I’ve spent quite a bit of time speaking to our pioneers recently – those museums that have been part of our Arts Council England supported programme to roll out the Volunteer Makers’ model nationally.
I’ve been calling them up to chat about what works, what doesn’t – the whole experience. I think we’ve both learnt a lot. Which is the point of it – Volunteer Makers is an evolving programme and is reliant on our pioneers for honest feedback, which thankfully they are happy to give. Any changes to the programme or technology you may have noticed recently come directly from our users’ experiences.
But there’s one question that comes up most frequently – from both pioneers and those who are considering using the Volunteer Makers’ approach. How does it work with existing regular volunteers whom we depend upon?
Well – spoiler alert – there’s no one answer. However, there are some approaches to share that we and others have spent time considering.
Commit to recruiting all new volunteers through the Volunteer Makers platform. Cut down the admin! Goodbye to a clunky volunteer application form! Most organisations take this route as it underpins the reason people want to use Volunteer Makers – reaching more volunteers more flexibly.
Corinium Museum direct new volunteers to what the vacancies are on their site and don’t accept other applications. Front of House have found this works well, and an unanticipated outcome has been ‘it was surprising how many people wanted to volunteer but we were creating a barrier, people would enquire and we’d say not at the moment, but now we have tasks for them’.
Rugby Art Gallery and Museum have said goodbye to the application form and now hand out a bookmark with the different challenge times – just a minute, an hour or two, give a day or regular volunteering – directing people to their site.
Be flexible with your existing volunteers, but ensure they are shown the benefits (both for the organisation and for the volunteer) of signing up to Volunteer Makers. For some museums this means running their existing system for a while, and developing new volunteers and opportunities via Volunteer Makers.
Benefits include helping the museum to keep a tally of volunteer hours and value, and rotas (coming soon). Individuals have a record of their contribution and will see volunteering opportunities to match their interests and skills they might not have considered before.
The Geffrye Museum could see the benefit of their approach when someone ‘signed up for an event from Young Volunteers – normally quite separate – it wouldn’t have happened with regular email communication. I am hoping it will increase that sort of engagement’.
Ripon Museum Trust see themselves using Volunteer Makers ‘primarily for marketing and recruitment for new volunteers plus increasing engagement of existing volunteers’, without altering their system and procedures already in place for a large group of existing volunteers.
Get them all to sign up, new and existing. Again, demonstrating the benefits of the system, perhaps lubricated with tea and cake. Rugby Art Gallery and Museum have run a session where volunteers are helped to sign up, ‘we’ve said by February we won’t contact them anymore in other ways’.
The Geffrye Museum are thinking along the same lines: ‘definitely everyone is going to be on it – will need to come up with a strategy – some people totally get it, but others don’t. Might be a case of offering a drop-in session, also them understanding why – the rota system will help with that’.
Museums using the Volunteer Makers model and technology have also found that existing volunteers often help drive recruitment by getting involved with ideas for challenges or volunteer activities.
You know your museum and existing volunteers. How you want to work with them depends on your starting point and motivations for using Volunteer Makers. Some museums are confident in their current volunteer management structures, knowing their volunteers are happy to do what they regularly do. They only want to use it for engaging new recruits and new activities.
Other museums see using Volunteer Makers as an opportunity to approach volunteering strategically, often for the first time. Moving from passive to active recruitment, and having everyone on board to maximise the engagement opportunities is not one to be missed. Not to mention, reducing the administrative burden and barriers.
Corinium Museum: “Before, we were in a situation where we would recruit volunteers and think how we would use them. Now we look at the programme coming up and think about how to use volunteers on and off site. It’s a fundamental shift for us”.
Above all, Volunteer Makers isn’t just another system for volunteers to use, it is an engagement tool that helps you find volunteers suitable for your volunteer activity – benefiting you and your volunteers.
Anna Bryant, MA, AMA, Marketing and Engagement Manager, Volunteer Makers
Anna has worked in and for museums of all shapes and sizes across curatorial, interpretation, audience development and marketing roles during the last 17 years.