In William Tregaskes’ latest blog he spoke about moving on from a voluntary role which had stopped giving him skills as being a ‘tough decision’ and he spoke of sense of breaking ‘loyalty’ with the host institution. If you are thinking of taking a more mercenary approach with the voluntary work you take on, should you be worried about upsetting a supervisor or organisation from which you break away? Drawing on my experience of volunteer management, I think that answer should be a resounding ‘no’ – you should not be worried.

People volunteer for all sorts of reasons, and it feels wrong to reduce the rich mix of individuals that choose to freely give-up their time into mere categories, but one of the larger cohorts are those seeking the skills and experience to either start or further build upon a career in museums.

Importantly, it is from that very same cohort that the majority of paid museums professionals working today first sprung. That means that these professionals know the score. They understand the passion, but also the hunger and the sacrifices. They were once like you, and they can see themselves in you. They really and truly want to see you do well.

Because you are so driven, you are also one of their key assets. It’s not just the hard work and the quality of your output, it’s also the fact that you ‘get’ museums, cultural heritage and history, art and science.  It makes you a joy to work with because that love and excitement rubs-off on those of us who may be a little bit more jaded and reminds us of the fire that we used to have.

I spoke of love, but there is also hate. We despise the fact that you have to surrender your valuable time and that we can’t give you a fair wage for all your efforts. We are uncomfortable knowing that you are with us in the day time, but that you when you leave at 5pm, it will not be to a warm house, but to a late shift in a pub or a bar into the small hours. We hate the fact that we’ve had to contrive a remote volunteering initiative because Saturday is your only free day, when none of the back-of-house staff are in. We feel guilty that you send us in amazing work, but we so rarely get to see you. We scream at the havoc the broken system is playing with the diversity of the sector’s workforce.


Whether guilt is the driver, or just the happiness we feel in seeing you thrive, we all want to help you to get to where you want to be. We love to help with CVs and covering letters, as well as sharing tips for interviews and career development. But also – crucially – we understand why you might want to leave us. Of course, we’re dead sorry to see you go. Yet if it helps you grow, and if it helps you to get the skills you need, then we will always support your moving on to new lands. Be mercenary. We get it. We’ve been there.

I don’t speak for all volunteer managers, but I am confident that I speak for all good volunteer managers. The fact is, we would not have got where we are today without the support we received from our own supervisors back in the days when we ourselves were volunteers. Only a complete shit would not want to hand that nurturing mantle down to the next generation.

It is then from my own old supervisors that I take this ethos. The credit is not mine, for they moulded me in their own image. They edified me, and then forgave me when I made the jump.

Be mercenary.

One thought on “Mercenary Volunteering: Part Two. Will I Annoy my Supervisor(s)?

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