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April 15-22, 2007 is National Volunteer Appreciation Week. What specific tasks are most critical to your historical society that volunteers accomplish? Feel free to share stories about volunteer contributions. And, how are you planning on thanking your volunteers during this special week? Or, during the year?

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5 Responses to Thanking Volunteers

  1. Mary Warner says:

    We have used volunteers in varying degrees over the years. People are so busy now that most seem to want to volunteer for a limited project with a definite timeline or specific task. We try to create projects that take this into consideration, like our Documenting Morrison County Deaths project and our Uncommon Focus photo project. For Uncommon Focus, we recognized our volunteers with an exibit of the photos they took, along with a certificate of participation. For longer-term indexing or typing projects, we have a handful of very dedicated volunteers, some of whom live a considerable distance away (one lives in California). We regularly mention and thank these volunteers in our newsletter. When we were open on Sundays in the summer, we used volunteers to staff the museum and we gave them gift certificates to buy sundaes at Dairy Queen for their time.


  2. Kathy Klehr says:

    Like everyone else, we would be lost without volunteers. Most of ours are older adults interested in more sedentary projects (data entry, mailings, and genealogy research). My fear is that these older volunteers will disappear and there will be few remaining to pick up the slack. With that in mind we are actively recruiting new (old and young) volunteers. Like Mary we find that most volunteers are interested in volunteering for only one area  staffing teas, leading tours, manning the museum on one Saturday a month… This works for us, and Ill take a willing volunteer anytime. Weve been lucky to have two Mormon volunteers who donate a set number of hours each week, and are willing to take on any task! Weve also had luck advertising (PSA’s) for volunteers for specific events/projects  and highlighting the fun and benefits of volunteering pays off. One thing we dont do is create a project to fit a volunteers specific interest.

    We make a point of thanking our volunteers at every opportunity on an informal basis. In addition we host a staff-provided pot luck lunch during volunteer week, and formally recognize them in our annual report and at our annual meeting. Also, I take the time to get to know our volunteers on an individual basis so I can surprise them with little treats once in a while (Mary loves vanilla lattes!). Because we are small it’s pretty easy for me to do that. I firmly believe personal connection is key to volunteer retention, good word-of-mouth, and recruitment of new volunteers.

    Word to the Wise: We had a fiasco a few years ago when a volunteer handbook was introduced. From what I understand, volunteers were given the handbook and asked to sign off on it, without any overview or discussion. Some of the older volunteers balked at the idea and left with bad feelings. Years later they still bring it up with anger! Lesson learned  now we go over the handbook page by page with all new volunteers, but do not require them to sign off on it.


  3. Bobbie Scott says:

    We also use volunteers for a wide variety of projects and tasks, from helping with cataloging to building exhibit cases to acting as hosts at various events. We made intensive use of volunteers in developing the exhibit for the new Sherburne History Center. Our bison skeleton and irrigator were provided at no cost to us by local volunteers.

    People who want to volunteer on a continuous basis fill out an application that has, among other things, a list of the different kinds of projects we need volunteers for. When I interview them, I try to match them up with something that interests them. I also try to find out if this is someone I can call for those volunteer-intensive times, like the county fair. I also go over our volunteer handbook page by page so they know what’s there and what we expect and what we want to provide them with. It’s important that they know that they can tell us if they want to do something else because they don’t like the project they are given at the start.

    There are some people I only call for the county fair. Others are willing to do just about anything. We are beginning to get some younger people (50s and 60s as opposed to 70s and 80s) who have computer skills, which is very helpful. I have some working people who would like to volunteer, but their availability is limited by their work schedules and our hours.

    Recruitment is slow, but then it also takes significant staff time to train a volunteer properly, something that people (e.g. board members) don’t always realize. In other words, you can’t just "get a volunteer to do it." Good volunteers aren’t that easy to find, and it takes staff time to train them anyway so at the start, at least, you aren’t actually saving yourself any time. We have a limited number of volunteers who come in weekly on a regular schedule, either to work with collections or in the library, and they are always willing to do last minute mailings or copying if we are in a bind.

    We used to do a volunteer appreciation lunch in April during volunteer week, but we found that many people who volunteer actually volunteer for multiple organizations so they are inundated with events in April. We have moved our event to the fall. This year it will be in September, before the snowbirds leave. I also make sure that I chat with each volunteer (especially the regular ones) whenever they are here. They know they are welcome to sit down with staff at lunch or breaks and have coffee.

    It’s important to keep in mind personality differences and differences in motivation among volunteers. Several of our volunteers are very motivated and don’t want to spend a lot of time on chit-chat while they are here–they came to do a job for us. Others are volunteering more for the social interaction. It’s important to know who you’re dealing with so the motivated ones don’t get bored and the social ones don’t feel neglected.



  4. Jada Hansen says:

    I am so glad that there is a week dedicated to volunteers so that we don’t forget to celebrate their value during our busy workday. We have had volunteers that are ex-board members, former employees, members, and people that just love the museum. What is important to notice is that most of them have volunteered their time for over a decade. I try and make sure that as staff come and go that the volunteers are able to retain the duty that they have always enjoyed here while serving the museum. For HHM, I believe it’s the ability to work with them to find out which projects they want to work on. If one prefers the archives, we make sure we put them in the archives, and if one fancies themself handy, than we make certain they get first crack at all the leaks. The relationship that we have established with them allows for the museum to benefit and the volunteers to feel useful doing something they enjoy.

    We do have a small volunteer packet that we hand out, but we put more emphasis on the interview we do with each one of them. Also, we assign reading that we think may be fun for them based on what they have indicated they want to do. I have found that this makes them feel like they are really part of the team and they check in more often. Also, I dedicated a portion of the main office to a volunteer area, which has brochures from other institiutions and opportunities that may interest them. We try and be their link to the museum/historical community as much as possible.

    On Wednesday we will be doing what Kathleen is doing and having a staff sponsored potluck for the volunteers (I use to work for Kathleen). Also, like Mary we try and give out gift certificates and bring in bagels as much as possible.


  5. Jefferson R. Spilman says:

    Greetings all, this is my first posting. A long time friend of mine, David Grabitske, encouraged me to reply.

    I am the Program Coordinator at Historic Murphy’s Landing (HML) in Shakopee, MN. A significant portion of my responsibility pertains to Volunteer Coordination. In 2002, Three Rivers Park District took over managment of the facilities and program at HML. Previously, the City of Shakopee and Minnesota Valley Restoration Project managed the site.

    Volunteers are an important part of the operation at HML. We have a core of paid full time and seasonal staff, but there are not enough of them to do all the work. Our volunteer program allows us to supplement and expand the program. The volunteers assist us by staffing historic homes, demonstrating period craft skills, conducting artifact inventories, farm animal care, office work, etc.

    We keep our volunteers informed through a quarterly newsletter, frequent emails, special mailings, site website, and phone calls.

    This Saturday, April 14, we are holding our annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner. We make arrangements with a local food provider who delivers to our site. The program involves an informal meet/greet time, dinner, awards/recognition. We will hand out printed HML certificates (with their name) and publicly congratulate them. Some of our volunteers will receive additional awards from the Park District. These awards consist of a Park District letter and pin. The pin has the number of hours they’ve given to the Park District on it.

    Additionally, our guest of honor is President Abraham Lincoln. We plan on having him assist us during the recognition part of the program. Following the volunteer appreciation we are having a public program with Abraham Lincoln. The admission fee is waived for our volunteers who wish to attend.

    Our upcoming Volunteer Appreciation should be lots of fun for all. I look forward to contributing to this list in the future.


    Jefferson R. Spilman
    Program Coordinator
    Historic Murphy’s Landing
    Three Rivers Park District


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