that I take and use in my day-job.

Dave Gertler and Mark Thomas

Dave Gertler, founder and organiser of the Australian Podcast Awards 

When did you realise that you needed support and what steps did you take to find a suitable candidate?

I’d been working on the idea for a couple of months, at which point I realised that what I was doing was bigger than just one person, and that I would benefit from external support or advice.

I turned to Creative Partnerships Australia for some guidance, which brought me in touch with Mark.

How will the awards benefit in the long-term from Mark’s involvement?

Most importantly, Mark’s guidance helped me make the awards happen in the first place! A big part of that was helping me realise that it didn’t have to be perfect the first time around.

In bringing my project to fruition, Mark’s advice helped me identify my project’s lifecycle, and the opportunities to make it improve through time.

What did you learn from his ideas and experiences that you were able to apply to the awards?

As a creative person, my strength has always been in ideas, rather than executing them. Mark helped me to untangle my thought processes and break the project down into practical and achievable tasks.

He’s helped me continually focus on always finding the most efficient way of achieving objectives.

What did Mark teach you that you wouldn’t have known otherwise?

Mark taught me the importance of identifying and sticking to my vision for the awards. At every difficult juncture or when a big decision needed to be made, I was able to go back to these important principles.

This has ultimately made my project better, not only for me but for the hundreds of people who participate.

Why are volunteers so important for small-to-medium arts organisations?

Volunteers bring objective advice into your project, and you will receive that advice from people who bring different perspectives from different industries to yours.

Apart from being a mentor, Mark was also a sounding board, and a much-needed cheer squad at times.

What would you say to someone interested in donating their time to an arts organisation?

If it’s something that you want to do, then chances are you’re the right type of person to be doing it!

In 2018 Australian Podcast Awards will take place on May 5, in Melbourne. Entries for the awards open on February 1.

Find out more about our Coaching and Mentoring service, a free, tailored service for arts organisations around Australia.

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