Working with Volunteers: Staff Tips

Posted on March 6, 2014 by


At a recent staff meeting our excellent volunteer coordinator, Ilene Cohen, gave us a great mini-class in how to work best with our volunteers. If you’ve been following our blog for awhile, you know how much our volunteers accomplish here at the Museum, and how much we value all their hard work. It’s important to us that our volunteers are happy and feel appreciated. Below are some of the strategies that Ilene shared with us to best support our staff and volunteers working together and is now sharing with all of you!

Research analysis has identified the following experiences critical to volunteer retention:

  • Assigning volunteers to tasks that match their skills
    • Most of our volunteers are filling gaps that cannot be met with our current staff.  Hopefully we have the match fulfilled, and the correct staff matched with each project that they have been assigned to manage. That said it is imperative that the skill sets of the volunteers match the needs. Many people may want to help, and we need to make certain we are using them in the most appropriate position.
    • As staff gets to know the volunteers, try to keep track of what they indicate as interests and the ways they would like to be involved. This will help match a person’s interest to a specific activity.
  • Supporting new volunteers
    • Engage in regular communication.
    • Always be clear about expectations.
    • Keep in mind that many of the tasks that volunteers are needed for are low-level administrative tasks, i.e. mailings, database entry,even manning the front desk can be tedious and monotonous when no visitors come in. Explain the significance and background of what it is they are doing and how their work will directly impact the organization to help keep them motivated.
  • Informing volunteers through regular communication
    • Communicate early and often; clearly and concisely.
    •  Remember, attitude can be infectious – in either a positive or negative way.
  • Welcome and Respect Volunteers!
  • One of the easiest forms of recognition you can provide to volunteers is to know their name and what they do within the organization. When you are their staff supervisor you will  know who they are and what they do but make sure other staff knows who your volunteers are. Here at the JMM we are working on a “facebook” for volunteers that all staff members will review it when it’s completed.
  • Recognize the value and importance of each volunteer. Last year our volunteers (including board members) logged over 7000 hours at the museum.   The Independent Sector values a volunteer hour in the state of Maryland at $23.05 per hour, which means their contribution of time and energy was worth over $161,000!
    • Always make volunteers feel welcome, be grateful for their assistance, and express your gratitude.  If they are working on a project where you use that information down the road, please share that with them.  Show them where you used the quote they culled from an oral history transcription or where in the exhibit or in which publication you used the photo they found or took.



ilene cohenA blog post by Volunteer Coordinator Ilene Cohen. To read more posts about volunteers, click HEREIf you are interested in volunteering yourself, check out our volunteer page or email Ilene directly.

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