Translated by Natalia Kopelyanskaya
The analytical review "Volunteer — Museum — Society: Practice and Prospects" was initiated by the Vladimir Potanin Foundation to assess the first two years of the "Museum Volunteer" grant competition (2019–2020). To prepare a proper analysis, the Association of Cultural Managers — the competition operator — conducted a research on museum volunteering in Russia, in 2020.

It is the first attempt in Russia to provide analysis of the phenomenon of museum volunteering, based on empirical data, which was collected in museums of various profiles, size, management and legal entities.

The in-depth interview was chosen as an appropriate data-gathering method, and thirty-seven interviews were conducted in the following groups:

  • experts in museum volunteering (Russian Federation, the Great Britain, the USA, Canada);
  • volunteers and employees of museums in Russia.

Also, the online survey was carried out to obtain more comprehensive picture of the phenomenon. The working group of experts received, processed and analyzed 521 questionnaires (including 376 volunteers and 145 museum employees).

Research Working Group

Dr. Georgy Nikich, art historian, curator, consultant of programs for the development of cultural institutions. Member of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA);

Dr. Oksana Moroz, culturologist, digital practices researcher, Associate Professor, HSE University;

Dr. Alisa Maksimova, sociologist, Junior Research Fellow at the Poletaev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities, Associate Professor, HSE University;

Dr. Nana Zhvitiashvili, art historian, psychotherapist. Head of Psychological Services at The Harley Street Clinics, London. Member of the Health and Care Professions Council, thе British Association of Art Therapists and the Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice;

Dr. Alexey Boyko, art historian. Leading Expert in Museum Learning Programs, the State Russian Museum;

Inna Prilezhaeva, producer of social & culture projects. Executive Director of the Association of Cultural Managers (ACM);

Yulia Matskevich, museum educator, Head of ACM Museum Project Department, Curator of Competition "Museum Volunteer", the Vladimir Potanin Foundation.


Volunteering in Russian museums has existed for a relatively short time, about two decades (if we take the creation of the country's first Volunteer Service in the Hermitage in 2003 as a milestone). During this time, it acquired the status of an important sociocultural practice, useful for institutions, relevant for society, and positive from the point of view of the authorities.

This is a developing phenomenon, which is currently featured, on one hand, by the intensity and diversity, on the other, by the immaturity and unnecessary implementation of volunteer initiatives. The concept of "museum" + "volunteer" does not yet have an unconditional attractiveness in society — this, in particular, is evidenced by a small number of volunteer programs and projects throughout the country.

The study generated a much more active response from active volunteers than museum staff.


Using 376 volunteer questionnaires, a collective profile of volunteers in museums was obtained:
  • Gender: ¾ — female, ¼ — male;
  • Average age — 35 years;
  • Education: 61% of respondents have higher (including 4% with academic degree), 13% have incomplete higher education;
  • Employment: 59% employees, 13% retired, 27% students at a university / secondary school, 10% schoolchildren, 9% unemployed.

The interviewed museum volunteers show public activity in the following areas:
  • event management (65%)
  • cleaning and landscaping (57%)
  • assistance to the elderly (49%)
  • management of children's spare time and additional learning programs for children (46%)
  • environmental volunteering (38%)

Volunteer programs in museums are developing along two main lines:
  • reputation (a large and significant institution attracts volunteers, considering it part of its mission),
  • initiative (individual employees of various museums apply to volunteers for a variety of reasons, in the range between compensating for the lack of resources and looking for new social ties).

Volunteer projects and programs have a two-way impact:
  • Transformation of the museum's social identity.
  • Change in self-confidence, capabilities and life trajectories of volunteers.

The type of volunteer programs and projects carried out by a museum depends on its values and goals, social nature, and the level of openness. The scope of the volunteer program is, on one hand, the border of admission of a volunteer to a museum space, and on the other hand, the possibility to expand the museum (in practice, information, reputation) beyond its routine.

The positions of museums in relations to volunteer practice are divided into three categories:
  • volunteering is included in the conceptual strategic documents and regulations; the structure and functions include positions, responsible for volunteer programs;
  • volunteer projects are initiated and carried out by employees of departments which required help;
  • a museum does not carry out volunteer programs.

  • The number of volunteers in museums mainly does not exceed 30 people per year (27% of the respondents mentioned up to 10 volunteers in their museum, 36% — from 10 to 30 volunteers).

  • 13% of the respondents reported that their museum engages over 100 volunteers during a year.

  • Of the total number of volunteers involved, only 1/3 participates in the work of museums not occasionally / one-time, but on a regular basis.

The research reveals:
  • the satisfaction index of volunteers; the level of willingness to continue the cooperation is very high;
  • museums, in their turn, are ready to go to the more detailed strategic volunteering programs.

What is holding back the development of museum volunteering in Russia? First of all, it is underestimated as a museum "asset", it has a secondary position in a range of museum practices.

  • Only small museums (less than 10 employees) consider volunteers as a priority (31% of respondents) or consider it rather important (41% of respondents).

  • The attitude of other museums of various scale (up to the largest) is not so unambiguous: the significant part of all questionnaires (at least half of them) is reported that other activities are the priority, i.e. the volunteer work is on the periphery.

  • 57% of the questionnaires indicate that the museum does not have a special staff member, responsible for volunteer work management.

  • Only 23% of respondents noted that their museum has a strategy, and volunteering is included.

  • 21% of the respondents indicated that their museum has a special department for volunteer work.

  • Two-thirds of the respondents answered that their museum does not work in raising funds and resources (education and information, as well as grants) for volunteer development.

  • The recent pandemic (COVID-19) suspended work with volunteers: partly — in 20.5% of museums, completely — in 59.5%.

  • Only 1/5 of museum employees' questionnaires showed the push forward in the development of volunteering in the pandemic times (18% — change in formats of volunteering, 2% — work with volunteers (remote) started).

A significant issue is the assessment of volunteers' work in museums, which was traditionally considered within the accepted quantitative indicators. Only 4% of the interviewed employees reported that museums put the special indicators to assess the effectiveness of the volunteer programs.

The agenda includes the need to introduce and to broadcast a set of criteria assessing the qualitative, quantitative and indirect results of volunteer projects (indices of social, educational and environmental impact, economic equivalents).


Volunteering as a phenomenon create a unique dynamic potential and basis for complex changes in museum and professional environment in general, in regional communities as well as in the development of inter-institutional and international relations.

Meaningful volunteering programs, regardless their scale, should be at the core of museums' strategies. Another reinforcing factor is a new risk, posed by the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). During the pandemic there was a large — scale research and many discussions about the future in the museum world as well as the growing role of "volunteer programs".

Comprehensive inter-museum and museum public programs, based on demand of systemic support to volunteering, such as grant programs, learning programs, PR and marketing.

The phenomenon of museum volunteering needs to be identified as a specific sector within the volunteering; and it is necessary to accumulate experience in that field, to support impulses and to create the museum volunteers' association, integrated into the international networks of museums and cultural volunteers.

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