One of the reasons I love my job is because no two days are the same. To be honest, I am not sure I would be doing my job right if every day was the same! Here is an example of a day I had recently, granted one of my busier days, but still nothing too out of the ordinary.
After a brisk stroll, I arrive at the office just after 9 am. I have been trying to mentally prepare myself for the day ahead and one question playing over and over, in my mind, is ‘when am I going to eat?’ Note to self, must learn to manage my time better! While working with volunteers, one has to be as flexible as possible remembering that volunteers are giving us their precious time. This does make it slightly more difficult to plan the day ahead, but that’s all part of the fun right? 🙂
After quickly scanning my inbox and addressing a few urgent emails, I start putting together paperwork for my first two meetings of the day.
Two new volunteers are starting with us today (on different projects) and these meetings are site inductions to show them round the buildings to point out important areas (where the toilets and where you can get a cuppa) as well as going through the essential health and safety issues on the sites. This is probably the most boring part of volunteering; unfortunately our attempts to distract people with lovely volunteer pens, name badges and guidebooks do little to jazz up the monotony of fire evacuation and first aid procedures. However, no matter how dull, it is an essential part of volunteer management that the team know what to do in an emergency and that they understand we have their health and safety constantly in our minds. Thankfully, most volunteers appreciate this which always helps!
Once the initial site induction is complete, our new volunteers meet with some of our long-standing volunteers who will support them during their first session. Whilst we have an extensive training program, nothing can beat just having a go and it is always useful to have someone with experience there on hand to help out.
Site inductions complete and with our new volunteers happily engaging with visitors, I pop down to our lovely Mill to see how the volunteer Steward is doing. For a volunteer coordinator, being seen as visibly active within a volunteer project is very important – volunteers need to be able to put a face to the person they have been emailing. Nothing beats speaking to a volunteer face-to-face, you begin to understand their personality which makes it easier to co-ordinate them. It is also useful to see how a project is running on the ground. On this particular day, the Mill pond was full of algae and pond weed which meant we could not run the wheel without the risk of it floating down the mill race. So, as is the life of a Volunteers Coordinator, I get stuck in trying to rake as much as I could out of the pond (never a dull moment). With the help of our wonderful volunteers, we managed to clear the pond and the wheel was started just as a flock of visitors arrived.
By the time I get back to my desk, I have a phone call to say my next meeting has arrived. This time, it was an informal introductory meeting where we meet with a potential new volunteer to discuss the project they are interested in, how they can get involved, show them round the space and find out why they want to volunteer with us. Essentially, this is our opportunity to find out what their motivation is and if we think they are right for the role. Sometimes, we use this meeting to discuss something that caught our eye on their application form that we want to pursue a little further. I cannot stress enough how important it is to meet with any potential volunteers before taking them on! We are very honest with what our roles involve and the commitment level that we hope volunteers will contribute. This is our chance to find out how the project will fit into their everyday lives, indeed to see whether the person has even thought about it themselves!
Meeting finished, I get back to my desk and quickly look through and add up the visitors numbers we have had over the last month. As with most organisations, we need to report on how many sessions our volunteers run, how many volunteers have been on site and how many visitors they have come into contact with. All of these figures help to promote our volunteer program and highlight to those who do not directly work with volunteers how vital they are not only to the visitor experience but also the organisation’s goals.
I finally manage to have a look at my inbox and respond to as many inquiries as I can whilst swallowing some lunch. I think it is important to try and respond to inquiries as fast as you can although I know for some organisations a quick response is difficult. We are lucky that there are two of us in the Volunteers’ Team, I know a lot of organisations do not even have one person dedicated to volunteers. However, you do need to think about how you are viewed in your local community – word of mouth is a powerful tool. If volunteers, or even potential volunteers, feel they are not being taken seriously then they may begin telling their friends.
My last meeting of the day is to discuss an ongoing volunteer project that has recently been enhanced to include another strand. The project has had several setbacks, from finance to staffing. The member of staff currently looking after the project is still relatively new and has not worked extensively with volunteers before (although she is really keen to do so). The Volunteer Team is not only here to support volunteers but also to support staff who supervise volunteers. Contrary to some beliefs, supervising volunteers is not the same as supervising staff. Paid staff are obliged to do as they are told as they are being paid to perform a service. Volunteers offer their time, skills and knowledge without a financial reward and this should always be at the forefront of your mind when working with volunteers. We have recently also compiled a handbook for staff who supervises volunteers, helping them understand our volunteer policy, the demographics of our volunteers, legal issues etc.
I hope this has given a small insight into what the world of volunteers, volunteering and volunteer management can sometimes be like! I find that everyone who works with volunteers on a daily basis is passionate and friendly; someone who understands the commitment is takes to be a volunteer and wants to make sure that their experience is one they will remember and will contribute to their life in some small way.
Our Teams are more than willing to share their knowledge and expertise with others who may just be starting out. We always find it encouraging to know that all organisations, regardless of how their size or what sector they belong to, have the same set backs and successes. It is always useful to find out how others cope with similar problems in the hope that their solution could be yours too!
If you want to find out more about York Museums Trust and its volunteering program, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44 1904 650329.