@MarDixon Passionate about culture internationally. Run remixing events, workshops, create solutions, and an international speaker. Over sharer and Mom who loses arguments to a teen. Projects created: @CultureThemes @lovetheatreday @AskaCurator @MuseumSelfieDay @TeensInMuseums @52museums
  • Volunteers and Museums: getting the balance right

    February 3rd, 2013mardixonCulture

    volunteer_clip_art_from-tranquility-trail-dot-orgVolunteers.  Those brilliant people that give up their time to help and provide services wherever it’s needed. Sometimes they fill the gap where there was once a paid position; sometimes it’s a service that has never been associated with the institution until the volunteer offered.

    Either way, it’s always a Win Win for both the volunteer and the museum.

    A few years ago, Volunteer Coordinator position was not even thought of.  The handful of volunteers that did come forward were usually mature people with recently acquired spare time on their hands (read that as retired).

    Now and days, volunteers come in all shapes and sizes.

    • Students
    • People who can’t find employment
    • People looking to change careers
    • Retired
    • People who want to give back to the community
    • People who are between jobs

    The list and trend is growing.

    I recently asked Twitter  about personal experiences with volunteers:

    @cathbore It was thankless, calling on volunteers to come in at short notice & finding replacements for weary ex-volunteers!

    @weller_grace  Whoever’s in charge of that team/project: they know dynamics, training needs etc, though most recruitment through vis. services

    Five years ago, the ‘volunteer coordinator’ position was integrated within other already established positions.  Now, more and more volunteer coordinator positions are required.

    What do they do?

    Obviously each institution is different but here are some responsibilities that have been mentioned:

    • Identify needs Where within the different areas in the museum could volunteers be an access/needed.  Work with the staff and the volunteers to bridge gaps.
    • Interviewing volunteers.  Not all willing volunteers fit into your venues family.  Also, during the interview, you might be able to help the volunteer identify talents they didn’t know they had that could help.  For example, they might mention they like to garden or tinker with engines.  This could potentially lead to them volunteering in the garden area or mechanics.
    • Scheduling. Recognize that for every position filled with a volunteer you essentially need 3 volunteers to cover those that don’t show, sick, etc.  Volunteers are amazing, but as they are not paid, some see it flexible schedule.
    • Team work. Provide an atmosphere which the volunteers feel part of the team.  Volunteers should be treated and seen as staff without a pay check.
    • CPD and Trips out. Arrange 2-3 trips outside the museum for the volunteers to see another place.  Consider this CPD (continued professional development) with benefits.  It will allow the volunteers to bond on the road trip, learn how a similar museum operates and most importantly, let the volunteer know you value them.
    • Social Media.  Set up Facebook group and Twitter accounts just for the volunteers.  This will enable off-hour communication, collaboration and ideas to flow.  It also helps creates a bond that might not be possible within volunteering hours.

    I recently visited Attingham Park National Trust and interviewed Kellie Scott Volunteering & Community Engagement Manager (North Shropshire) about Volunteers, Coordination and how to balance the two to ensure everyone is happy.


     Make sure Volunteers feel part of the Museum’s family and not seen as an after thought.

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