Originally posted on Medium, February 2, 2017.
In one of my previous blog posts, I said that professional development is important for all career paths. I still believe that is true. I recently attended a couple of professional development programs offered by the New England Museum Association and American Alliance of Museums. The New England Museum Association (NEMA) offers monthly online discussion series called Lunch with NEMA. NEMA’s program this month was called “Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation Will Increase Visitors and Save Marketing Time and Expense”, and the presenters were Jonathan Lhowe and Terra Marcarelli from the Visit New England website. Lhowe and Marcarelli discuss how to attract today’s visitors and maintain museums’ online presence. Meanwhile, the American Alliance of Museums feature various online programs, including the EdComVersation discussions. The EdComVersation I attended this time was called “Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs” which featured several presenters giving case studies of how volunteer programs are run at different museums or organizations; each case study provide advice on how we can run our volunteer programs and make sure we utilize volunteers’ time to everyone’s advantage. It is important that volunteers feel like their time is well spent at the organizations and the museums or organizations need to see how volunteers’ work are assisting with their overall goals. By attending these programs, I not only learned more about the museum field but I also could see how the advice these programs gave can be applied to the museum education field.
The New England Museum Association’s “Managing Your Online Reputation” program began with statistics related to online presence of businesses in general then moved on to detailed advice for maintaining an accurate online presence to gain as well as maintain attention. Lhowe and Marcarelli explained that in the past reviews of museums and other businesses depended on in person visits and word of mouth. Today many people rely on online reviews from reliable sources including Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, and expedia; in fact, two-thirds of people are more likely to buy from a store if they find positive comments about it online, and half are less likely to buy if there are negative comments. They also stated that it is important to be a part of the people’s conversations since the consumers control conversations about your institution and therefore your institution can participate in the conversation to easily moderate it. Another take away from this program was social media is not just about followers and likes but social media can also be used to generate leads and conduct customer service to gain return on investment. Managing online reputation can contribute to museum’s educational purposes.
By participating in consumer’s conversations, the museums will be able to get accurate reactions to the summer camp programs, after school programs, adult programs, and other public programs; then the staff can understand how to improve their programs or how to run the programs. Connecticut Landmarks, for instance, has released a survey on Facebook that will provide data that will help them understand how they are doing, compare them to other museums, and help them understand how they can create better experiences for the viewer and their community. With the data they collect, Connecticut Landmarks will be able to better serve the community with re-evaluated educational programs. It is especially important if a museum created a new educational program like a lecture, family or summer program; the museum would want to see how participants reacted to the program to see what they liked about it and what can be improved upon for the future. The second program I attended went into detail about how evaluating volunteers and the programs can benefit the museum overall, and by attending I not only gained new skills but was reinforced by my unique advantage of both running a volunteer program and being a volunteer myself.
The American Alliance of Museums’ “Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs” discuss the importance of evaluating volunteers and the programs as well as providing specific case studies on how evaluations can affect volunteers and volunteer programs. The following are reasons why museums should evaluate the volunteers and the volunteer programs: evaluation can help give volunteers information they need to do better work and can help museums nab problems early (problems with program or problem volunteers); convey appreciation and reinforce value of volunteers; motivate volunteers to do both their personal best and give positive impact on the museums; and it allows museum to improve volunteer program. When evaluating volunteers and the volunteer program, museums need to keep these questions in mind: Are we attracting enough volunteers with the right skills? Is our volunteer program effective? Are volunteers having the best possible experience with us? The presenters also gave specific pointers about how to evaluate the volunteer programs and the volunteers themselves. To effectively evaluate volunteer programs, it is important to have constant and consistent formal as well as informal evaluations; also, it is important to build the evaluation into the handbook, expectations, and orientation, explain your motivations and methods then report back to the volunteers, and be prepared to actively use the results and feedback. To effectively evaluate volunteers, there are a few ways to proceed including self-evaluations (asking them about their own actions as volunteers can give museums a visual of what is exactly being accomplished), individual evaluation sessions with supervisor, informal feedback, and if they are leaving the museum provide an exit interview to see what the museum can improve on the program. Then the program went into specific case studies with details on how their programs are run and what methods were used that either worked or needed improvements; a couple of them include a teen volunteer program at the Winterthur Museum, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, and the Chicago History Museum. Volunteers can serve many different departments in a museum, and the education department is no exception.
Volunteers can serve different purposes for the education department in a museum including assisting with school programs and summer camps, and working on administrative duties in the office. In my experience as a museum educator, I have had the opportunity to work with volunteers as well as being a volunteer for museums because I hope to develop my skills as a museum professional and continue my career in the field. At the start of my career, I volunteered at my childhood hometown’s museum during college and later I began an internship at Connecticut’s Old State House as a graduate student; then I got a job as a museum teacher at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut. I then later worked for Connecticut Landmarks’ historic house museums in Hartford, Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House, as a museum interpreter (I gave tours for school groups and the public) and Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society as a museum educator; while I worked at these two historic house museums, I also volunteered to co-create and run a craft fair fundraiser for the Killingly Historical Society in Killingly, Connecticut. I created this fundraiser with my friend and grad school colleague to raise funds for operating the historical society; I ran the historical society’s twitter page to point out fun facts about the history of the town and advertise for the craft fair, talked to some interested crafters who wanted to sell their items at our craft fair and collect reservation fees, went with my friend to see the space where it will take place and organize the tables layout, and helped set up and clean up the fair. When I went on to the Long Island Museum, I oversaw scheduling volunteers to assist with larger school programs based on their availability and discussed with them what the students got from the lessons. Then when I went on to the Long Island Maritime Museum, I volunteered for a school tour, collected admission for a Boat Burning event, Past Perfect data entry and preserving books by scanning pages, and working at the visitor services desk. From my perspective, I can understand what volunteers need to complete their goals as well as making sure their work accomplishes work museums’ need to accomplish their mission.
Have you attended programs like these two programs? Did you attend these programs, and what did you think of these programs? What are your organizations doing to preserve your online reputations? What are your volunteer programs like? Do you feel that volunteers are accomplishing their goals and the goals of your organizations?