Webinar: Training Volunteers

How can we train our volunteers for projects that will help them make a difference in our organizations? And how do we make it fun and empowering while avoiding conflicts? Learn about training tips and tactics that can stimulate the long-term sustainability of a volunteer program. This session will be presented by staff from two Field Services offices and will be jam-packed with ideas for how to train volunteers and make their service a rewarding experience.

Details:

Date: April 26, 2017

Time: 3pm EST/2pm Central/1pm Mountain/12pm Pacific/10am Hawaii

Cost: $40 members/$65 nonmembers

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About the Faculty:

 

Tamara

Tamara Hemmerlein is Director of Local History Services at the Indiana Historical Society. As the director of a field services office, Tamara has experience working in and with local history organizations, libraries, museums and historic sites. She works with her team to design workshops, facilitate community and organizational meetings, help with board development and training and coach organizations through the challenges they face. Prior to coming to IHS, Tamara worked as the Executive Director of the Montgomery County Historical Society and of the Montgomery County Cultural Foundation in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

 

 

jrooney

 

Jeannette Rooney is Assistant Director of Local History Services at the Indiana Historical Society and Chair of the Field Services Alliance, and is a 2012 graduate of Developing History Leaders @SHA. As a part of the field services team in Indiana, she serves as a Grant Coach for the Indiana Historical Society's new Heritage Support Grants Program, develops and presents interactive workshops and manages the program for the state's 92 volunteer county historians. Jeannette holds an M.A. in Art History from Indiana University.

 

 

 

laura

 

Laura Hortz Stanton is the Executive Director of the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts (CCAHA). Ms. Hortz Stanton previously served as CCAHA’s Director of Preservation Services and as Curator of Collections at the Siouxland Heritage Museums in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she managed a significant collection of historic artifacts. She received her BA in Anthropology and Archaeology from Temple University and her MA from the Museum Studies Program at the Cooperstown Graduate Program.

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Want to learn more about Volunteer Management?


Webinar: Developing a Successful Volunteer Recruitment Program

We know having volunteers in the wings who can give eight hours a day is no longer the case. Recruitment is a process that enables the selection of the right people for the right task. Recruitment is understanding the environment where people want to volunteer and the time they have to give. Learn more about recruitment and gain practical tools for running a successful volunteer recruitment program.

Details:

Date: April 11, 2017

Cost: $40 members/$65 nonmembers

When you register for this webinar, you'll get a promo code for the final webinar in this Volunteer Management Series:  Training Volunteers (April 26).

Register

What Participants Said:

"Each segment was well presented and allowing live chats during the webinar was especially appreciated. Additionally, providing the downloads for use with our organizations is extremely valuable."

"I really appreciated the break-down of different generations -- what characteristics they have (whether they like to be monitored, which age groups really stress acknowledgement) and what recruitment channels are good for them."

"Venues about where to recruit and peer-to-peer questions and answers [were very helpful]."

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About the Faculty:

bethany-hawkins-chief-of-operations

 

 

Bethany L. Hawkins is the Chief of Operations for the American Association for State and Local History.

 

 

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Want to learn more about Volunteer Management?


Webinar: Are You Ready for Volunteers?

Many volunteer programs have existed with little or no formal processes and assessments in place. Often, there is no paid staff member who manages the volunteer program. The result is that the programs are often not well run, translating into high volunteer turnover, anemic buy-in from the organization’s management and staff, and ultimately, low program success. This webinar will address how to plan for a volunteer program at your history organization or how to improve the program that you currently have.

Details:

Date: April 4, 2017

Time: 3pm EST/2pm Central/1pm Mountain/12pm Pacific

Cost: $40 members/$65 nonmembers

When you register for this webinar, you'll get a promo code for 25% off the other two webinars in this Volunteer Management Series: Developing a Successful Volunteer Recruitment Program (Aprill 11) and  Training Volunteers (April 26).

Register

What Participants Said:

"[I liked] the idea that volunteers should be treated more like employees-- that is, given structure and responsibility."

"All the different pieces that need to come together for a successful volunteer program & why things are needed. It supported my thought that my Society is too scattered & disorganized to recruit and retain volunteers."

"Being able to take away clear points and bring them into discussion with my immediate supervisor for validation of my existing instincts and practices."

"Format of slides was easy to read, connect to talk. was really helpful to have names and websites of resources spelled out on slides. I liked the inclusion of actual cases as examples - i.e. the digitization project where the youngest volunteer was 72 yrs old. I also really appreciated being able to see the results of the surveys"

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About the Faculty:

bethany-hawkins-chief-of-operations

 

 

Bethany L. Hawkins is the Chief of Operations for the American Association for State and Local History.

Register

Want to learn more about Volunteer Management?


Managing Volunteers: Lessons Learned Through Experience

A volunteer talking to visitors at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

We all know most non-profits run on volunteers.  Working at a small historical society, this is especially true. When I first started my job in Spring of 2015, I was faced with a rather small volunteer force. I wasn’t sure how to go about initiating change and growing the volunteer base, so I made it up as I went along.  This is what I’ve learned.

  1. Feed your volunteers. Every appreciation event involves food. We provide food at every living history event. One of our fall/winter events includes making cookies for visitors. I make extra for the volunteers. When the season is approaching its end and everyone is worn out, I carry around chocolate.
  2. Get to know them. My volunteers are some of the most interesting and inspirational people I’ve met. None of them see age as a limitation. They ski and paint and lead such busy lives I get tired just listening to what all they do. Also, get to know their preferred method of communication. It seems like a small thing, but makes a huge difference.
  3. Notice them. Volunteer appreciation and recognition events are a must. We do 3 or 4 get- togethers a year. Keep track of important events in their lives and pay attention when someone is sick or has a death in the family.
  4. Provide support. Some volunteers want to help, but are nervous about stepping outside their comfort zone. Pair them up with an experienced volunteer and give plenty of pep talks. Adequate training is a must.
  5. Keep them in the loop. This is probably one of the hardest to accomplish, especially as your volunteer pool grows. They need to know what their job is, but also should be aware of events and achievements of the organization itself. They can’t be proud of what they do and the organization they volunteer for if they don’t know what is going on.
  6. Embrace the quirks. Volunteers are people. People have quirks. Don’t judge and enjoy them for who they are.
  7. Be patient. Remember you are dealing with people with concerns and questions. Yes, you will be asked the same thing 3136 times.  It’s OK. Be patient with change.  It takes a long time, especially when things have been done a certain way for the past 20 years.
  8. Learn how to talk people into things. I say this partly in jest, because you never want to manipulate someone into doing something they don’t want to do. That’s how you lose people. But in all seriousness, you do need to convince people that they are needed and will have fun. It’s a skill I didn’t know I had.
  9. You will never have enough volunteers. I started with about 8 volunteers.  It was not anywhere near enough. Scheduling was a nightmare.  Now I have close 40 volunteers.  There are still events that I can’t fully staff and I’m running around doing 25 different things.

In the end, I’ve learned a lot and working with the volunteers is probably one my favorite parts of my job.

Editor's Note: To learn more about volunteer management, register for one or all three of AASLH's upcoming spring webinar series on recruiting, training, and managing volunteers. 

Want to write for AASLH? Learn more and submit an article here


AASLH Spring Webinar Series on Volunteer Management

AASLH's popular volunteer webinar series is back, and this year, when you when you register for the first webinar, you'll get 25% off the next two. The webinars can be watched in order or individually. Each is a self-contained lesson on volunteer management. These live webinars will be recorded, and the recordings will be sent to all registrants within a few days of the event. Each webinar costs $40 for AASLH Members or $65 for nonmembers.

April 4: Developing a Successful Volunteer Recruitment Program

We know having volunteers in the wings who can give eight hours a day is no longer the case. Recruitment is a process that enables the selection of the right people for the right task. Recruitment is understanding the environment where people want to volunteer and the time they have to give. Learn more about recruitment and gain practical tools for running a successful volunteer recruitment program. Taught by Bethany Hawkins, Chief of Operations at AASLH.

 

Learn More & Register

April 11: Are Your Ready for Volunteers? 

Many volunteer programs have existed with little or no formal processes and assessments in place. Often, there is no paid staff member who manages the volunteer program. The result is that the programs are often not well run, translating into high volunteer turnover, anemic buy-in from the organization’s management and staff, and ultimately, low program success. This webinar will address how to plan for a volunteer program at your history organization or how to improve the program that you currently have. Taught by Bethany Hawkins, Chief of Operations at AASLH.

 

Learn More & Register

April 26: Training Volunteers

How can we train our volunteers for projects that will help them make a difference in our organizations? And how do we make it fun and empowering while avoiding conflicts? Learn about training tips and tactics that can stimulate the long-term sustainability of a volunteer program. This session will be presented by staff from two Field Services offices and will be jam-packed with ideas for how to train volunteers and make their service a rewarding experience. Taught by Tamara Hemmerlein, Director of Local History Services at the Indiana Historical Society; Jeannette Rooney, Assistant Director of Local History Services at the Indiana Historical Society; and Laura Hortz Stanton is the Executive Director of the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts.

 

Learn More & Register

For a full list of all upcoming AASLH Continuing Education events (webinars, workshops, online courses), visit our event calendar.


AASLH and NEMA Partner to Strengthen History Organizations in New England

Traditional New England House

Organizations in the New England region, especially all-volunteer ones, can save money and  put their organization on a path to progress as the result of two offers now available from AASLH and the New England Museum Association.

First, all-volunteer organizations in the New England region that are not currently members of NEMA are now eligible for a complimentary one-year Volunteer Institution Membership (VIM) at NEMA when they enroll in AASLH’s Standards and Excellence Program for History Organizations (StEPs). Membership in NEMA offers a wide variety of benefits including training, advocacy and networking.

stepsbadges-goldStEPs is a self-study program offered by AASLH designed specifically for small- to mid-sized history organizations including all-volunteer ones. The StEPs workbook guides organizations in assessing their policies and practices using a Basic, Good and Better benchmarking system. This allows them to measure progress while working incrementally to make improvements. Bronze, Silver and Gold certificates are earned and help organizations communicate their exciting progress to their community and stakeholders.

Second, ALL current and new institutional members of NEMA that enroll in StEPs receive a complimentary registration for one AASLH live webinar. AASLH maintains a year round calendar of continuing education programs.

Details on how to redeem both offers is sent with StEPs enrollment materials. For more information, contact Cherie Cook, AASLH Senior Program Manager, at [email protected] or 573-893-5164.

AASLH is excited to join with the New England Museum Association to make these special opportunities available.


Webinar: Developing a Successful Volunteer Recruitment Program

*Postponed till Feb 25 due to presenter illness* We know having volunteers in the wings who can give eight hours a day is no longer the case. Recruitment is a process that enables the selection of the right people for the right task. Recruitment is understanding the environment where people want to volunteer and the time they have to give.

If you want to better attract and retain volunteers, this webinar is for you!

Learn more

Are You Ready for Volunteers?

Many volunteer programs have existed with little or no formal processes and assessments in place. Often, there is no paid staff member who manages the volunteer program. The result is that the programs are often not well run, translating into high volunteer turnover, anemic buy-in from the organization’s management and staff, and ultimately, low program success.

This webinar will address how to plan for a volunteer program at your history organization or how to improve the program that you currently have.

Learn more

"What I’m Looking for in a Museum Visit": The Seasoned Museum-Goer

Sometimes, people who start out as our visitors become something more: volunteers, collaborators, contractors, the list goes on and on. In 1999, Ken and Ruth Cooper visited us at the Homestead Museum for the first time. Shortly thereafter, they pitched the idea of Ken instructing an introductory watercolor workshop followed by an exhibit of paintings he’d create inspired by the museum. They brought a wonderful portfolio to show us filled with examples of Ken’s work in the U. S. and England. Ruth, a retired teacher and theatre manager, and Ken’s publicist extraordinaire, was a delight to work with. She clearly understood how non-profits worked and had great admiration for them. To this day, we proudly display Ken’s work in our office buildings.

 

Walter P. Temple Memorial Mausoleum by Ken Cooper
Ken Cooper’s painting of the Walter P. Temple Memorial mausoleum at the Homestead Museum. You never know what kind of talents visitors will bring your way!

 

Since that first meeting, they have visited the museum close to a dozen times to see what we’ve been up to (they often seek refuge from trying Michigan winters in sunny California). A topic of conversation that always comes up is where they’ve been since we last saw them. These days, their travels take them all over the U. S., and historic sites are always on the list of places to explore. Their perspective, as seasoned museum-goers, may not be that of your “average museum visitor,” but many people who visit our sites fall into this category. They are passionate, they have expectations, they seek things out, and they are advocates for places like ours. Recently, I asked them a few questions about their observations and preferences when visiting historic sites. Their answers focused on two things: people and objects.

What makes or breaks your visit to a historic site?

The guides and staff, absolutely!

What are the most exciting changes you've seen in history museums over the years? 

More attention to detail and better visitor facilities. Ken adds that he prefers the eclectic approach where all that was there over the years remains there. He also doesn't like that objects are removed and replaced with written commentary.  He says he can learn more from the objects than something more to read and that he does his reading about the place before or after he goes there.

What's your biggest pet peeve when it comes to visiting a museum?

Guides who stick to their "canned" program/information, are inflexible, and aren't excited about the place and being a guide there.

Do you prefer self-guided or guided experiences when visiting historic sites? Please explain.

We greatly prefer self-guided tours (because of the aforementioned inflexible guides).  And our favorite tours are at the British National Trust's historic sites where we guide ourselves through the house, but there are docents in the rooms ready to answer any question we might have—or look it up in the book they have if they don't know the answer. (Their books, loose-leaf binders which have been laboriously, we’re sure, put together by staff are really detailed with all the information available on the house and its contents and owners.)

Their comments about how interpreters can make or break an experience echo many others I’ve heard and read about. Last year I wrote a blog post inspired by a friend’s comment on Facebook when he said: “Hanging out at Grant Wood’s studio where he painted most of his major works. For the record, volunteer docents really rock when they show passion and demonstrate real knowledge.” This summer, another friend shared how staff at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force facilitated an experience that her family would never forget. She thanked staff by name: Mr. Allen, Mr. Jim, and Mr. Roland. People made these experiences great: people who didn’t stick to the norm; people who were flexible; people who were excited to share! There was no canned presentation in either of these cases, but even if a presentation does need to be somewhat “canned,” I think good interpreters can make it look and sound like it was made just for the group they are engaging with at that moment.

Ken and Ruth Cooper at home in Manistee, Michigan, helping out with the annual Victorian Sleighbell Parade.
Ken and Ruth Cooper at home in Manistee, Michigan, helping out with the annual Victorian Sleighbell Parade.

As for objects—wow—what a conversation there is to be had here! Some people, like Ken, want to see it all. Others are overwhelmed by seeing the whole kit and caboodle and prefer to have some guidance about how to interact with and experience an exhibit. Personally, I think that’s up to an institution to decide. At the Homestead, for example, we’ve recently revamped public tours of our historic houses to feature specific objects that we use to direct the narrative of our story. An 1854 Colt pistol is on permanent display for the first time, not because it’s eye-catching and belonged to a family member connected to our site, but because it is also representative of turmoil in Los Angeles as it struggled to become a major America city on the Western frontier. It’s symbolic of technology’s impact on society, and the object is relevant to issues and concerns that residents of Los Angeles face today. Objects are powerful players in our stories. We, as institutions, need to be clear about the roles we want them to play in the stories we share with visitors, and we need to be able to answer questions about them as best we can. Sometimes that will mean having something like the Trust’s book to consult, or saying “I don’t know, but let’s find out.”

Thanks for sharing your observations, Ken and Ruth. You’re not alone in your thinking, and you’ve given us more to ponder as a field. See you in December!


Taming Your "Wild" Docents

It seems you can't go a week without encountering a museum-related article in mainstream media. While this should be good for our "industry," generally speaking, said articles are satirically toned, often with biased language that steers the reader astray rather than presenting two-sided information allowing them to arrive at educated conclusions - or at least inspiring them to look deeper, perhaps pondering their own experiences in museums or looking for other sources on the matter.

A recent Wall Street Journal article titled "Docents Gone Wild" is no exception. One look at the headline and I expected with anticipation to read about docent organized after-hours bordeaux-fueled wet cardigan contests in orchid-filled sculpture gardens.

When you dig deeper - and please do - you find a poorly researched, albeit humorous, article that could have been really good, but fails to address that docents are humans, mostly unpaid and under-appreciated, and more easily terminable for infractions than paid staff.

To address the author's first anecdote about a fat-shaming, pompous tour guide in Hawaii, the solution is rather simple: WALK AWAY. No adult - regardless of knowledge on a particular subject - need tolerate a rude, blatantly biased windbag. Despite the necessity of a controlled environment, museums are not prisons, where every move is controlled and inmates, er visitors, are led like cattle through hallways and communal areas. Visitors are free to leave a tour at any time.

The author's observation that baby boomer volunteers may be difficult to control is fair, but let's not forget that volunteers are human beings, each bringing different life experiences to the table, and frankly, less likely to be as openly opinionated and grouchy as their paid supervisors upstairs. The key difference is volunteers are paid nothing, rarely - if ever - consulted when it comes to establishing or altering policy though they may have lived through several regime changes, and often seen as readily disposable (I'm looking at you, Hirschhorn).

This fall, I will embark on an intensive 25-session training of new volunteers. In looking over syllabi from the past two decades, it is clear that content comprises 90% or more of training time, with very little emphasis placed on the actual practice of leading a dynamic tour and the requisite skills of quickly assessing your group, its needs, and its level of knowledge on the subject. These are not easily developed skills - though many retired civil servants, teachers, and the like already possess them - but are critical, and should be as emphasized and enhanced as possible within the time constraints of a training program.

Almost a year into my new gig - with reining in those "rogue" docents as one of my responsibilities - I know that some are more flexible than others, but that constructive criticism is more likely to be taken as such when approached in a friendly, creative manner. Docent coordinators should not be afraid to have a discussion about delivery of misleading or incorrect information, too much time spent in one gallery of the museum that happens to be of more interest to the volunteer than the average Joe, or blatantly dismissive behavior toward visitors. As museum staff expects to be evaluated on a routine basis, my docents - many retired doctors, lawyers, engineers, and nuclear physicists livng in posh Santa Fe - expect the same, whether it's a formal process or an informal one.

If every museum professional didn't have at least one volunteer "horror story" - and let's keep perspective: there are a wide range of infractions ranging from suggesting that Washington slept in your historic New England house when he was fighting at Valley Forge up to poking American Gothic with your wooden pointer - we'd be doing something wrong. If your volunteers are acting inappropriately, stop them. Sit down over coffee and have a frank discussion referencing the materials and any contracts signed during initial trainings or subsequent institutional policy updates. We needn't feel like we're being held hostage by individuals who are philanthropically connected or so devoted to their performances that constructive criticism might cause them to quit. I have yet to encounter a docent who doesn't regularly acknowledge that they are volunteering to "make the staff's life easier" or "because I just love to share what I know with visitors," which goes to show their motivation for volunteering is rather selfless and more about making a difference.

At the end of the day, older volunteers bring an air of sophistication to an institution. In more than a decade of recruiting, training, guiding, and working with docents to improve their tours, I've never had one show up to work in shorts like the young man in the photo in the WSJ article - who, incidentally, is a replacement for last fall's unexpectedly fired aged Hirschhorn docents. Seems like he might be the one who views his post at one of the most renowned museums in the nation as a wild spring fling.