Case study: Reviewing The Hockey Museum's volunteer programme

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Project summary

As part of the Sporting Heritage & the Armed Forces project, The Hockey Museum (THM) had the opportunity to work with a consultant to review existing volunteer practice and develop new documentation and activity to support THM’s existing volunteer group as well as attract new volunteers to the museum.

The project resulted in a new Volunteer Handbook which included guidelines for all staff and volunteers at the museum, updated role descriptions, a volunteer agreement and a better understanding of how volunteers fit into and are valued at THM. It also led to the identification of the need for and recruitment of a Volunteer Co-ordinator for THM.

How did you identify the need for this project?

THM is a young museum that has grown rapidly in size, ambition and professionalism (i.e. more staff and museum accreditation). We recognised that we needed to reflect on the volunteer procedures and practises that we started with and identify improvements so we could continue to grow as an organisation.

As part of our development, THM had taken on numerous ambitious projects and as a result our relationship with our volunteers had changed and communication with them had faltered. Where before some longer-established volunteers had been involved in setting strategic direction and projects, the growth and evolution of THM had left some feeling less involved and undervalued. The scale of the project work being delivered by the museum meant that the curatorial staff often didn’t have the time to communicate direction and project updates to the wider volunteer group which was causing a disconnect. It was universally agreed that volunteers are the lifeblood of THM and we couldn’t achieve the work we do without their immense input, so we needed to address these issues to maintain community spirit, positive energy and to keep moving forward.

What did you do and who took part?

As part of the Sporting Heritage & the Armed Forces project we had a series of meetings between THM’s curatorial team and our consultant to identify and discuss issues and tackling pieces of work arising from the recommended AMOT/NCVO toolkit. The THM team, which included a trustee, two museum professionals and two key volunteers, held additional meetings to review existing work and to develop new documentation in between the project meetings.

What difference has this work made in your organisation?

  • Volunteer Handbook and agreement – now a requirement for museum accreditation, this project gave us the opportunity and guidance to create them. These documents set out how THM values its volunteers, what it does for them and the standards it expects in return, as well as day-to-day HR guidance etc. They formalise and bring structure to the relationship between THM and its volunteers. We also introduced an induction process for new volunteers.
  • Volunteer roles review – this ‘working document’ helped THM understand what roles we needed going forwards; we can now more easily identify and prioritise areas of museum work and either target advertising within the community for specific roles or look to reposition existing volunteer resource to the benefit of THM as well as offering improved variety of work. It also provided an improved understanding of volunteer motivations.

What have been the benefits for your organisation?

Perhaps the biggest difference is the recruitment of our voluntary Volunteer Co-ordinator, Suja. We recognised the need for the position during the volunteer roles review and resulted in us advertising with the local council’s volunteering agency. We didn’t have the financial resource for a paid position but were able to attract a highly capable and organised professional who has become a valued part of the team.

Through Suja’s efforts, volunteer numbers have grown and the museum direction, project work and social activities are now better co-ordinated and communicated within the museum. By taking on the communication, Suja has freed up museum staff to focus on project work and there is a renewed energy that has been especially valuable coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Suja has considerably improved and refined volunteer recruitment. Previously we used a generic “come and volunteer; we’re a great museum”-type advert, but now (courtesy of the roles review document) we target specific roles we need filling. We have a better relationship with our council’s volunteering agency which has improved visibility to potential volunteers in the local area. We have built other relationships: with universities and a local charity for neurodivergent people.

Our volunteer makeup has evolved from 90% with hockey experience vs 10% with little or no hockey experience to closer to a 60:40 split. We have broadened the appeal for people without a hockey background, but from whom THM still has a valuable and interesting offer. Suja has worked to create a ‘Pen Portraits’ index of our trustees, staff and volunteers so everyone in-house knows who’s who, what knowledge and experience they have and a subsequent understanding of the right person to turn to for specific advice.

Is there anything you would do differently?

  • Volunteer Handbook and agreement – whilst this ticked necessary boxes for accreditation it frustrated several long-standing volunteers who do not recognise its value and saw it as too bureaucratic and needlessly formal. There has been a resistance to the ‘professionalisation’ of volunteering at THM. Newly recruited volunteers have had no issue and, if anything, it has improved their induction experience and first impressions of THM. The lesson here is about the tone of the whole document, softening its wording to feel warmer, more inclusive and less dogmatic.
  • Volunteer Co-ordinator – this wasn’t plain sailing despite the role’s success. There was resistance from a minority of longer-established volunteers who felt that they “didn’t need to be managed” and for whom Suja’s appointment was viewed as an impingement on their autonomy. Ideally, we would have introduced Suja and her new role to the volunteers in person, but she joined THM during the pandemic and this wasn’t possible; doing so would have softened the change process.
  • Skills audit – We also attempted to conduct a skills audit questionnaire of the existing volunteers so that, with a better understanding of their skillsets, we could work with them to offer different experiences and variety in their work, whilst matching skills with work identified as key to THM’s strategic direction. This was not well received and we reverted to 1-on-1 discussions to extract the necessary information – much more time consuming but infinitely more personable.

What will you do next as a result of this project?

We’re now operating at volunteering capacity and THM is in a much more sustainable position as a result. Going forward we will likely look to slow down the recruitment drive and look to transition Suja’s role to focus more on communicating project work and the strategic direction of THM to ensure volunteers buy-in to this as well as understand their value to THM and its appreciation of their work.

The Sporting Heritage & the Armed Forces project was, perhaps unknowingly, the start of THM becoming a more diverse and inclusive organisation. Our volunteer makeup has changed, and we have become more open and accessible, particularly to the local community. We want to continue this journey and the Board have appointed new trustee, Tochi Panesar, to chair an Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) committee.

Our volunteers continue to be key in addressing the museum’s documentation backlog, under the supervision of our Collections Officer, Carli-Lyn Vermani. As we catalogue and unearth so many fascinating stories, our volunteers can be involved in further research and in the sharing of these stories through THM’s digital marketing work. Digital audience engagement is a key part of the museum’s five-year strategy and through the work undertaken in the project we can more competently align our volunteer resource to aid its delivery.

What top tips would you give to others going through a similar process?

  • Involve, from the outset, personnel across all levels of museum operation (trustees, staff and volunteers) when undertaking this type of review, which will ensure you can bring people along with you as you make changes.
  • Be aware of changing too much too quickly, especially if changes are significant. Resistance to change exists everywhere. Be prepared for pushback, not to fight it but to be prepared to listen to it and re-evaluate your position and approach.
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