I don’t know how many times I have heard from our volunteers, “thanks for letting me be here.” I am astonished and humbled whenever I hear that. But these people really mean it. They feel privileged to be a part of this institution. They learn and grow and stretch their abilities in ways they never thought of doing before. They help people enjoy a visit, they make an artifact clean and ready for display, or they put a disorganized collection into order and feel so good as a result. As a volunteer manager, I try to keep that intangible benefit of feeling useful in mind whenever I recruit, supervise or just check in with volunteers. If a project or volunteer position doesn’t give someone a sense of purpose and accomplishment, no amount of mugs, pins, or parties will keep them coming back.
Volunteering seems to help people in unexpected ways. Some of our volunteers have overcome anxiety disorders, extreme shyness, or low self esteem. Others have learned to edit catalogs, work with power tools or determine the best way to clean old linens. These may or may not be skills used in everyday life but they give volunteers more confidence and pride. They see the results of their efforts and can tell others of their contributions. And they might now know how much torque a hand drill really exerts! I don’t see our volunteers bragging but I do see them proudly claiming their connections here. And that’s as it should be. So do whatever you can do in your volunteer positions to create purpose, a sense of accomplishment and get the project done. Your volunteers will thank you for it. And that’s a great feeling.
Kris Weeks Oliveri is a guest blogger and the Coordinator of Volunteers at the Maine State Museum in Augusta.