How do you get staff and existing volunteers to support a new volunteer programme?

Always consult as widely as possible when developing your volunteer programme. Ensure you have support from colleagues at all levels of the organisation and if you already have volunteers include them in the consultation and decision making process.

At an early project team meeting we identified the key questions that we would need to answer in order to test the appropriateness of the activities we had developed. These were then allocated across the key stakeholder groups to develop our consultation plan. The questions we identified were:

Audience Focus

  • Are these the right participant groups?
  • Do they match our organisational priorities?
  • How can we recruit participants to the project?
  • Do we need a youth board or community panel?
  • How would a panel be connected to programming and audience development?
  • What works well elsewhere? (in relation to youth/community panels)

Training and volunteer focus

  • Training and volunteer focus
  • What skills does the heritage sector need its volunteers to have?
  • What accreditation is valuable to employers?
  • What do other venues need from a training template?
  • What format for training works well – length of course, timing?
  • What is the function for mentoring within the project?
  • What do participants want from a training/volunteering programme?
  • What don’t participants want from a training/volunteer programme?

In order to ensure we really learned from our consultation and could apply it to our thinking, the majority of the consultation activity was led by the project team, specifically by the Volunteer Co-ordinators who are responsible for the day-to-day delivery of the project. However, we identified that it was difficult for us to take an objective view when talking to our own visitors and existing volunteers, so we recruited consultants to lead this work.

The feedback derived from the visitors during consultation was overwhelmingly positive. Visitors at both IWM North and Manchester Museum spoke enthusiastically and even movingly about the impact of engaging with volunteers during their visit. A central thread was the value placed on person-to-person interaction with someone knowledgeable and passionate who attended to their particular interests. Visitors commented that volunteers were able to shape their responses to meet the needs of a variety of audiences. Key findings from our visitor and volunteer consultations are available on request.

How do you get senior management buy in?

Make it part of the organisations strategic plan.

Directors at all Museums are very committed to the success of this programme and without their support the programme would not exist. Recognition from the senior management team at staff events is invaluable to the volunteers as it recognises they contribute to the Museum’s delivery and highlights their part within the organisation and the rest of the staff team. Most importantly it emphasises to staff and volunteers that their time is valued. Volunteers at both venues also enjoy staff discounts and privileges.

How do you involve existing volunteers?

It is important to get input from existing volunteers as early as practically possible in the planning phase particularly as the same time as consulting wider in the sector. Gaining their opinions about their own experiences helps to shape the programme further by ensuring activities are enjoyable as well as being relevant. Volunteers are further involved once the programme is running by becoming buddy volunteers supporting new people in their role. To help make the buddies more comfortable in this role we arrange for some mentoring training. It is important to make clear in the planning that existing volunteers do have opportunities to take part in other training alongside the participants outside of the course remit, such as disability awareness to ensure the groups gel together to work effectively in public spaces.

Can a project like this be delivered on a smaller scale?

Running a programme of this nature is time intensive. The programme employs two full time staff at each venue (Volunteer Co-ordinator/ Manager and Volunteer Placement Assistant). There is no substitute for spending time with people, on a one-to-one or group basis as this helps to, develop confidence and foster a sense of belonging and ownership in the Museum. This can be as simple as having the time to chat to a volunteer about how their week has been since you last saw them; or it can be more involved, such as spending time together on specific tasks to develop confidence or grasp a tricky concept, or assisting with identifying and applying for potential college courses, other volunteering or employment opportunities.

How do you deal with conflict between staff and volunteers?

Disciplinary issues
The Volunteer Co-ordinator should hold regular feedback meetings with staff members and volunteers to address any areas of conflict straight away rather than let things simmer. Adopt a structured volunteer policy with disciplinary guidelines for staff and volunteers with similar reporting procedures. Providing training for staff on mental health issues, learning difficulties, disability etiquette and refugee awareness helps promote diversity within the team and will help to increase understanding of the project and its possible participants.

Volunteer Role Description
Develop volunteer role descriptions alongside paid gallery staff and make sure they do not overlap with job descriptions, and most importantly reassure staff that the volunteers will by no means replace any existing jobs. Once staff members are aware of the reasons and outcomes of such a project they become much more supportive. The role description provides the volunteer with a clear outline of what is expected of them and their responsibilities. This will also make them feel that the time they give is being used productively.

How do you support people with Mental Health issues or disabilities?

Recognise limits to your expertise
When dealing with volunteers with a variety of differing needs and abilities, Volunteer Co-ordinators often find themselves in a support role. They need to recognise the limit to their expertise and remember not to offer advice on areas outside their training and experience: for example medication, illness, benefits, financial support etc. Instead, seek advice from local specialist support agencies and refer people on. When recruiting new participants it is vital to find out if there is any extra support they need prior to commencement. It is useful for project staff to be able to call on each other for support and advice if necessary.