Recently, I completed an analysis of the Denver Zoo volunteer docent program. A docent is traditionally an individual who is a lecturer or tour guide in a museum or cathedral. But contemporary avenues of service include many non profit organizations which have a great deal of public contact, such as zoos.
I became introduced to the world of docents through my in-laws, who have been zoo docents for 15 years. Throughout that time they developed such a close relationship with the zoo that my wife and I were even married there. And over the years I’ve noticed more and more about how much training, enthusiasm, and time they spent with the organization.
They didn’t have as much of a direct interest in zoos or conservation programs earlier in their lives, so why did they become so passionate about it later in life? This question has always been buried in the back of my mind but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I began to connect it to the orchestra world.
The concept of orchestra docents is nothing new; orchestras from Chicago through Anchorage maintain small docent programs. However, their focus is almost exclusively on children’s educational outreach programs in the public schools. And although these types of programs certainly deliver positive results, the nature of their concentration is incapable of approaching the results of a comprehensive docent program, such as the one at the Denver Zoo.
Where the Denver Zoo program really shines is in its ability to help create a groundswell of interest and enthusiasm about the zoo and its programs among adult visitors. Without even trying, they have created a self enabling process which transforms outsiders into insiders.
Come back tomorrow where we’ll begin to analyze the Denver Zoo program in detail and determine if what they do is transferable to orchestras. We’ll see how the three major stakeholders in the Denver Zoo – administrators, volunteer docents, and animal keepers observe about the docent program and what it accomplishes for their organization.