Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Loving volunteers

Your volunteers are going to help take your museum to the next level.

Ashleigh Hibbins, 9 Ways To Supercharge Your Museum Volunteers, Museum Hack, 23 June 2017

Who are the most excited and engaged people in your museum?

Your volunteers!

Not the answer you expected? It might be time to reboot your museum’s volunteer program.

Why are happy volunteers important?

Because volunteers are your museum’s biggest fans and advocates.

Volunteers believe in your museum so much that visiting alone isn’t enough: they want to be part of the team even without a financial reward for their time.

Don’t let this enthusiasm go to waste – treat your volunteers well and give them plenty of opportunities to spread the word about your museum (after all, it’s their museum too). According to a U.S. survey, two-thirds of volunteers also donate money to their place of volunteering. So there are many compelling reasons to keep your volunteers happy.

There’s no quick fix to building a great volunteer program, but we think following these tips will help supercharge your team!

Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

A bigger volunteer team doesn’t always equal a better volunteer team. Taking on more volunteers than your organization can handle is a common mistake. And yet so many museum professionals believe, the bigger your team means a better museum, right?

Not necessarily. Each volunteer requires a significant time and resource investment, from initial training, to supervision, to recognition, and those important day-to-day details like workspaces, shift schedules, record-keeping, and name tags.

Before you start recruiting volunteers, you need to make sure everything they will need is already in place, and that you’ve planned out engaging, relevant tasks to fill every shift. The American Association for Museum Volunteers has a great overview of best practices for volunteer programs.

It’s a great sign if lots of people want to volunteer at your museum, but taking on too many people will only lead to a negative experience and fewer volunteers in the long run. It’s all about baby steps.

Treat volunteer interviews like job interviews.

Some museums feel they need to accept everyone who applies for a volunteer role, even if the person isn’t a good fit. It’s important to be inclusive and open-minded, but don’t set someone up for failure by giving them a position they are unable to perform. If an applicant is unsuitable for the role they want, be upfront about it and try to find them another role at your museum that highlights their strengths.

Trust us, it’s better for everyone to be a bit picky.

Develop a top-notch training program.

First impressions are important, and the first real experience your new volunteers will have at your museum is their orientation and training. You can make sure they don’t regret their decision by offering training sessions that are well-planned, relevant, thorough, and most importantly – fun!

Ideally this training will also be an opportunity for your new volunteers to socialize with each other and the rest of the team. Engaging, comprehensive training will ensure your volunteers feel confident and valued in their roles.

Be a nosy volunteer manager.

So now that you’ve already recruited and trained up a badass volunteer team, is it time to put your feet up? No way!

The best volunteer managers are a bit nosy, but also know when to take a step back.

These managers have informal chats and catch-up meetings with their volunteers to see how things are going, address any concerns, and exchange feedback. Good managers also check up on their volunteers’ work from time to time to address any issues or training needs before problems arise. Your volunteers’ circumstances and goals will eventually change, so an open line of communication will keep them happy and motivated.

Also, be nosy with volunteer managers at other museums so you can pick up tips and tricks from them too.

Read more


Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
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