Investing in volunteering

In contrast to Lynn Blackadder’s last post in our “Embedding a Volunteer Culture” blog series, today she discusses how to best involve and create a framework for volunteers when an organisation (and its culture) is already up and running. 

If you can’t start from scratch and build volunteering in with the bricks, you need to invest time and money to affect culture change.

An organisation that has been thinking differently about volunteering for some time is the National Trust – an organisation set up by volunteers, governed by an elected, unpaid Council and Board of Trustees.

The Trust has a clear volunteering vision that aims to involve volunteers from all walks of life in all roles and at every level – shaping the Trust’s work, not just delivering it. Trust staff and volunteers are working hard to encourage their places to take a ‘one team’ approach, avoiding a culture of ‘us and them’. Two properties I have worked with – Polesden Lacey and Nymans – have achieved this by:

  • Recruiting volunteers to supervisory/coordination roles
  • Staff and volunteers designing and delivering together core induction and other training sessions. New staff and volunteers are inducted together, setting expectations and embodying the culture from the outset
  • Creating a forum or sounding board – representatives from all teams working together to take stock, give feedback and influence what happens
  • Celebrating success and rewarding achievement together
  • Creating policies that apply to all – everyone signs up to the Trust’s values and behaviours and are treated equally.

The Trust invests heavily in volunteering development to ensure that people running its places feel confident and capable of providing an excellent experience. Fully embedding a devolved volunteer management structure has been key to that. With such high numbers of volunteers at many Trust places, responsibility for the volunteering experience has become part of many roles as opposed to one.

This is essential to sustaining a pro-volunteering culture, as is raising awareness through induction and training of why people volunteer and how to get the best out of working relationships – whether or not people are directly supervising volunteers.

In any organisation I might run, I would never put someone in charge of people – paid or unpaid – without people management experience. Yet so many organisations do, and this is often a major factor affecting the volunteer experience and culture. Inexperienced people managers are expected to get results from a very diverse range of people, some of whom have, quite rightly, very high expectations of management – generally, but often based on substantial previous professional experience.

Creating one set of communications for all is also key: newsletters, daily briefings and consultations that everyone receives regardless of role. And people feel valued when we demonstrate that we listen to them: a strong team will accept (indeed seek out) open and honest conversation and feedback. Explanations as to why ideas and suggestions are/are not taken up is also vital.

This guest blog is by Lynn Blackadder, a coach and consultant with 22 years’ experience of helping organisations involve volunteers.
lynn@lynnblackadder.com , @lynnblackadder )

On 8 July, we will be hearing from Kate Adams, Head of Volunteering, and Liz Cyro, Head of Internal Communications, at Royal Mencap Society. They will be talking about Mencap’s volunteer culture, their agreed principles of volunteering, and how internal communications have been an essential partner in developing their people messaging.

To book your space on AVM’s “Embedding Volunteer Culture within an Organisation” Networking Day click here.

One thought on “Investing in volunteering

  1. Very interesting post, thank you.
    I work at a very small charity, but can see how to apply the spirit of some of what the National Trust is doing, even though it would look different.
    We already offer volunteers the chance to shape what we do in several ways, but take-up has been low (beyond of course the Trustees!).
    I’d appreciate thoughts from anyone who’s had success in getting task-based volunteers to speak-up on/contribute to organisation-wide matters, thank you.

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