A day out at the HVOS conference
Last week, the four collections trainees who were not on placement attended the Heritage Volunteer Organisers Scotland (HVOS) symposium, ‘Managing Volunteers Successfully in the Heritage Sector’. The symposium addressed a range of issues surrounding contemporary issues in volunteer management, and was attended by volunteer managers from various national and local museums and organisations as well as other trainees and interns.
After a cup of tea and some pastries, a welcome talk was followed by a short presentation on volunteering projects in the heritage sector based around the Commonwealth Games, in which the potential of the games to inspire people not usually reached by volunteering in areas other than sport was shown.
Throughout the day volunteer management consultant Rob Jackson was on hand to provide expert advice, and started his day with the keynote speech addressing the topic of ‘understanding and engaging 21st century volunteers’. Jackson brought up some thought provoking points about the nature of volunteering and volunteers in the modern day and how the sector must adapt to change and become more flexible if it is to avoid a shortfall of volunteers in the next decade or so. He set out a convincing theory of how different generations approach volunteering. The point he made about younger generations coming to resent volunteering as they feel forced to do it to get a job was an important one and one that resonated in many of our experiences.
The middle of the day was taken up by workshops on a range of topics, all of which we attended between us.
Rob Jackson also ran one of the workshops, entitled ‘Generating Positive Working Relationships between Staff and Volunteers’. During this session we were encouraged to talk in groups about a number of questions including; ‘Even if you had all the money in the world, would you still involve volunteers in your organisation?’ The answer of course was a resounding yes and it was great to hear directly from heritage professionals how important volunteers were to their organisations and the benefits that they can bring.
Another of the workshops we attended in the morning introduced us to the HVOS Toolkit, a guide to managing volunteers which was created by the organisation. The workshop involved interesting group discussions about specific aspects of the toolkit, including legal issues such as volunteer age restrictions, and ideas for how to maximise the two-way benefit of having volunteers.
A theme that ran through the conference was the changing nature of volunteering and, as in all sectors; social media has become an essential part of volunteer management over the last decade, becoming particularly important in encouraging young people to volunteer. The ‘using social media’ workshop looked at how organisations (including RCAHMS, which were described as ‘light-years ahead’ of many other organisations in this area) have used social media and crowd sourcing effectively to assist with projects and promote themselves, and how to keep up in the fast changing world.
In the afternoon we attended a workshop on volunteering and legal issues. The workshop covered volunteer’s rights and outlined the distinction between a volunteer and an employee. It was interesting to examine case studies where organisations had been taken to court by people who deemed themselves as employees, whilst the organisation viewed them as volunteers. It highlighted the importance of volunteer agreements and being aware of the legal side of managing volunteers, which will be useful for our future careers if we become involved in volunteer management.
The symposium concluded with a panel discussion from which we picked up much invaluable information on volunteer management. The day was topped off by a reception to celebrate ten years of HVOS with some lovely cake and (non-alcoholic) fizz provided.
The trainees all learnt a great deal about this essential aspect of the heritage sector throughout the day and were thrilled to have had the opportunity to discuss a range of issues with such experienced company