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For Your Consideration 3.4

A New Resource for Volunteer Program Administration

The American Council for the Arts in association with the American Association for Museum Volunteers has produced a comprehensive text on administering volunteer programs that should of assistance to anyone organizing or supervising volunteers. Volunteer Program Administration: A Handbook for Museums and Other Cultural Institutions, by Joan Kuyper, offers sample job descriptions, evaluation forms, and program guidelines easily adaptable for use in every possible volunteer setting including docent programming.

The text examines such topics as: long-range planning; legal and ethical requirements; leadership and advocacy; the role of the volunteer administrator; program supervision; sources for recruitment; interviewing, placing, training, and evaluating volunteers; and even dismissing a volunteer.

Volunteer Program Administration is available through the American Council for the Arts and the American Association of Museums. The charge is $15.25 for members and $16.95 for non-members. Both organizations charge a shipping and handling fee, however the ACA charges only $4, which is $3 less than the AAM charges for UPS delivery. To order through the ACA call, toll free 800/321-4510 (credit card orders only) or write to: American Council for the Arts, Dept. 33, One East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022. To order through the AAM call 202/289- 6578 or write to: AAM Bookstore, P.O. Box 40, Washington, DC 20042.

Enfranchised Docents Respond!

Any museum seriously hoping to enfranchise and professionalize its docent corps should create routes for their inclusion. The following are suggestions that can make docents feel and perform better, and improve the rapport between docents and the paid staff:

invite a docent representative to be present at regularly scheduled staff meetings (except those that are closed for specific reasons) so that he or she can report what is happening in all areas of the museum to the other docents;

invite a docent to be present during the initial planning process for upcoming exhibitions so that those who must teach with the objects can express their ideas and concerns to those who install and label them;

invite representatives of the curatorial and security staff to speak with docents to discuss their ideas and concerns about tours, visitor conduct, and the docents’ role in making their responsibilities more successful;

provide docents with regular, periodic performance evaluations so that they might know what is expected of them, how they are doing, and where and how they might improve; and

request that the museum’s director address the docents as a group on a regularly scheduled basis in order to present an overview of the goals and challenges facing the museum in the months ahead.

On Being a Professional

If one of the goals of your institution or docent organization is to raise the performance and status of docents to that of a profession, consider those variables that define a “professional.” They are: performance standards ; accountability; and compensation.

Performance standards convey the purpose and responsibilities of the position. For paid staff they are established through written job descriptions that define precisely what that staff member is expected to do; who that staff member is supervised by; and the “yardstick” by which their activities are measured.

Accountability refers to being responsible for one’s actions and activities. A professional is accountable for such factors as his or her: attendance; reliability; deportment; acquisition of necessary skills and abilities; and ability to fulfill the responsibilities assigned. Professionals learn what is expected of them and how their performance meets these expectations through performance evaluations or reviews.

Compensation is the reward for work. Compensation need not be monetary, but it should, however, be tangible (in addition to those intangible rewards such as comraderie, or the satisfaction of doing a good deed). Compensating volunteers should not only take the form of parties or luncheons, but should include items that enhance professional development. For instance, provide volunteers with individual copies of texts and periodicals (such as The Docent Educator); offer them opportunities to learn from guest speakers; sponsor field trips; and give docents institutional privileges accorded to other staff members.

“For Your Consideration,” Docent Educator 3.4 (Summer 1994): 12.

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