STEP FORWARD, VOLUNTEERS!
15.06.2012 / Dea Birkett / 0 Comments
...says Dea Birkett, director of Kids in Museums, which has been highly commended for its Takeover Day
Good news doesn't usually make good copy. But this month I'm feeling rather cheerful. The Kids in Museums volunteer team has just won Highly Commended in the Bringing Innovation category of the London Volunteer Awards for delivering Takeover Day - the annual day on which museums are taken over by young people. It's a well-earned accolade, even if I say so myself. Our volunteers are passionate, committed and hardworking. I'm sure we're not the only charity - large as well as little - that can boast that.
If I had to pick one thing we've learnt about working with volunteers it would be this: It's not the quality of the task you give a volunteer but the quality of the relation- ship you have with them that's important. Volunteers are quite happy to stuff envelopes as long as they're not just envelope stuffers, but team members. As long as they're working towards the same goal as everyone else in the organisation, and have an equal stake in its success.
For example, at Kids in Museums we have a volunteer who compiles our press cuttings. It may seem like a pretty simple job. She gathers together the Google Alerts, lists them, prints them out, and forwards them to our Website Editor (also a volunteer) to list on our website news pages. It may be simple, but it's also vital - it lets us see where we're reaching, who's saying what about us, and the proof of our wide coverage is a powerful weapon in the fight for funding. The volunteer who does this has a unique insight into how we are perceived, as she's the only one who has trawled through every mention of us, anywhere. This means she can feed back whether we're being picked up by parent bloggers, if our latest project was mentioned on websites working with harder to reach audiences, and if an annual campaign received more or less attention than the previous year. Invaluable knowledge. All as a result of simply listing our mentions in Google Alerts.
We've found it works best if we give a volunteer a particular area of work and a title to go with it, so they have a discreet task for which they have responsibility. Among our volunteer positions are Sign Up Manager, Commissioning Editor, Website Moderator and Social Media Manager. Each volunteer draws up a monthly report on their work, including not only what they have done but suggestions of what they, and we as an organisation, might do.
Apart from titles, there are other ways in which volunteers are given roles within the team. Turner Contemporary recently astounded participants at one of our Family Fortunes workshops by revealing that everyone who works for them - whether as a curator, in the café or on security - has a gallery email address. The other museums somehow considered this "risky". But some- thing that simple makes people feel as if they have a stake in an organisation. It also ensures they receive the com- pany news in the same way and at the same time as every- one else. Oddly, it's still rare for volunteers to be given an email address for an organisation they work for.
Volunteers can also do your outreach for you. For example, we would not have thought of contacting organisations representing families in the military if one of our volunteers hadn't been a military wife. As a result, we made links with many families who had not visited a museum before. Many museums work with volunteers from communities which they'd otherwise find hard to reach.
Some imagine we rely upon volunteers because we're not a wealthy organisation. In fact, we'd be far poorer without them. They do bring innovation, but also insights, expertise and inspiration. We wouldn't be able to do it without them.
Find out more about Takeover Day at www.kidsinmuseums.org.uk/takeoverday/
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