A Closer Look into Museum Volunteers and Volunteer Programs

Added to Medium, January 25, 2018

Museum workers are valuable to museums, especially those who volunteer their time to help the museums run. During my experience as a museum educator, I have worked with volunteers as well as participated in professional development programs about volunteers and volunteer programs.

As I am in the middle of helping rewrite the Three Village Historical Society’s docent manual, I thought about my previous experiences and professional development I participated in. In one of my previous blog posts, “Professional Development Programs: Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation and Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs”, I wrote about my previous experiences working with volunteers and working as a volunteer in my early career. A couple of my most recent experiences working with volunteers were previously managing volunteers for school programs at the Long Island Museum, and writing down records of sailing tour hours at the Long Island Maritime Museum.

At 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 at 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. Based on 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.

To make sure we understand what we should expect from our volunteer programs, it is important to learn from colleagues through professional development programs and written information such as books and articles.

One of the professional development programs I attended was the American Alliance of Museums’ EdComVersation. The EdComVersation I attended was called “Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs” with 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. Museums should evaluate the volunteers and the volunteer programs since evaluations can help give volunteers information they need to do better work and can help museums nab problems early (problems with program or problem volunteers). Also, by evaluating volunteers and volunteer programs it conveys appreciation and reinforce value of volunteers; motivates volunteers to do both their personal best and give positive impact on the museums; and it allows museum to improve volunteer program.

Another resource that is good to learn about managing volunteer programs and working with volunteers is a book Recruiting and Managing Volunteers in Museums: A Handbook for Volunteer Management by Kristy Van Hoven and Loni Wellman. In their book, Van Hoven and Wellman discussed what museum volunteers are and the importance of museum volunteers especially today. Van Hoven and Wellman gave solid advice on volunteer recruitment, communication, and retention strategies. They answered various questions about volunteers including: What are new volunteers looking for? How can you develop a successful relationship with potential volunteers? How can your museum support a robust and active volunteer program? How do you reward volunteers and keep them for the long term? How can you meet volunteers’ needs and still benefit from their work?

Their book also provided sample documents for managing volunteer programs. It has a sample of a volunteer job description and a volunteer application. There are also samples of volunteer interview questionnaire, volunteer evaluation forms, recognition letters, and certificate of recognition. I have also found another resource that is helpful with museum volunteer programs.

The resource I found is a technical bulletin called Building a successful museum volunteer services program written by Robbin Davis who is a Volunteer and Marketing Manager at the Oklahoma Museum of History. According to Davis, the questions that volunteers think about when considering volunteering at a museum are: how do they fit into the picture, how can they be useful and how much time will it take? Can they give tours? Can they work with artifacts? Can they interact with the public? Are there social activities? Does it cost?

Davis also went into specific details about how to build volunteer programs. For instance, Robbin discussed incorporating the mission statement in the volunteer program. In the bulletin, it stated that

A mission specific to the Volunteer program should frame the program within the context of the overall museum mission. Make sure it is attainable and a staff decision. If the volunteer program is already established, let the volunteers help create the mission or “freshen” up an existing one.

By incorporating the museum’s mission, potential volunteers will be able to see how they would be able to contribute to the museum and what the museum stands for.

The technical bulletin also discussed the importance of having a volunteer reference manual, marketing materials to promote the volunteer program, and forms for volunteers to fill out. Also, it stated that there are important questions that need to be asked as a volunteer program is being developed such as

Who does your museum serve? What is the volunteer history of the museum? Have there been volunteers before? How were they utilized? What kind of program was it? Was it effective? Why? Why not?

When museum staff figure out the answers to the previously stated questions, they will be able to have an effective and successful volunteer program that will generate dedicated volunteers to help museums fulfill their missions.

Museum volunteers are significant in helping museums function. Volunteers have skills that can be useful in various aspects within the museums’ departments. By focusing on establishing a successful volunteer program, museums are able to not only provide opportunities for positive experiences for volunteers but they will be able to promote your organizations.

What is your relationship with your volunteers like? What ways does your organization recognize its volunteers?

Resources:
Van Hoven, Kristy and Loni Wellman, Recruiting and Managing Volunteers in Museums: A Handbook for Volunteer Management, Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
“Professional Development Programs: Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation and Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs”
Building a successful museum volunteer services program

Reactions to Blog: “9 Ways To Supercharge Your Museum Volunteers”

Also posted on Medium, June 29, 2017.

I decided this week to talk about another one of the blog posts I have been reading this week. I found this blog on Medium, 9 Ways To Supercharge Your Museum Volunteers, written by Ashleigh Hibbins for Museum Hack. As I prepare to help with revamping the docent manual for the Three Village Historical Society, I review resources I have to use as guides for this project. Part of developing the volunteer program is working on the docent manual. When I read this post, it reinforced what I already learned from the webinar I attended in January and the book I have read, Recruiting and Managing Volunteers in Museums by Kristy Van Hoven and Loni Wellman. Museum Hack’s post provides additional resources that are very helpful for the readers, and there were many statements they made that reaffirmed not only the knowledge I have gained but the importance of maintaining a great relationship with volunteers.

In the past and currently, I have volunteered for various organizations that have different ways of running their volunteer programs. I have also run a volunteer program in the past where I was responsible for volunteers teaching larger school programs. By learning how they could be run through professional development and reading books, I gain knowledge on how I should be treated as a volunteer and learn how I can improve my skills when I run a volunteer program. There is always something to learn when revisiting a subject including volunteer management, and this post is no exception.

I liked that they included how important volunteers are to museums at the very beginning of the article. They stated “Who are the most excited and engaged people in your museum?… Your volunteers!” And this is very true because as a volunteer and a leader in the volunteer program I see so many passionate people who have been volunteering for many years. It is important therefore to make sure that passion is kindled and used to help complete projects for their museums. Also, the post pointed out the importance of keeping volunteers happy.

It is true that volunteers are our museums’ biggest fans and advocates since they are dedicating their time to help museums to continue to adapt and develop. What I have not thought about before that they pointed out was according to a U.S. survey two-thirds of volunteers also donate money to their place of volunteering (they used Fidelity® Charitable Gift Fund Volunteerism and Charitable Giving in 2009 Executive Summary as a source). It makes sense because they work hard to keep the museums running and they are willing to do whatever is possible to keep them running including donations of time and sometimes money. The rest of the post gave the ways to supercharge volunteers, and then gave detailed explanations for each way.

Some of the ways they shared in the post include treat volunteer interviews like job interviews, don’t just smile and nod-volunteers have great ideas, volunteers are your secret recruiting weapon, and remind your volunteers how awesome they are. While these tips should seem obvious when considering volunteers, there are various points that need to be brought to our attention. For instance, when it was stated that readers should treat volunteer interviews like job interviews they pointed out that “don’t set someone up for failure by giving them a position they are unable to perform.” It is not only important to keep this in mind because no projects will be accomplished if volunteers cannot perform tasks but it will also affect their self-esteem and passion for the organization. Without that passion, we will not be able to retain the hard-working volunteers we need.

The post also pointed out how important it is to learn about volunteer programming from other museums in the community. In the post, it talked about being a nosy volunteer manager, or be continuously involved in making sure volunteers’ and museums’ needs are met, and then they stated “Also, be nosy with volunteer managers at other museums so you can pick up tips and tricks from them too.” I believe that it is important for volunteer managers should learn from other museums on how they run their volunteer programs not only because the programs can inspire their own way of running volunteer programs but museum professionals can come together to learn how to keep their museums relevant in the community through their volunteer programs.

What we should take away from this post is to be sure to keep our volunteers needs and happiness in mind when developing volunteer programs. I have also provided the link to the original post from Museum Hack for you all to read, and links to the resources they used in their post especially for anyone running volunteer programs.

Do you run volunteer programs? What do you think of Museum Hack’s contribution to the subject of museum volunteers? Have you followed similar advice Museum Hack discussed? What challenges have you faced when developing your volunteer program(s)? Share your reactions.

Resources used in Museum Hack article:
https://aamv.wildapricot.org/Standards-and-Best-Practices

Click to access Technical_Bulletin_45_-_Creating_a_Successful_Volunteer_Program.pdf


Click to access Volunteerism-Charitable-Giving-2009-Executive-Summary.pdf

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Professional Development Programs: Managing Your Museum’s Online Reputation and Evaluating Volunteers and Volunteer Programs

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?

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