Volunteers are lifeblood of automotive museums

Volunteers are lifeblood of automotive museums

The Owls Head Transportation Museum relies on volunteers to fill a critical need at all of its events, from the airplane hangar and auto workshop.

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Volunteers Gardening at the Gilmore | Photo provided by the Gilmore Car Museum

The Owls Head Transportation Museum relies on volunteers to fill a critical need at all of its events, from the airplane hangar and auto workshop to the front lines of greeting and assisting visitors and working behind-the-scenes on a variety of projects.

And the Owls Head is typical of automotive museums across the country.

“Our dedicated skilled volunteers are the lifeblood of the museum,” said Niki Janczura, who coordinates volunteers for the Owls Head museum in Maine.

We did a quick survey and officials at the Gilmore Car Museum, the Kansas City Automotive Museum and the LeMay Museum all agreed that they depend on volunteers to help with vehicle care and maintenance, to serve as docent or gallery hosts, to lead educational tours and to work on committees, special events, in the administrative offices, in libraries and archives, and even with outdoor gardening and landscaping.

According to Janczura, Owls Head had 196 active volunteers who logged over 14,000 hours in 2014.

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Volunteers Working with the cars | Photo provided by Kansas City Auto Museum

“We are lucky to have dedicated volunteers who choose to be here to support our mission, their shared love for vintage auto and airplanes, friendships and a sense of belonging,” said Janczura.

Volunteers at Owls Head typically spend between 20 to 35 hours a month working with the museum.

Brittany Williams and Fred Colgren, two of the volunteer coordinators for the Gilmore Car Museum said the museum has around 175 registered volunteers.

About 30 of them are what the Gilmore considers to be “full-time” volunteers, which means they are at the museum at least once a week, every week for their designated time and assigned area.

“The other volunteers we have are what we consider ‘reserve’ volunteers, or people who only work during the summer season when the museum is the busiest,” said Brittany Williams. “We also call on these volunteers throughout the year if a special project or event arises.”

Vreni of the Kansas City Automotive Museum told ClassicCars.com the Museum depends on 30 docents who rotate weekly.

“Of course, some are available more than others so it is not uncommon for us to have docents that are here an entire day twice a week and see others only on weekends,” Fernandez said

“On most days, we ask for at least 19 volunteers to cover two shifts and a tour,” said the LeMay Museum volunteer coordinator Jana Wennstorm.

“In addition, we may need more if private tours, school tours, or events are scheduled (we have a 15:1 ratio for tour guides) or if the Collection Management Crew is in that day (that is an extra dozen or so volunteers).”

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Gilmore Car Museum Volunteers preforming some car maintenance

“Event needs vary from event to event and those are always on top of what our typical daily needs are.”

Each museum is fortunate to have a lot of “self-recruiters” and a lot of current volunteers who refer prospects. According to Janczura, “finding enough skilled volunteers specific to airplane and automobile mechanics is challenging.”

Word of mouth is the LeMay’s best advertising as “current volunteers bring more to the recruitment than all of my other efforts combined,” Wennstorm said.

“The largest portion of our volunteer corps is made up of those that are of retirement age who are looking to invest their time in an organization they support,”said Brittany Williams from the Gilmore,“Our current volunteers are excellent when it comes to word-of-mouth and bringing additional people to the organization.”

For those who want to volunteer but don’t know anything about working in a museum or working with automotive, each museum offers some sort of training to get you by.

In the case of Owl Head, “volunteers receive training in each respective department.” Janczura said.  “For example, the education department provides classes for our tour guides and Model T drivers. On-the-job training is also utilized with volunteers working alongside staff.”

“As far as training and orientation at this time, an incoming volunteer would work closely with another seasoned volunteer in the area they are interested in to learn what is expected of them as a volunteer here at the Gilmore,” said Brittany Williams.

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Docent Volunteer at the Gilmore Car Museum

“They would also work closely with department heads in the areas of library and archives, collections, and operations if those areas are of interest to them. Right now, Fred and I are in the process of revising our program and setting up more structured guidelines as far as personalized training and orientations go for specific areas of the museum.”

In Kansas City, volunteers go through a training that includes Kansas City automotive history, museum history, as well as museum policies and guidelines.

According to Wennstorm, at the LeMay, “volunteers get a general orientation, about two hours, and then area specific training for each volunteer position, which varies greatly depending on the task.”

The museum also offers training for voluneers in exhibits, safety and membership.

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