Almost all museums rely on volunteers to keep things running smoothly. They are an important part of nearly every department, from admissions to behind-the-scenes collections work to giving tours.
Today it is more difficult than ever before to grow a volunteer program. In the past, museum volunteers were traditionally homemakers or retired people. With the changing economic landscape, more people are part of two-income households or are working later into their lives than ever before, shrinking the available pool of volunteers.
The key to any successful museum volunteer program is providing a valuable learning experience for your volunteers, while keeping them informed and interested in the museum’s activities and programs. One way to share information is to create a Volunteer Enrichment program. Volunteer Enrichment can be as simple as a yearly meeting with all of your volunteers.
Volunteers are often pigeon-holed into one department, so they may not know much about what other volunteers or staff members are doing in other departments. If they volunteer on different days of the week, the volunteers may not even know each other. For example, a collections volunteer who comes in on Mondays may have no idea who volunteers in the Museum Shoppe on Fridays.
September is traditionally a slow time for museums. The summer tourists have gone home, but the field trips have not yet started. Everyone has that “back to school” feeling, and it’s a good time to reconnect and learn something new. The fall is a perfect time to plan a Volunteer Enrichment event.
The following is an example of a successful Volunteer Enrichment Program:
Serve food. Having food is always a plus! Believe it or not, it might even be a draw for some people. Serve a continental breakfast 30 minutes before the event begins.
Welcome from the Volunteer Coordinator, Director, and/or Board President. Recap successful events over the past year. Volunteers like to know they are part of a vibrant, successful organization. Share your attendance numbers with them and the financial reports from your events. Let them know what events and programs are coming up so they can sign up to help. Thank them for all their hard work. Then thank them again.
Department updates. Give each department head five minutes to discuss what’s going on in their departments. This is your staff’s chance to share their accomplishments from the past year and to inform the volunteers what is coming up. It will be interesting for the staff to hear what other departments are doing as well.
Program for all volunteers. Use this opportunity to share more in-depth information that all volunteers should know. You might want to review your Emergency Preparedness Plan, have a staff member present an interesting outreach program, or give them a behind-the-scenes tour. You might want to invite an outside motivational speaker to come speak to them as well. Choose something that fits your museum.
Department meetings. Have the volunteers divide into departments to have meetings with their direct supervisors on staff. Use this time to address any new plans, changes to policies, or other information. The staff can address specific questions and concerns at this time.