For months I’ve been thinking about what I should write about and after International Volunteer Managers Day (@IVMDAY) (5th November) I finally realised that there is a specific topic I want to address.
In the UK, Universities and Student Union’s usually have teams that support the provision of extra-curricular activities to students. Those activities often include volunteering and there are specialised teams within Higher Education Institutions (HEI) who do this.
Like every other volunteer manager out there, we do a variety of ‘jobs’, from coordinating volunteers to marketing, advertising, supporting and advising students and colleagues, policy writing, delivering events etc.
The questions that came into my mind after a conversation with Dave Coles (Volunteer Manager at LSE) as we were preparing a session for the AVM were:
- Why are we still seen as people who merely copy-paste role descriptions into a platform and promote it to students?
- Why are we still seen as the Managers who have ‘an easy job’ because we have a ‘pool of available volunteers’ at any time?
- Why are we still seen as the Managers that couldn’t get a job at a charity and have taken a job at a University instead?
So…. 5 points that might be of interest.
1) We do a bit more than just advertising external volunteering opportunities
True… a part of our roles is to advertise opportunities to our students, but that’s not all that we do. We also organise and deliver opportunities ourselves, we are responsible for vetting every volunteer opportunity that is advertised and provide advice about it, if needed. We write volunteering policies, health and safety policies, risk assessments, safeguarding guidelines, training guides etc. We deliver 1–2–1 sessions to hundreds of students, we deliver inductions and training sessions (which can be bespoke to the different courses) and we also provide support and training sessions to our partner organisations to help them engage with our students. The list goes on….
2) We do have an understanding of the third sector
Volunteer Managers working in HEI do have an understanding of how the third sector works and have an idea of some of the issues that charities face. We work very closely with charities on a daily basis and a lot of us have worked for a charity or a not-for-profit organisation before. Some of us still do!
3) We do not have a ‘pot of volunteers’ ready to go
Nops. Sorry. It’s not a thing.
Students sign-up to our volunteering platforms and decide who they want to volunteer with and why. We don’t get to call them and tell them to go volunteer with someone on a specific day and time.
What we do get to do is tell them about the amazing volunteering opportunities and incredible organisations we partner up with and why we believe they should support them.
4) We do this (our job!) because we’ve chosen to (the majority of us anyway)
I can’t speak for all HE and FE Volunteer Managers/Coordinators out there but I do believe that the majority of us have chosen this job, and it’s not just a temporary role until we get ‘that other job at X organisation’.
This is my case anyway.
I love the sector, I love seeing ‘my’ student volunteers engaging in a variety of activities and I honestly can not think of a better job at this point (maybe panda hugger or goat walker but let’s not go there).
5) We focus on the students and their development, and that’s absolutely amazing
I’ve worked for a charity before and have been a volunteer for a variety of other organisations as well and I really do feel that the challenges and focuses between charities and HEIs can be different. Some organisations have to focus on their specific volunteer numbers targets or their fundraising goals. That’s ok and completely understandable! As for me… I get to focus on people. I get to focus on how I can make students’ lives better by engaging in volunteering! And I absolutely love it.
Maybe other HEI do have to report back and have a ‘minimum’ amount of volunteers involved, or a minimum amount of hours volunteered. That’s not my case, thankfully. Thankfully because it allows me to focus on the things I believe are relevant, like their volunteering experience and the communities they’re getting involved with.
I get to talk to students about my love for volunteering, how it’s changed my life and has helped me become the person I am today. I get to talk about how a lot of what I know today was actually learnt during a volunteering experience, how I met some of my closest friends whilst volunteering and how without realising it I was building up my CV and gaining new skills.
Yes. I love volunteering and I love being a Volunteering Manager at a HEI.