Supporting volunteer development

Volunteer organisers and volunteers from the National Mining Museum, National Museums Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland and The David Livingstone Birthplace participated in a round-table about approaches to volunteer development.
They gave the following tips for supporting volunteer development:
Ask about people’s motivations for volunteering

Knowing people’s motivations for volunteering helps volunteer organisers match them to appropriate roles and organise desired training or shadowing opportunities. It’s a good idea to ask volunteers about their motivations during the application process, either in the application form, interview or informal chat/induction.

Have volunteers choose their tasks

Instead of offering roles with set responsibilities, try making roles more flexible by letting volunteers choose their tasks from a set list. This will ensure that the volunteer is engaged in their role and that they develop any desired skills.

Empower volunteers to make tasks their own

You could also give volunteers some creative license to make a task their own. For example, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) supported their tour guide volunteers to research sites and focus on their particular interests, such as religious context, the surrounding landscapes, wildlife, etc. HES’ Collections, Cultural Resources and Interpretation teams then helped volunteers write tours based on their research. This enabled volunteers to develop research and interpretation skills and delve into their interests, and visitors to sites have fed back that they love that volunteers have given their personal touch to the tours.

Highlight to volunteers how you can support them

During the induction process, have a chat with volunteers about expectations and responsibilities of both the volunteer and the volunteer organiser. If you offer any development opportunities such as training or shadowing, highlight these to the volunteer so that they know those opportunities are available.

Be sure to check in

As the volunteer familiarises themselves with the role, be sure to check in and see how they’re getting on. This will help you get a feel for the sorts of tasks that volunteers are suited to, and enables you to give the volunteer different tasks if they’re not keen on the ones they’ve been doing.

Create a basic development plan

If the volunteer is interested in developing particular skills or gaining specific work experience, you could create a basic development plan for them. A basic development plan is a way of recording what development needs an individual has and how and when you will meet them. It often includes:

  • The skills the volunteer wants to develop
  • The tasks and/or training that the volunteer will undertake to develop those skills
  • A timeline for checking in on progress
Set up shadowing opportunities

Do any of your colleagues have expertise relevant to the volunteer’s interests? Chat with them about the possibility of having a volunteer shadow them for an afternoon or a few days. This gives volunteers a sense of the job and the tasks involved, as well as the opportunity to chat with a professional.

Learn from other heritage volunteer organisers

We’re all in this together! If you liked this blog and watched the event recording and are keen for more information, you can sign up to Make Your Mark to access a Scotland-wide heritage volunteer organisers network. Joining Make Your Mark will also subscribe you to a monthly e-newsletter with top tips for heritage volunteer organisers. Signing up is free and easy – just fill out this short form.

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