A Tip for Better Communication with Volunteers

Volunteers are the lifeblood of museums. For most of us, we would not be able to function without people willing to volunteer their time. They make the museum run, and they deserve more thank you’s than we can ever give. This said, volunteers also offer some unique communication challenges.

The 80%/20% rule proves true concerning volunteer involvement. 20% of your volunteers work most of the hours and are highly involved. There are two levels of challenge related to volunteer communication. First, some volunteers are not in the building very often. Second, volunteers have different levels of comfort with technologies. While some volunteers read the museum eblasts and follow social media, others do not have email at all and only get phone calls on their landlines at home.

As the number of communication variables rises, it becomes growly important to simplify messaging. In communicating with hundreds (or thousands) of volunteers, you want to present a simple and consistent message. Second, you want to have programs that put special attention on successes related to the core message. The more information you attempt to convey, the more confusion you will create, especially among the less involved volunteers. Most often, the complexity of your volunteer communication processes can be more detrimental than a shortage of communication.

I recommend creating three simple guidelines that inform the volunteer role in your museum. Three simple ideas that summarize the volunteers’ role in the organization and provide a path to consistent wins.

Here’s an example:

  1. Help maintain a safe and clean environment
  2. Making people feel welcome.
  3. Educate about the exhibits and the museum’s mission.

In addition to reiterating these three things in all of your communications, you want to find examples of volunteer successes related to the three pillars. Make a big deal about big wins. In our museum, a few years back, a volunteer spoke to a Hispanic visitor in Spanish. The visitor sent me a really nice card about how much she enjoyed the visit. Turn the volunteers that create wins like this into heroes. Talk about them publicly on your museum social media, talk about them in volunteer communications, and talk about them in staff meetings.

The point is not this specific list of three. The point is making communication with your volunteer team as succinct and consistent as possible and connecting it to a reward system.