Before You Launch – Consider These 5 Tips

Here at Volunteer Makers we are always looking for ways to improve the success of our pioneers in engaging with volunteers and supporters in flexible and inspiring ways. Here are our top tips to consider before launch.

Tip 1
Think strategically about why you want to use Volunteer Makers to engage with your supporters. Is it a way of opening up new opportunities to regular volunteers? Do you want to encourage new and different types of supporters to join you? Do you want to offer flexible opportunities? Do you want supporters to help deliver a business objective (e.g. a redevelopment)?
Thinking about challenges including micro ones has completely made us rethink how we use volunteers. 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. Fundamental shift for us” (Amanda, Corinium Museum)
The answers to this question will help shape your plan…

Tip 2
Devise and work to an action plan, including how to roll out Volunteer Makers and how to work together. Name people in the plan! Make it SMART.
Claire helped us to set an action plan during the workshop with a vision and aims. This, so far, has enabled the project to move forward. [We have] regular group meetings looking at our progress and working with the team and our current volunteers to overcome any challenges. Our officers are setting challenges, front of house staff are selling Volunteer Makers, volunteers are currently testing it. Everyone plays a part” (Jess, Rugby Art Gallery and Museum)
This plan must embed working organisation-wide…

Tip 3
Engage leadership in championing Volunteer Makers as part of your strategic engagement objectives. Get buy in across the whole organisation. An organisation-wide engagement culture helps to mitigate changes in staff that can impact roll out. Work across the whole organisation (including volunteers) to provide inspiring, flexible challenges that help deliver the organisation’s business need, understanding that almost anything can be framed as volunteering, engagement or support of your organisation.
Getting the whole organisation involved at all levels has been really important. Planning multiple opportunities for people to get involved and think about what aspects of Volunteer Makers might appeal to the motivations of different teams” (Fran, Geffrye Museum of the Home)
And for this to happen you need to set aside time…

Tip 4
Make sure you commit the time, and are supported to do that, to make rolling out and developing Volunteer Makers a success. Although Volunteer Makers doesn’t replace your approach or existing volunteer programmes, you do need time to make it as effective as possible in engaging your audience.
We have tried to work collaboratively across the organisation; in practical terms this has meant having a clear idea of time scale and key outcomes at different stages [which] has been really vital. This has helped to make sure that people have the information they need to contribute to decisions, reflect and feedback at each stage, whilst planning time to act on feedback where possible. We used a simple table to help keep track of this which allowed us to adjust the plan as needed” (Fran, Geffrye Museum of the Home)
And effective engagement means engaging digitally too…

Tip 5
How you are going to communicate your challenges is as important as coming up with them in the first place. Ensuring those responsible for marketing/social media are part of your organisation-wide buy in is essential. Engaging digitally is key, and you need to be social (e.g. a blog, social media) if you are going to diversify your volunteers and reach a broader range of people.

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 18 years.

Volunteer Makers strengthens the future of volunteering in Museums – by Clare Lyall, Museum expansion Director at Trowbridge Museum

On the 10th November,Trowbridge Museum staff attended an excellent Volunteer Makers workshop run by Claire Scully, discovering how they could utilize a pioneering app to enable us to develop an effective strategic approach to volunteering.

The software provides you with a digital platform which you then build upon to create a volunteer community which encompasses different types of volunteering. These can vary from supporting your marketing by tweeting about your events, to assisting with Learning and Outreach activities, to cleaning your collections.

The possibilities are quite literally endless. This excellent system enables you to engage with far more of the wider community and offers that community a far broader range of volunteering opportunities with greater flexibility. It also enables museums to measure the huge value of volunteers in terms of economic impact, sustainability and diversity.

In a period when the number of those who are volunteering is actually going down and many people increasingly regard themselves as time poor, the Volunteer Makers app can only strengthen the museum sector’s position.

Guest Blog by Caroline Morris – The return effect on me

I first saw the Corinium Volunteer Makers site when I was casually looking for volunteering opportunities in local museums. Most sites were singularly unhelpful in this search but the access to the Corinium Museum’s Volunteer Maker site was very easy. Once I started at the museum, I was bowled over by the welcome I received and their appreciation of the skills I could bring.

I was asked to document the contents of the loans and resource boxes and later update their database. I have carefully photographed replica and ‘real’ objects associated with, amongst others, the Bronze Age, Anglo Saxons, Romans, and my particular favourite box, a Tailor’s Shop. Although clearly many of these objects are replicas, I still found the experience of handling museum objects exciting. I have spent a number of years studying museums and now I was getting to experience the real deal.

This photography task has its challenges, even lighting for one. These simple images were to be used as documentation but they also needed to be used to illustrate the written material contained in the boxes. I therefore needed to make sure the images truly reflected the originals as much as possible, only occasionally assisted by Photoshop. Some of them also need cutting out and inserting into documents. I have enjoyed the challenge.

I have photographed other less conventional objects. A local knit and natter group made a series of woolly monks to help celebrate the 900th anniversary of Cirencester Abbey. These were to be placed around the museum as a trail for children to follow. I was asked to create the trail sheet and images for advertising it. I took my twelve little woolly chums around the museum and found appropriate places to ‘shoot’ them in. I also did a little research to find out their proper names within a monastic community. The resulting trail turned out to be the most successful children’s trail to date.

In addition, I have been able to combine my part time job with Waterstones with the museum volunteering. With my events management hat on, I initiated a collaboration with the museum to bring authors to do workshops and give talks – I am particularly excited about the talk by Andrew Taylor taking place in April 2018.

Clearly the museum are getting something out of my weekly visits but I was unprepared for the return effect it would have on me. I had spent a number of years in research where I have not used my photographic skills or visual creativity (despite my background as an artist), and although this role may not sound like it, actually it woke up that dormant part of my brain. Since I started I have been able to create work again and I have all sorts of ideas flowing around my mind again. Some of which are directly inspired by my experience – I have begun to think about how I could create some work responding to the museum’s collection, or to the forthcoming changes to some of the galleries in the museum. I would also like to get into the museum stores at some point and get my hands on ‘real’ artefacts. This has definitely been a mutually beneficial relationship which I  want to continue.

Caroline Morris, Volunteer Maker, Corinium Museum @CoriniumMuseum