Lead the Way: Volunteers Strengthen Heritage Preservation

Done By Volunteers and Interns Blog

Activities and accomplishments of Minnesota Historical Society volunteers and interns


The Minnesota Historical Society's volunteer and intern programs welcome people from all communities to engage in mission-related projects. Over 2,660 volunteers and interns contribute 53,400 hours hours annually. This diverse volunteer corps helps to achieve the MNHS mission — Using the Power of History to Transform Lives.

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Lead the Way: Volunteers Strengthen Heritage Preservation

By: Rebekah Bjork | December 18, 2015

Three strategies in Minnesota’s statewide preservation plan mention volunteers in reference to increasing historic preservation capacity (Plan Goals 3, 4, and 5; PADB C7, D1, and E5). The Minnesota Historical Society’s strategic plan also includes a strategy to be “deeply engaged in cultivating meaningful relationships with adult audiences as lifelong learners, members, donors, volunteers and supporters.” During the last two years, the MNHS Heritage Preservation Department has participated in an institution-wide initiative to become a “Service Enterprise” through the Points of Light Foundation. According to the Foundation, a “Service Enterprise is an organization that fundamentally leverages volunteers and their skills across all levels of the organization to successfully deliver on its social mission.” (www.pointsoflight.org/service-enterprise-initiative)

In 2014, MNHS staff worked with Hands on Twin Cities and the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration as part of piloting the Service Enterprise concept in Minnesota. After attending volunteer training and creating a service enterprise work plan, MNHS became the first historical society in the country to receive Service Enterprise certification in January 2015. During state fiscal year 2015, 2,560 volunteers and interns served in 30 MNHS departments and programs. The value of that service equals $1.4 million! A Return on Volunteer Investment report found that for every dollar MNHS invests in the program, volunteers generate $3.63 in return. With skills-based volunteers, it increases to $5.51! To learn more about the volunteer program at MNHS, go to www.mnhs.org/volunteers.

During federal fiscal year 2015, volunteers donated over 1,700 hours to help MNHS Heritage Preservation meet our program goals. We have a core group of volunteers who are known for their dedication to our department. To date, volunteers have scanned 25% of our statewide inventory. One of our long-term volunteers prepared 17 boxes of 2009 Review and Compliance files for archival storage last year. She also recently helped archive 7 boxes of inventory forms from the Bottineau Light Rail project due to extreme space restrictions in our statewide inventory. Another volunteer scanned grant documents from 2010 in order to link them into our online grants system, allowing all of our recent grant information to be available in a single place.

MNHS Heritage Preservation also works with skills-based volunteers on a regular basis. One volunteer is helping obtain map coordinates for our statewide inventory in preparation for eventually moving to a GIS-based digital system. Another brought troubleshooting and database skills to clean up our 720 records in our tax credit database, which has grown exponentially since the introduction of our state historic tax credit. He also integrated reuse study information into the statewide inventory’s database and files. A graduate student in historic preservation worked with our National Register archaeologist to begin compilation of a history of Minnesota’s National Register archaeology for the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act. Another volunteer has also been researching the history of field services in Minnesota in preparation for next year’s 100th Anniversary of MNHS providing services to local history organizations throughout the state.

As Director Elliott says in a video encouraging MNHS staff to work with volunteers, we are blessed to have such a robust volunteer workforce (www.youtube.com/watch?v=slWQRjH2QNk). In Heritage Preservation, we are blessed to have a very loyal group of volunteers who are willing to help us in all aspects of our work. We are also blessed to work with Certified Local Governments, local historical societies, and Minnesota’s Main Streets, all of whom value volunteers.


Submitted by Barbara Howard on 12/18/15