It’s Gathering and and Conference planning season again. For the third year in a row my work is planning a large Gathering and Conference for a summer long weekend. This year’s Gathering is occurring on the long weekend in August and I am substantially more involved in the planning and implementation of the Gathering.
Events and outreach activities are a fairly common occurrence for heritage organizations. Events are one of the many ways in which heritage groups encourage first time visitors and promote themselves within a community. It also fairly common that heritage groups rely heavily on volunteers and donations in-kind when planning an event.
The planning experience so far this year has inspired a lot of thoughts about the importance of having an involved volunteer based and community connections. Even large heritage organizations utilize volunteers as in day to day activities and special events. Many hands make for light work.
Volunteers are wonderful. They also require planning and coordination. Every volunteer comes from a unique background and has individual interests and skills sets. A good volunteer coordinator will establish tasks for a volunteer that are suitable to their interests and skill sets. I’ve been lucky in my volunteer experiences. While volunteering for the Dufferin Country Museum and Archives, the Red Cross, and the Canadian Museum of Nature I was given tasks that suited my interests and room to expand my skill set. All of these organizations were also extremely flexible in working with my schedule and supporting me in my initial foray into public history.
Having organized volunteers for specific events has contributed to me having a huge respect for individuals who work full-time as volunteer coordinators or in an outreach role. Scheduling volunteers, providing the right amount of guidance and training, and dealing with unexpected volunteer problems requires patience, flexibility, and a huge amount of planning.
What about volunteers for one off events? A few things I’ve learned from the past events we have organized, include:
- Having an orientation session prior to the event can be extremely helpful in avoiding day of chaos.
- One off volunteers tend to be a bit less reliable than regular volunteers. Having more volunteers than you think you’ll need usually helps mitigate this.
- Assign someone to be in charge of the volunteers the day of the event. Have a central place for the volunteers to meet and take breaks.
- Treat your volunteers well (free food always helps) and they will be more willing to help out again in the future.