Volunteering Needs Report 2021

Volunteering in museums has been significantly impacted by the pandemic and the needs of museums in our region have evolved. As such we asked organisations across the East Midlands to complete a short survey in March 2021, to gather information about volunteering at all types of museums including those run wholly by volunteers or those with paid staff alongside a volunteer workforce.

The ambition for these results is that they will inform MDEM support in this area over the coming 12 months, and will feed into the national understanding of the impact of Covid on volunteering in museums. A dashboard of the main quantitative results can be found here.

The report explores the findings from the survey and makes recommendations for tackling emerging challenges for volunteer management and development. You can see the full report here: MDEM Volunteering Needs Report 2021

Summary of results:

The results can be broken down into two main sections: An analysis of the impact of Covid on operations over the last 12 months and the imminent future; and the wider challenges and opportunities for volunteer workforces in the longer term.

Impact of the last 12 months on operations:

  • On average museums reported losing 22% of their volunteer workforce over the last 12 months. Organisations in rural areas, villages or small towns lost on average 18% of their volunteers, whereas organisations in larger towns or cities lost 29% of their volunteers on average.
  • When comparing the number of actively volunteering individuals in February 2020 and February 2021 we see a 76% decrease in numbers.
  • The governance structure of an organisation had no effect on the number of volunteers lost over the last year. Showing all museum types faced similar issues, and other factors had more of an influence when determining the impact of Covid on the workforce.
  • Almost 50% of museums are unsure or certain that their lack of volunteering capacity will affect their ability to operate to normal levels in 2021.
  • Areas which were felt would be hit most hard by reduction in volunteering numbers due to the pandemic were;
      • Schools and learning opportunities
      • Events and on-site experiences
      • Visitor engagement
      • Weekend and holiday cover
      • Front of House
      • Collections Care


  • Many volunteers although intending to re-join the museum workforce, have not volunteered for many months. Consideration needs to be given to how to maintain volunteer engagement so numbers don’t drop off further.
  • Infrastructure into remote and micro volunteering will allow a more flexible volunteering model, more resilient to lockdowns and other changes.
  • When able to volunteer again some roles may be less suitable then others to carry out in a safe and appealing way. Therefore, museums may need to rethink location and format of volunteering.
  • Particular operational pinch points may come during weekends and summer holidays as volunteers may be less inclined to work these times due to other pulls and commitments.
  • Recruitment needs to ensure a core group of volunteers that can operate the museum in a basic way is drawn from a diverse range of people so that issues such as shielding do not disproportionately affect the workforce.
  • Recruitment also needs to focus on audience engagement, interpretation and digital skills, especially at governance level.
  • There needs to be skills development opportunities for volunteers in audience development, marketing and digital
  • When creating museum support programmes, it is important not to group participants by museum governance model, but instead consider relevant characteristics such as locality e.g. rural/urban.

For more information about the report, please contact Sarah.

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