The volunteer program at my museum has been on hiatus for a year now. A few weeks ago, I asked volunteers if they were ready to return. Their answer was almost unanimous: not just yet; they are happy to meet online but not physically come to the museum.
While I respect their decision, the situation has caused me to rethink how the museum field utilizes volunteers. More often than not volunteers are used as free manual labor. They give tours, prepare children’s activities, and staff events. None of which they can do from home.
There are many things they could do for the museum from home if we utilize their brains rather than their just hands. Volunteers can be used to help museums reach their higher-level goals such as connecting with their community, representing a diverse audience, and making a difference with exhibitions.
For exhibits, they can: generate ideas, research, and run community review groups. They could play a role in strategic planning, pointing out potential areas of improvement from a different perspective. A trusted volunteer could assist with the museum’s social media presence. The possibilities of homework are numerous.
By opening up such opportunities, a museum could receive a multitude of benefits. Valuable staff time is freed; additional perspectives, and potentially diverse perspectives, are brought into the museum’s operations. People who would not normally serve in traditional volunteer roles can be recruited while current volunteers can be retained and engaged without putting their health at risk.
Share in the comments how your organization has engaged volunteers during COVID-19. To research how you can expand the use of your volunteers check out:
1. “Museum Volunteers: Good Practices in the Management of Volunteers” by Sinclair Goodlad and Stephanie McIvor
2. “Transforming Museum Volunteering” by Ellen Hirzy
3. “The Museum Educators Manual” by Anna Johnson, Kimberly Huber, Nancy Cutler, Melissa Bingmann, and Tim Grove
4. Museum Volunteers – Friend of Foes by Annette Masling, Thomas W. Hill, Eleanor C. Hartman, Jack Perry Brown, and Amy Navratil Ciccone
5. “Volunteer Program Administration: A Handbook for Museums and Other Cultural Institutions” by Joan Kuyper, Ellen Cochran Hirzy, and Kathleen Huftalen