Pippa Joiner from Orleans House Gallery shares her thoughts on how building partnerships and thinking strategically about volunteering can enable Museums to become more resilient.
In 2014-15 Orleans House Gallery led the Partnership for Excellence West London: Volunteering project with 11 partner museums. The project was funded through the Arts Council England’s Renaissance Strategic support fund.
Building a partnership
Most museums recognise the vital, indeed indispensable, role volunteers play in their organisations and the valuable resource they can continue to be in the future. Yet, the capacity to recruit and train volunteers is often a challenge for many smaller museums. Our project aimed to support 11 partner museums to think strategically about their volunteer programmes, enabling them to become more resilient and sustainable. It provided them with the crucial space, time and support to reflect on their current practice and to think strategically about how they might work with volunteers in the future and learn from best practice in the sector.
We worked with 11 partner museums ranging from Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare – a completely volunteer run organisation – to the London Transport Museum, which has dedicated volunteer managers as staff.
Below are some of the ingredients which enabled the partnership to flourish:
Crucial to partnerships is the concept of a shared goal. However, it is important that within a mutual project there is in-built room for difference. In this case, each partner focussed on improving an aspect of their volunteer programmes. Across the different organisations this ranged from aiming to increase volunteer diversity, to trialling new micro-volunteering models. In this way, partners felt supported within a larger framework, whilst the progress made was highly individualised for each museum. This working process amongst partners ultimately enabled us a greater pooled learning and resources for the future.
Investing in Experimentation
Set against a background of cuts in budgets, many organisations may find it harder to justify spending money from their core budgets on untested ways of working. Although it is widely recognised that volunteers can provide the means to allow museums to ‘do more with less’, improving the volunteer infrastructure and piloting innovative ways of working still comes at a cost. For the pilot projects each partner had a delegated budget which allowed them to test new ideas and take risks in experimenting with new ways of working without fear of failure or major financial implications.
11 Davids = 1 Goliath
Working in partnership can allow smaller organisations ways of achieving greater reach and to be seen on a national level. As part of the project we developed a joint recruitment campaign in which a group advert was placed in the Metro newspaper and Guardian online. This joint venture supplemented the individual local campaigns of partners. An undertaking such as this would have simply been too expensive for a small organisation if working alone and represents a clear way in which similar organisations can pool resources in order to gain a greater impact.
Orleans House Gallery supported partners in achieving their own goals and nurturing peer support through organising training and skill sharing between museum staff and their volunteers across the partnership. In this way, sharing training allowed each partners’ relatively small numbers of staff and volunteers to take part in a greater range of activities. This is a key mechanism in which training resources across a small network can be effectively increased.
- Invest in fostering relationships: A dedicated project co-ordinator enabled the project to run smoothly: with only a year to complete the project their role was important in fostering meaningful partnership working.
- Involve partners: Finding ways to build on and use the skills and experiences of others is vital for partnership work.
- Take risks! Through testing new ways of working, partners have gained new perspectives, insights and skills.
The project has benefitted from enthusiastic partners who have used the project to further develop their resourcefulness, entrepreneurialism and creativity. If we as a sector are to survive and thrive, investing in our volunteering programmes might help us become more sustainable and resilient for the future.
We are under-going an exciting project Transforming Orleans House and as part of this we will be developing our role as Heritage Hub across West London, offering opportunities for Arts and Heritage organisations to be involved in a programme of skills sharing, training opportunities, and joint initiatives to work together and support each other to build a resilient future.
For more information on the project including project Case Studies and the Evaluation Report please visit the website.
Author: Pippa Joiner, Arts and Heritage Development Co-ordinator, Orleans House Gallery. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org