Volunteers and interns provide invaluable support for small museums. They increase ties with the community and allow institutions to better fulfill their missions. Recruiting and managing volunteers and interns can seem daunting, but even the busiest museum staff can craft a strong volunteer program with the resources below.

Getting Started

Chances are, even if your organization doesn’t have a written policy or strategic recruitment plan, you still rely on volunteers. How well do you utilize them? What skills should you seek in new volunteers? This Self Evaluation, created by Dr. Katherine Grier, offers a useful starting point for evaluating your volunteer program. Answering these questions will help you see your organization’s strengths and weaknesses in recruiting and managing its volunteer base.

Looking for suggestions on all aspects of a volunteer program? The Corporation for National and Community Service offers this volunteer management guidebook which provides cohesive instructions for volunteer management, from recruiting to managing. If you only have time for one resource, this is a great place to start!

Creating Volunteer Program Policies

Museums should provide volunteers with clear documentation of expectations and rules to which volunteers must agree. Looking at other organizations’ policies, such as that of the Kansas Historical Society, can provide ideas for how to frame or revise your own volunteer policy. The Alexandria Museum of Art’s Volunteer Code of Ethics and Professional Standards is a good model of such a document.

Having a one-time or recurring event that you need volunteers for? Look at Florence May’s article, which offers suggestions and questions you should ask about your volunteer policy before you start planning.


Looking to build or broaden your volunteer base? Look no further!

This technical bulletin from the Oklahoma Museum Association can help you determine the kind of volunteers your organization needs. The Southwestern Federation of Museums and Art Galleries held a Managing and Recruiting Volunteers Workshop in 2014, and you can find the ideas they brainstormed here. See the second page for a list of suggested places, including local colleges, papers, and radio stations, where you can advertise for volunteers.

Does your organization need younger volunteers? The Millennial Impact Project offers research, discussions, and meetings to help organizations engage with the Millennial generation. The organization Volunteer Match provides useful tips for recruiting young volunteers, and the business magazine Forbes offers some more ideas. (Do you already have young volunteers, but you’re not sure how to use them to their full potential? See our resources below in “Training Manuals and Handbooks”!)

Looking for more ideas for recruitment? These are the ABCs of volunteer recruitment, and Volunteer Match offers 101 more suggestions for volunteer recruitment! Thomas McKee’s “The Seven Deadly Sins of Recruiting Volunteers” gives tips on what not to do when trying to recruit volunteers.

The National Park Service offers this set of guidelines for writing volunteer job descriptions. Here is a sample youth volunteer application from the Museum of Science.

Keeping Baby Boomers Volunteering: A Research Brief on Volunteer Retention and Turnover is an insightful look at one of the largest groups of volunteers: Baby Boomers. This is an example of the research reports on trends in volunteering produced by the Corporation for National and Community Service. All reports can be downloaded for free.

The recently-published book, Recruiting and Managing Volunteers in Museums: A Handbook for Volunteer Management, offers information and case studies showing how to effectively recruit, manage, and retain good volunteers.

Volunteer Management and Training

Before you create training resources, make sure to put thought into how you’re using your volunteers, and why. It is important to treat your volunteers with professionalism and respect.

Resources from the American Association of Museum Volunteers include guidelines for managing the safety and effectiveness of volunteers. This short (but helpful!) guide for utilizing museum volunteers from Museum Hack will help you manage your volunteer staff to secure lasting, beneficial relationships.

Want to go even deeper into your organization’s relationship with its volunteers? Tabetha Debo’s paper “Volunteers in Museums: Are Small Museums Utilizing Volunteer Management Policies?” provides useful overviews of volunteer recruiting, management, and retention practices.

It’s important to remember that volunteer labor should not replace qualified, paid professionals in positions that require their expertise. The American Alliance of Museums reminds us why.

If you have an older volunteer workforce, as many small museums do, this article from The Chronicle of Philanthropy focusing on using the strengths of older volunteers may also be useful.

Volunteer training manuals can expedite and unify volunteer efforts. This is an outline that takes you through the process of constructing a training manual. The Museum & Education Department Volunteer Handbook from the Champaign County Forest Preserve District is a good model that you can follow for your own volunteer handbook. It includes volunteer job descriptions, application and emergency contact forms, and waivers for risk and background checks. The Hagley Museum and Library also has a good example of a volunteer training program.

National Museums Scotland published this toolkit for working with young volunteers that will help you decide what to include in your materials for young volunteers. The High Desert Museum also provides a good example of a teen volunteer manual.

After your volunteers arrive, you’ll need to orient them to your site. Check out this orientation manual for a good example from the Volunteer Centre of Camrose and District, in Alberta, Canada.

Volunteer Management Software

SignUpGenius helps you organize your volunteers online for free. SignUpGenius has a Nonprofits Sign Up template which allows you to schedule, manage, and send reminder emails for volunteers.It allows you to see when someone signs up, to send reminders to group members, and to allow list members to “swap” slots with another member (must be registered on the site).

If you rely on a large number of volunteers, check out this quick consumer’s guide to volunteer management software. Does your organization already use PastPerfect? You can track volunteer hours with it! Explore this webinar from PastPerfect to find out how.

Professional Organizations

The Delaware Association of Volunteer Administrators serves as a “statewide organization for leaders of volunteers.”

The American Association of Museum Volunteers offers a wide array of information and resources for both volunteers and for museums looking to manage their volunteer and internship programs.

Legal Issues

Having volunteers work at an organization can raise legal issues related to volunteers’ rights and safety as well as those of the visitors with whom they interact. This webinar covers a range of risks your organization may face and numerous risk management strategies that can be tailored to meet your organization’s needs.

The following books are useful resources containing in-depth information about various legal issues facing museums:

  • Marie Malaro and Ildiko DeAngelis, A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books. 2012.
  • Patty Gerstenblith, Art, Cultural Heritage and the Law. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press. 2012.
  • Anne-Marie Rhodes, Art Law & Transactions. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press. 2011.