Museum Volunteer Jobs
Volunteering at a museum is the best way to get a job there. Volunteers who take on more important jobs at a museum can distinguish themselves and make themselves so valuable that at some point the museum can decide it has to hire you.
On the other hand volunteering can be a dead end road of boring jobs.
How do you get the good volunteer positions?
The volunteer coordinator at a museum is a people-person who is charged with solving problems (finding people to do the museum’s work) and keeping the unpaid workers happy. They will look at your vacation photos and profess to be interested, and will send you a birthday card if you are a regular volunteer. But they will not be creative in finding the best volunteer position for you.
Figure out what you can do for the museum that they really need and you could do well. It could be something they are currently not doing or are doing so poorly that it is hurting them. Of course the job you want to take on should be fun for you. Also know that the volunteer coordinator won’t be interested in having that job done until a museum manager requests a volunteer position to do it.
Engage the person responsible for the area of your interest rather than the volunteer coordinator and see if they want to have the improvement made or the job done.
If so, tell them you’d like to do it. Sell them on your abilities. They can request the volunteer coordinator create a new volunteer position and place you in that slot. Now you’re solving a museum problem and making management look good.
Here’s a way to start. Visit other, larger museums to get some ideas of what they do that your intended museum does not do. With some ideas in mind, take the responsible manager to coffee or lunch and explain that you’ve noticed museum XYZ does some really cool things. The manager won’t like all of the things you mention, but he or she may like one. Undoubtedly he will say either that he is starting such a project or wants to start such a project but is resource limited. Now you can pitch your abilities to do the job at a price that is right.
Ideally in your volunteer position you report directly to a senior member of the staff, a department head or curator. You want visibility within the organization for the good work you do.
The more closely your skills and experience are aligned with what the museum does, the better your chances are. If you want to volunteer and work at an aquarium, it would help if you knew something about fish and owned an aquarium. This experience will enable you to talk to the curator in the language of her field and convey competence and appreciation for how to do the job of caring for fish.
There are lots of simple jobs that curators or managers have to do, but would rather hand off. If you watch, directly or through museum publications, what they do, you can figure out how you could help them. At an aquarium, someone has to scrape algae off the glass or acrylic tanks. If you can do that, you will save her time and allow her to do other more important things.
Let’s summarize. Find a job that you’d like to do and that you could do well for the museum. Pitch them on your enthusiasm and abilities. Do the best job imaginable. If you blow them away with your work, ask them for a letter of reference in case a job becomes available at another museum. Have fun and good luck.