Think outside the box to get volunteers

Alex Nicholson-Evans, Issue 115/07, p14, 01.07.2015
Exploring digital volunteering
When you think of volunteering in museums, what do you imagine? It would be safe to say that a large number of people will be thinking of some kind of variation on the role of a room guide.
I regularly tell people that there is something for everyone when it comes to volunteering in museums and I constantly have to battle the common assumption that it just means being a room guide.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for that kind of role and a demand for it too. But if we want museum volunteering programmes to remain fresh and attract new volunteers in the future, we need to keep thinking outside the box and formulating different roles for volunteers to undertake, as well as improving approaches to volunteer management.

At Birmingham Museums Trust, we have been exploring digital volunteering that can be done from your sofa at home. We have also looked at some of our traditional roles and given them a new lease of life.

We are listening to feedback from volunteers and visitors, and making changes. What this is allowing us to do is attract more interest in our volunteer programme and get more of the community involved in what we do.
Thinking differently means we can engage with people who might not have the time to give when our museums are open, or might not have thought museum volunteering is for them.

Something we all have to remember is that when we recruit for volunteers we are asking people to choose to spend their free time helping us.

We are asking them to choose volunteering over going to the cinema, seeing friends or visiting an attraction. Let’s say we are lucky and they do decide to volunteer – we then need to convince them to volunteer with their local museum as opposed to doing it with, for example, Cancer Research or Oxfam.
That means the roles we offer need to stand out and be well thought through. We also need to have the volunteer support systems to back them up.
That last bit, volunteer support systems, is crucial to ensure volunteers have a good experience. We are proud to be committed to reimbursing travel expenses, as that helps make volunteering more accessible, and to offer training, including accredited sessions.
But that’s just the beginning.

Every volunteer at Birmingham Museums Trust has a supervisor, opportunities to give feedback, chances to meet new people at social events and, most importantly, we say thank you. We say it in postcards, we say it in person, we say it by email and we say it through our two annual thank-you events.

We say it because we are thankful for the time our generous volunteers give to us week in, week out. As a sector, we owe it to our volunteers to keep improving our programmes, to keep thinking of new ideas to make roles more engaging, to keep thinking of better ways to support our teams and to work together to make sure we are all championing best practice in volunteer management.

If you want to join the conversation about best practice volunteer management and to
widen the discussion around volunteering in the museum sector, take a look at @HeritageVols on Twitter and talk to us about our regional networks.

Alex Nicholson-Evans is the volunteer development team leader at Birmingham Museums Trust and the vice-chair of the Heritage Volunteering Group


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Rosie Daswani
MA Member
02.07.2015, 09:27
There's also this problem now about museums becoming too dependent on volunteers. I'm a volunteer myself.. (when I'm in the UK)... it's not just choosing free time. It's also doing work umpaid. It's a tough call for anyone/