Volunteers–What We Want, Part I

One of things I have done since retirement is volunteer, both in San Diego and now in Central Virginia.  In San Diego, I volunteered for the San Diego Public library, the National Park Service, and the USS Midway Carrier Museum Library.  In Central Virginia, I still volunteer remotely for the USS Midway and  for the Scripps Library at the Miller Center.


library volunteers delivering a mlk message
Volunteers put on a MLK Jr story hour at Joint Base San Antonio, TX

At the public library, I shelved DVDs.  On the plus side it was simple, no one had to take time to create a project for me, and there were always DVDs to shelve.  I had a schedule, but I could have shelved DVDs at any time.  On the minus side it was boring–necessary but not a good use of my skill set.  Fortunately, the children’s librarian took an interest in me and had me tutor a remarkable young man one hour a week.  (He did not really need a tutor but his mother wanted him to have it.  He was an immigrant child with excellent English, strong sense of duty, and wonderful manners.  When he saw me come in, he would stop what he was doing, including leaving a game with his friends or participating in a library program.  I usually told him to come back when the event was over.)


Take away one–Make the volunteer feel welcomed and try to give them a task that will enrich them as much as it will the organization benefitting from their time and abilities.


open bunker day re-enactors set up a military checkpont at cabrillo
Volunteer WWII re-enactors set up a check point like there would have been when the tip of Pt. Loma was a Costal Artilley Base during WWII

At Cabrillo National Monunment, the Park Service referred to us as VIPs  (Volunteers in Parks),  a wonderful acronym that already started with you feeling like a Very Important Person.  Unlike the library which had strong rules about volunteers not doing what a paid employee should be doing, the Park Service treated us as equals, not free grunt labor. (Both Rangers and VIPs share a lot of the scutt work from clean-up to manning the Visitor Center.  We all realized that the Rangers had the final word and they were always careful to consider volunteer opinions and recommendations.)  We could do inside work, outside work, behind the scenes work, frontline work–almost anything we felt comfortable doing from leading nature walks, historical re-enactment at the Lighthouse, the WWII coastal artillery batteries, the Age of Discovery exhibits,  at or in the Tidepools, to working with records and files.


Take away two–As  much as possible, treat the volunteers as an intregal part of your team.  Don’t treat them as free grunt labor.


maddy and nan getting thier docent graduation certificates from ceo mac maclaughlin
Maddy and Nancy graduating from Docent Training.  Volunteers can get the training, even if they do not plan to become a Docent.

At the Midway Library, I served as a Lead Librarian one afternoon a week.  The Midway Library is totally manned by volunteers.  The only paid position, is our boss, the Mueum Curator. While I was at the library, I usually  cataloged, but I also helped people who came up  to look themselves or somebody else up in the Master Crew List.  I could wander around the ship learning about different parts of the ship, its history, its crew, and its varying missions.   Anything we learned could be of use, when a guest stopped us anywhere on the ship with a question.  Each section wore a different colored golf or tee shirt and kahki pants/shorts/skirts–but the guests would have no reason to be aware that our uniform indicated our volunteer speciality.  They only knew or cared that we were part of the Midway and could help them with a question or a problem.  We were always invited to take advantage of any learning opportunity on the Midway.


Take away three–Let the volunteer learn as much about your organization as possible.  You never know who will ask them a question.   They are also a valuable marketing opportunity to get your organization exposed to groups that may not be part of your normal constituency.

To be continued…..

13 thoughts on “Volunteers–What We Want, Part I”

  1. LOL! I learned in the Army to never volunteer for anything! Unfortunately, the lesson didn’t stick too well. People who give their time or resources to a cause should be respected. Organizations that cannot seem to do that may find themselves running out of volunteers. I have personally seen that happen.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great post! I volunteer both here and in Italy (where we live half the year). Here I do a lot through our library. In Italy I am a senior advocate and I also restore grave markers. It’s a passion to help others.

    Liked by 2 people

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