This is a ‘how to recruit, manage and support volunteers’ guide produced as part of the Digital Skills for Heritage’s Digital Volunteering programme.
Ripon Cathedral is a Grade I listed cathedral based in Ripon, North Yorkshire and is part of the Diocese of Leeds within the Church of England. It’s an important venue in the region for cultural and civic events, exhibitions, concerts, and services. The cathedral attracts over 100,000 visitors annually and daily activities include worship, music, education, heritage tourism, conservation, and volunteering.
There is a clear appetite from our community and volunteer partners for digital engagement. During lockdown, the cathedral developed digital resources which were widely used and well received. We now have 1500 subscribers on YouTube and 3000 followers on Instagram. This project provides the community with new ways of engagement, increasing the scope of the cathedral’s community reach and ultimately helping to establish Ripon Cathedral as a leading heritage attraction in the North of England.
This project has significantly contributed to the digitisation of Ripon Cathedral’s heritage.
Our current volunteer demographic is mostly over 55s and retired or semi-retired. To broaden our reach, the project targeted volunteers aged between 16-30 with the hope of engaging a younger group. Following recruitment, we engaged two groups in two distinct project types:
- Under 30s for time-limited, specific tasks. We found they were less interested in longer sustained volunteering.
- 55+ for longer-term roles
Methods for recruiting digital volunteers
- Open call (local) – good free publicity but no volunteer applications
- Open call (national) – popular for remote and younger volunteers but high dropout rate – 13 interested, 2 provided content
- Local schools & youth groups – Schools were interested in the idea but no applications came from this
- Local photography group – one very active volunteer and improved links to the community
- Posters & flyers in cathedral – good for advertising but difficult to say how much interest was generated
- Cathedral social media and website – good for targeting youngsters but few applications
- Word of mouth – local people only, but everyone who joined this way has stayed
- Community fairs – good for community engagement and general awareness of project
In the first year of the project volunteers were recruited to distinct roles such as photography, visitor experience, heritage collections, website and social media.
By creating roles that can be done remotely through digital, the project was able to engage with new and existing volunteers to participate in interpretation of the site, with the aim of making it more accessible to visitors.
During the first year of the project a couple of volunteers researched and wrote short blogs about the aspects of the Cathedral’s architecture and decoration that intrigued them. To develop this further we approached humanities students at local universities encouraging them to pursue a research project that most interested them. Each volunteer discussed with the project coordinator potential research angles that may engage audiences and connect with wider programming opportunities.
Most volunteers decided to produce a short blog piece (around 1000-1500 words) for the Cathedral website. Research topics included: iconoclasm in the Reformation in Ripon and the comparison we can make to the erasure of identity in modernity, such as in Ukraine today; the origin of Sri Lankan silverware artefacts and their colonist histories; and the depiction of women in Victorian stained glass within the context of Queen Victoria’s rule.
Volunteers were then invited to participate in a filming project with a professional Leeds based company, Story+. In each film a volunteer was interviewed about their research topic and their involvement in the project. These films will then be embedded within their research article and promoted on social media.
- Phone or Teams call after initial enquiry to discuss the project and what they wanted to get out of it.
- Individual meet ups after application (travel expenses provided) with tour of cathedral and further discussion over coffee.
- Brief provided about project which volunteers were asked to acknowledge receipt and understanding.
- Email support at any time if they had questions
- Emails sent monthly to check how they were getting on if no contact from them or due date for their work had passed.
- Opportunities for them to join in with other cathedral events.
All volunteers also had the Volunteer Co-ordinator’s phone number.
Types of technology digital volunteers used
- Photographed and filmed events and aspects of the cathedral with Sony Alpha A6500 camera
- Livestreamed services using digital streaming cameras and OBS software
- Communicated using Zoom/Teams and email
- Used OneDrive for shared cloud working and document storage.
- Some volunteers used their personal laptops, others used laptops provided by the project
- All volunteers used personal mobile phones with a variety of apps to update social media, communicate through Teams, read and reply to emails, and search the internet.
- Galaxy Tablets to show virtual tours and website within the cathedral
- Sony Alpha A6500 camera, bought second hand – £760
- 2x lenses for above camera, bought second hand – £285 each
- Digital streaming camera – £795
- OneDrive, Microsoft Office & Teams – included with current Office365 subscription
- WeTransfer, Zoom – free
- Laptops – £500 each
- 2x tablets – £230 each
- IT Setup fees – £1,000
1. Staff Recruitment
Volunteer Co-ordinator recruited and in post
2. Advertising & Recruitment
Five volunteer roles identified, outlined and promoted (photography, visitor experience, heritage collections, website, social media)
3. Digital Volunteer Management
- Induction including tour of building, discussion of desired outcomes, guidelines, and protocols.
- Purchase of any required equipment
- Task allocation
4. Creation of material
- All volunteers worked independently on their tasks at the same time to a given timeframe.
- Tasks were either: distinct areas of one project e.g. photography and text produced by different volunteers; or standalone projects e.g. blog posts.
- Completed drafts were sent to the Volunteer Co-ordinator who proofed and suggested edits and then uploaded the final version to the website.
5. Content management
- All content uploaded approved by Volunteer Co-ordinator to ensure quality, consistent messaging and cathedral tone of voice.
- No volunteers had access to corporate social media accounts or website back end.
- Volunteer Co-ordinator created Content Management Plan so that all work would be systematically uploaded at the best time.
Engaging with a younger audience
We found it was harder to engage younger volunteers over longer periods. As a result, short tasks (up to a month) were given to this age group e.g. “write a website article on…” The specific direction and deadline helped to focus them without being too much of a time commitment.
Fewer, more concise tasks
Offering two or three distinct tasks (e.g. articles on carvings, royalty links, or historical periods) for volunteers to choose from led to better results; too many options led to confusion and resulted in fewer submissions. As we got to know volunteers and their creative strengths, we offered them new tasks directly which proved successful.
During inductions, having example materials and guides available made explaining details of the brief such as audience and tone much easier. Early one-to-one sessions with each volunteer also ensured everyone was working to the same objectives. Use Zoom or Teams for remote volunteers.
Internal communication and engagement
The phrase “digital volunteering” is not one that many understand. We found it was important to engage early with internal teams, explain the rationale and demonstrate how the project can benefit them specifically, otherwise it was hard to gain support. This was especially true with the older demographic and the more traditionally minded.
We found digital and remote volunteer roles had a high dropout rate, even after they started volunteering with us. We had an application rate of just 55% from those who expressed interest and only 50% of those who did apply completed a task.
If your volunteers are remote, it is harder to keep up to speed on their progress. Aims, objectives and timescales are essential otherwise volunteers can deviate significantly from the task requested. Making every project SMART helps significantly with this.
- Ripon Cathedral’s Inside the Cathedral includes an interactive map of the Cathedral
- Ripon Cathedral’s virtual tours of the Crypt and Library
- Ripon Cathedral’s Heritage Blog – a series of articles relating to the cathedral’s heritage
- Royals in Ripon an educational trail designed and created by volunteers for families to use in the Cathedral (pdf)
- Ripon Cathedral’s Timeline
Please attribute as: "Creating online promotional material (2024) by Ripon Cathedral Development Trust supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0