A Guide to Volunteering at SDCC [UPDATE for SDCC 2024]

So, you want to be a volunteer at San Diego Comic-Con? First of all, thank you! It’s often been said that volunteers are the backbone of Comic-Con. It takes a lot of time and effort to put on a convention, especially one as large as SDCC. Without volunteers, we wouldn’t know where the end of a line was, whether a line was capped, or which door to use. And let’s be honest: Book, Bag, and Lanyard pick-up would turn into Lord of the Flies.

You have to have the right stuff to volunteer at Comic-Con, but what is that stuff? Strength? Tenacity? The ability to sleep on concrete overnight? An almost fanatical devotion to the Pope (not to mention those nice red uniforms)? Not quite, but if you want to get the most out of your volunteer experience, here are some tips and tricks to help.

Registration

Volunteer Registration is a lot like attendee registration – Those who volunteered the prior year and were invited back (more on that later) get first dibs at volunteering. If you’ve never volunteered before, however, there are some steps you need to take before you can work the con.

Interest List

First, you need to let CCI know that you want to volunteer. Each year, the Volunteer Interest List is opened to give those who haven’t volunteered in the past the chance to express interest. This does not automatically get you a volunteer spot; it’s just telling CCI you’re interested in volunteering. The list usually fills up pretty fast, so the sooner you fill it out, the better. For San Diego Comic-Con 2024, the Interest List will open at 10:00am PT on Wednesday, October 11, 2023 and close at 11:59pm PT on Wednesday, October 25, 2023.

Returning Volunteers

Just because you volunteered one year does not mean you’ll be allowed to volunteer every other year. There are senior volunteers or, in some cases, CCI Staff, overseeing each volunteer station and grading volunteers on their work. If a volunteer doesn’t do well, they don’t get invited back. On the flip side, if a volunteer does a particularly good job, they’re invited to participate in a more detailed capacity. 

Returning Volunteer Registration is fairly simple. Volunteers will receive an email from CCI letting them know when Returning Volunteer Registration opens. 

Side note: It’s always good to check your email preferences to make sure you’re receiving emails from CCI, and they aren’t going into a Junk/Spam folder!

Once Returning Volunteer Registration opens, it’s a lot like purchasing an SDCC attendee badge. In the Member ID portal, you’ll find a “Daily Volunteers” option which drops down to “Comic-Con 20XX Daily Volunteer Registration.” Follow the link to fill out and submit a volunteer form. 

CCI generally keep Returning Volunteer Registration open for several weeks, and there are more spots than volunteers, so there’s no rush to fill out the form as soon as it opens. That being said, when it comes to SDCC, sooner is always better than later.

Keep in mind you’re not choosing when or where you’re volunteering yet; that will happen during SDCC.

Another Side Note: If you’re a San Diego local or getting into down early, you have the option to volunteer earlier in the week to help set up. This gives volunteers first-hand experience with what it takes to put on SDCC.

First-Time Volunteers

The process for first-time volunteers is practically the same as returning volunteers with one notable difference: It’s a lot more competitive. When CCI opens volunteer registration to the Interest List, they’re filling whatever spots are left from returning volunteers. Usually, this means the opposite of Returning Volunteer Registration – Now, there are more interested volunteers than open spots.

As with Returning Volunteer Registration, CCI will send an email to those on the Interest List letting them know when Volunteer Registration opens (Again, it’s good to check those email settings!).

Just like Returning Volunteer Registration, Daily Volunteer Registration (those from the Interest List) is a lot like purchasing an SDCC attendee badge. In the Member ID portal, you’ll find a “Daily Volunteers” option which drops down to “Comic-Con 20XX Daily Volunteer Registration.” Follow the link to fill out and submit a volunteer form. 

Unlike Returning Volunteer Registration, volunteer spots fill up fast, so the quicker you fill out the form, the better. In past years, registration has filled up in less than a minute. Others, it may take a few days. Regardless, Interest List Volunteers don’t have the luxury of time that Returning Volunteers enjoyed.

Round 1 (Returning Volunteer Registration) is underway but closing soon on October 11, 2023 for anyone who completed at least one volunteer assignment during SDCC 2023. CCI will open Round 2 for anyone who signed up for the Volunteer Interest List, which will turn into a pumpkin… er, close at 11:59pm PT on October 25, 2023. If you’re able to add your name to the interest list before October 25, this will be your opportunity to fill out the form to volunteer for SDCC 2024.

Just like Returning Volunteer Registration, this does not give you a volunteer assignment. That will happen during SDCC after you check in at the Volunteer Desk. Also like Returning Volunteer Registration, you’ll have the option to volunteer earlier in the week to help set up.

Pre-Convention Volunteering

If you checked the box to let CCI know that you’re interested in volunteering before the convention begins, we truly salute you. You’re willing to peek behind the curtain and get your hands dirty turning the San Diego Convention Center into Nerdvana. Plus, you get to be the first among your friends to take the obligatory “Hall H Sign” selfie. Aside from all this, there are some notable differences from volunteering during the con.

CCI has made significant changes to their Pre-Convention Volunteering policies. In the past, a Pre-Convention Volunteer was given a complimentary badge good for any day they chose. Now, however, Pre-Convention Volunteers must return to the check-in desk at least one day after their shift to make arrangements and receive their complimentary badge. Pro-Tip: If you know which day you’d like to receive, we recommend arriving after 4pm the day before. Want a Saturday badge? Arrive at the check-in desk on Friday after 4pm.

Also, Preview Night is no longer eligible for volunteers to use their complimentary badge. Although Preview Night is still considered a Pre-Convention assignment, volunteers whose shifts were on Preview Night previously were allowed to stay the rest of the night and use Preview Night as their complimentary badge. Now, however, Preview Night volunteers must also follow the same Pre-Convention Volunteering policy and go back to the check-in desk for their complimentary badge.

Volunteering

OK, you’re on the list, ready to volunteer, but now what? Now, you get to make the volunteer experience whatever you want it to be.

A week or two before SDCC, CCI will send you an email with your Volunteer Badge barcode as well as volunteer paperwork to be filled out, signed, and brought with you to check-in (Are you checking your email preferences?). If you forget or lose your paperwork, it’s not the end of the world; CCI will have extra copies on-site for you to fill out.

Check-In

Now, you need your assignment. This is also where you’ll be issued your Volunteer Badge. CCI is very generous in their volunteer policy in that volunteers can choose which day they want to volunteer, if at all. There are no consequences if you don’t check in for an assignment, other than not participating in Returning Volunteer Registration next year. You’ll still need to sign up for the Interest List and wait for Daily Volunteer Registration if you want to try again.

To get your assignment, you’ll check in at the Volunteer desks. For 202, the Daily Volunteer Check-in Desk was in the MARRIOTT MARINA BALLROOM E/F/G of the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina Hotel. Assignments are given out in three-hour increments and on a first-come, first-served basis, so the earlier you get there, the better the selection of assignments. Volunteer check-in will open around 7am PT each day, so make sure you get in line early (it’s Comic-Con; of course there’s a line). Once the check-in process is complete, you’ll have your badge and assignment. 

Your Volunteer Badge is good for the entire day you decide to volunteer, so you can enjoy the con when you’re not on duty.

The Job

When the time comes to report for your volunteer shift, you’ll return to Volunteer Registration to meet your volunteer group and senior volunteer/supervisor. Be on time. Remember, you’re being graded on your performance, and it’s noticed if you’re late. I usually rely on the advice my Chief gave me in the Navy: If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. Don’t be late.

You’ll get a quick rundown of what your duties will be and have the opportunity to ask any questions you have. Chances are, you’ll be some sort of crowd control – line handler, door monitor, Book, Bag, and Lanyard Distribution, etc. The panel rooms are usually the first assignments to go, so if that’s your heart’s desire, you want to be in that check-in line super early. Don’t be discouraged if you didn’t get the assignment you wanted! You get out what you put in, so make the most of it!

CCI provides storage space for your personal belongings, but with as with anything at SDCC, it’s use at your own risk. 

Photo by flickr user attackcat

You’ll also get a “Volunteer On Duty” sticker to let everyone know you’re on the job. Your shift will be about three hours long, and you’ll basically be doing whatever the person in charge tells you to do for that time. You won’t be asked to do anything you’re not comfortable with doing, and someone will be around to ask for help if you need it. Remember, the better you do, the more volunteer opportunities you’ll get. If your job is just to stand there with a sign that says, “Line continues to the left,” be the best dang person with a sign you can be.

When your shift is over, you’ll meet back up with your group, turn in anything they gave you that you’re not supposed to keep (i.e.: vests, signage, etc.), and wait for whomever is in charge to let you know you’re released. Once your shift is over, your badge is still valid for the rest of the day, except Preview Night. Have fun!

Next-Day Check-In

You can volunteer as many days as you want, so if you decide one day wasn’t enough, you can check in early for the next day. Beginning Thursday, July 25, you can line up to check in for the next day at 1:30pm PT or two hours after your volunteer shift, whichever is later, the day you volunteer. For example, if you volunteered on Friday and want to volunteer again on Saturday, you can check in at the Volunteer Desk any time after 1:30pm PT on Friday. The caveat: If your Friday shift ends within two hours or later of 1:30pm PT, you need to wait two hours to check in for a Saturday shift. For example, if your Friday shift ends at 4:00pm PT, you need to wait until 6:00pm PT to check in for a Saturday shift. If you didn’t volunteer on Friday, you’ll have to wait in line and check in first thing Saturday morning.

The Perks

Volunteering is a great opportunity not only to go to Comic-Con, but to be involved with the inner workings of the convention. There are a lot of reasons we love volunteering, including:

  1. The free badge: CCI is asking for about three hours of your time. In return, they give you an SDCC badge good for the whole day. The only cost is your time.
  2. The people: You’ll be working with people just like you who love SDCC and want to be a part of it. You’ll make some great connections.
  3. The swag: Not only do we get a free badge, we get a free enamel pin for our efforts. OK, they’re not technically free, since we worked for them, but it’s still a great deal.

SDCC could not go on each year without volunteers. So get ready to cap that line and hold that sign high, Volunteer! SDCC needs YOU in order to run smoothly.

By the way, what’s this line for? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

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