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Two Volunteer Program Structures

By Joan Kuyper, with Ellen Hirzy and Kathleen Huftalen
From Volunteer Program Administration: A Handbook for Museums and Other Cultural Institutions, American Association for Museum Volunteers, 1993

Museum volunteer programs can be organized according to one of two models: an independent supporting organization or an integrated volunteer program with paid or unpaid staff administrator. These models do not always operate discretely; one or both of them may exist simultaneously. Some institutions have both models operating among various volunteer groups, providing a wide range of options for volunteer service. Any program--whether managed by volunteers or by an administrator-- can be highly professional as long as there is good communication, mutual respect, and commitment to the museum's goals.

The following questions can guide the choice of model or models for a particular institution:

  1. What is the program's stage of organizational development?
  2. How have volunteer services traditionally been structured in the museum?
  3. What proportion of volunteer activities is devoted to:
    • public programs?
    • visitor services?
    • behind-the-scenes activities?
    • fund raising and special events?
    • community relations?
  4. What staff resources are available to administer and support the volunteer program?

Independent Supporting Organization
The independent supporting organization's policies and procedures are not part of the parent museum's operations, and volunteers are members of a separate entity (see Figure 2.5). The organization may have its own bylaws, governance structure, and tax-exempt status apart from those of the museum. To promote accountability and open communication, a supporting organization should have a formal agreement with the museum.

Depending on the type of museum and its mission, such an organization may provide a variety of the volunteer services described in chapter 1. New types of supporting organizations are frequently created in museums to meet any one or a number of broad purposes, induding fund raising and special events; support of interpretive programs or administration of the complete interpretive function; and providing behind-the-scenes assistance.

Effective supporting organizations are usually highly structured with detailed rules and regulations governing volunteer responsibilities, conduct, minimum service requirements, and ethics. Such organizations provide extensive training, including in-service management programs for experienced volunteers and special lectures to increase the volunteers' knowledge of their vital role in the work of the museum. Many such organizations give volunteers provisional membership status for a specified period, after which the individual's work is evaluated and he or she is considered for full membership.

Supporting organizations typically work in partnership with paid staff. Each of the organization's programmatic and administrative functions is usually under the aegis of a committee that includes a staff liaison. This paid staff member, the museum director, and sometimes the board of trustees are involved in the approval process for volunteer programs.

Integrated Program with Administrator
Some volunteer programs, after operating successfully for years with volunteers totally in charge, find that they need an administrator when the program becomes too large to manage with part-time volunteer leadership. The administrator may be paid or unpaid. (For a discussion of the responsibilities and qualifications of a volunteer program administrator, see chapter 3.) In this model (Figure 2.6), which is appropriate for institutions of all sizes, the volunteer program is a separate function within a department or a separate department equal in stature to other museum departments.

This model works differently depending on the museum. In some museums the volunteer program administrator directs visitor service and certain behind-the-scenes activities, while the education department supervises volunteers who undertake interpretive activities and the development department has responsibility for volunteers who raise funds. In other museums the volunteer program administrator supervises all volunteers regardless of the type of work they do. Whatever the reporting system, the integrated volunteer program with an administrator is part of the museum's administrative structure; the professional practices and personnel policies applicable to volunteers are similar to those for paid staff.

In this model, program planning conunittees are joint volunteer/paid staff task forces. Paid staff and volunteers both participate in the administration of day-to-day activities. For this model to be effective, there must be open communication, with volunteers having a voice in planning the museum programs that involve their services.

Armed with a long-range plan, carefully thought-out policies and procedures, the support of the museum's board and administration, and an appropriate operating structure, volunteer leaders can begin to work out the details of day-to-day program administration.

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