AVM has hosted a number of networking calls to discuss and share how people working with volunteers are adapting to the coronavirus pandemic. As similar themes and suggestions have emerged across all calls, we have pulled these together with  links and resources generously shared by those on the calls. We have loosely grouped these into parts of the volunteer journey.

If you would like to add resources or suggestions to this resource, please get in touch.

Please check back for updated information.

Page last updated: 17 April 2020. 

Supporting volunteers during lockdown

This was a big concern across all calls, particularly where a volunteer manager was, or was expecting to be, furloughed.

With staff capacity also reduced, there is a need to balance volunteer recruitment against supporting existing volunteers. In some cases organisations are not recruiting because they don’t have the capacity to do both. Volunteer supervision can still take place, by phone or online, one-on-one, or in a group. And if not in place, volunteers can provide peer support to other volunteers as a new role.

Some organisations have new ‘Home Volunteering’ policies, and have updated safeguarding policies and procedures to reflect the change in supervision (where remote/ virtual volunteer roles are new).

Organisations are using a mix of platforms to keep in touch with volunteers, including Workplace by Facebook, Facebook groups, WhatsApp groups, Zoom, Skype. On a previous call, one organisation shared they had a conference call service from their local phone coop. A number of organisations are setting up volunteers with organisational Zoom/ Teams/ Skype accounts. Others are providing volunteers with support to set up their own. Drop in online ‘coffee mornings’ were frequently mentioned. 

It was suggested that using existing platforms people are familiar with will help, though one organisation mentioned that a volunteer had developed how to guides for using new tech that have been shared with volunteers, and another is doing short online surgeries for tech support. Make them easy to read with plenty of screenshots.

Protecting our privacy when on video calls came up a few times, with suggestions of a guide for volunteers – and staff – who are not used to this. Suggestions of things to include in a guide: making sure other household members know you’re on a call (children, half-dressed partners, others who would not like to be in shot); making sure you don’t have personal stuff in the background you wouldn’t be happy for colleagues, clients or other volunteers to see; virtual backgrounds (don’t work for everyone); ensuring you understand and use the privacy features for the system you are using; how to change your name on the screen; reminding people who phone in that their phone number will be visible.

For volunteers who are not comfortable with online communication methods, The Phone Coop offer a conference call system. Or you could arrange regular phone calls as a way to connect, which can be done by staff or set up volunteer buddies.

Some expressed concerns about setting up WhatsApp groups for volunteers, where phone numbers are then shared. Making it optional and ensuring that anyone who signs up knows their phone number will be shared with the rest of the group should mitigate this, but speak to your Data Protection Officer if you have concerns. This can also apply for Facebook groups for volunteers.

Blurt have some useful resources about mental health and well-being during the pandemic on their website.

Some of you are giving existing volunteers the opportunity to pause their volunteering, not putting pressure on people to feel that they need to continue as normal – because nothing is normal right now. 

Recruitment,induction and training

Those of you still recruiting are looking to hold video or phone interviews. There is some nervousness – not necessarily from volunteer managers – about safeguarding when moving to online recruitment and not meeting volunteers face-to-face, particularly in roles which are supporting vulnerable people. Key to addressing this is not to drop your standards when recruiting on video, and don’t settle for just telephone: video allows you to see the person you’re interviewing. Some of you have been reinforcing with colleagues that our frameworks and standards don’t disappear overnight and that they do know what they need to do, but we’re able to help them do it differently if they need it.

If you need documents signed, there are various websites or apps that let you do that. Docusign was recommended, but there are others available. 

There is a fast track DBS service only for Covid-19 eligible roles in England and Wales. You can check role eligibility on the DBS website.

Disclosure Scotland are prioritising checks for coronavirus response roles needed to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. 

Details about Access NI checks can be found on their website.

DBS have amended their ID checking guidance during the coronavirus outbreak.

Some of you are rolling new training to volunteers around empathy, having open conversations, as well as around boundaries.

Training is being delivered online, with webinars and other online modules. In some cases this is only for existing volunteers, but some are developing online training for new volunteers.

If you’re not recruiting, it was suggested that signposting potential volunteers to places where they can volunteer at the moment, but also keeping them on a list to get back to once you start recruiting again. 

Moving volunteering opportunities virtually

Many people on the calls you reported that volunteering was stopping while social distancing is in place. Where possible, people are moving roles virtually, or redeploying volunteers into roles that can be done from home. Some organisations are still recruiting. Charities providing direct support to individuals are seeing an increasing number of people needing support, but additionally volunteers may need more support.

Letter writing came up fairly frequently,  particularly as a way of connecting with people who are now isolated (in some cases additional to telephone calls).

For young people in hospices/ homes, virtual storytelling (by existing volunteers) was a suggestion of a new role.

Moving befriending or mentoring to a phone-based or online service is a common theme for many. In a previous networking call, Zoom had been recommended for online befriending, as it is possible to set up the calls without sharing volunteers’ personal information. Others have developed guidelines explaining how volunteers can protect their personal information, as organisations cannot provide all volunteers with a phone.

Asking volunteers to share social media content or key messages with friends/family is an easy microvolunteering role that can be done virtually.

Asking staff and volunteers to think about what tasks could be done virtually that aren’t being done. Research was a good example, as was signposting to information in local community Facebook groups. For example, health charities might be seeing misinformation spreading about the impact of coronavirus on the health issue.

Ask volunteers and service users what they want/ need, and what could be done virtually.

Where roles involve more detailed one-to-one casework, staff should trial with service users first, to ensure volunteers are prepared for the extra emotions of the current situation, which is not specifically their role.

Making sure to complete or update role risk assessments to reflect the role is remote.

Jayne Cravens has written a blog “NEVER a better time to explore Virtual Volunteering than NOW” which is worth a read.

Volunteer recognition and Volunteers’ Week

With Volunteers’ Week fast approaching, we wanted to discuss how you can continue to celebrate volunteers whilst many will still be in isolation. There was also a wider discussion about general volunteer recognition.

Awards and recognition events

  • Reviewing annual awards and ceremonies. In particular looking at how to get groups of volunteers nominated, rather than individuals, to recognise that a key driver is that volunteering is a sociable activity
  • Pre-recorded videos from trustees for award winners
  • Exploring live-streaming awards ceremonies or pre-recording winner announcements
  • Sharing stories of the winners through comms channels
  • Engaging with award winners virtually instead, through sending them t-shirts, certificates in the post – they will then take selfies and we can collage together to have a virtual group picture. 

Use of social media/online connection tools

  • Volunteer to do social media takeover
  • Social media campaigns to tag the organisation and person with their thanks for informal recognition
  • Social media to raise the profile of volunteers and showcase the diversity of volunteering.
  • Asking volunteers to send in selfie videos to share on social media
  • Using Slack or other channels to have online forum interactions and discussions around certain topics
  • Using Volunteer Management Software to engage existing volunteers online through really great content themed around sharing, thanking and recognising
  • WhatsApp groups
  • Using Facebook to encourage volunteers to connect and to share ideas about how they are managing their wellbeing. Trying to encourage volunteers to share videos, recipes, art and craft they have done.
  • Sending out emails and letters to all volunteers encouraging them to access our Volunteer ‘intranet’. We’ve had a mixed response so far but continue to monitor as the weeks go on – adding new videos/activities to the portal.

Saying thank you in different ways

  • Pre-recorded webcasts or podcasts with thank you messages to volunteers
  • Asking teams to make short videos to say why they love volunteers, and edit into a longer video.
  • Video of colleagues to talk about their work with volunteers – internal profile raising of volunteering
  • Mini thank-a-thon: getting CEO & senior staff to call or write to volunteers during Volunteers’ Week
  • Personalised video messages from the Chair or Trustees saying thank you
  • Connecting every staff member with a volunteer and getting them to sending thank you cards, messages, forget-me-not seeds, pin badges etc. in the post
  • Asking participants of vol-led groups or recipients of volunteer time to complete the sentence: “I ❤️ my volunteer because…” The vol’s were so flattered and unaware of the impact they had on individuals, easily done digitally. Montage of comments was a huge lift for vol’s! really personal feedback.

Live virtual opportunities

  • Cross fertilising knowledge with another external partner – each deliver a webinar around an area of expertise and open to volunteers in both organisations
  • Virtual meetings (using the variety of systems that have been mentioned) instead of face-to-face meetings
  • Online volunteer-based game show!
  • Using Zoom (or other) for live training volunteers in different skills.
  • Weekly virtual quiz – staff and volunteers or volunteers only. Can also help to raise funds too that our staff and volunteers are getting involved in.
    Setting up a Q&A for volunteers, on Zoom with the CEO.

Creative

  • Weekly activity/challenge – set volunteers challenge or activity once a week and ask them to post or send in photos/comments and then release these (montage) the following week
  • Running online shops where charity shops have closed. Volunteers who are creative can make items to sell online, e.g. cards, artwork, blankets.
  • Asking volunteers to check clothing banks on their daily walks.

Connecting people

  • Buddy schemes
  • Randomised coffee trials
  • Digital pen pals
  • Staff messages to volunteers – I am still here, this is my role, this is how I can support you in this time, contact me by…
  • Start a longer mentoring relationship scheme
  • Weekly Zoom coffee meet ups with volunteers.

Asking volunteers

  • Ask volunteers how they’d like you to keep in touch and what they’d like you to do, including if they are happy to have another volunteer keep in touch with them (and also ask volunteers if they’d like to provide support).
  • Also ask volunteers what needs they have while they are isolating, and signpost or help where appropriate.
  • Surveying volunteers – what are their ideas about connecting, thanking and recognising in this time. What do they want to see?

Other

  • Changing email signatures to reflect Volunteers’ Week and say thank you.
  • Reminder that Volunteers’ Week should be highlighting groups of volunteers as well as individuals.
  • Building case study portfolios – what does volunteering mean to you and how has this current crisis changed this or changed your role (collecting now and releasing gradually throughout the year)
  • Supporting groups to undertake forward planning and how to build in their own recognition and connection between their volunteers in a proactive way
  • Spotlight story every month – short blog or interview showcasing a group or a volunteer
  • Have shared a live Google Doc with ways to overcome loneliness and isolation virtually
  • Get in touch with local colleges to offer local distance learning opportunities to volunteers.

Telephone and online support – for clients and/ or volunteers

A number of calls discussed on how to move face-to-face support roles to online or telephone. As well as supporting clients/ beneficiaries, discussions also included the best ways to support volunteers who had been stood down.

Befriending Networks have useful resources for converting face-to-face befriending or mentoring to telephone support. 

Zoom was recommended as a good tool for setting up befriending or mentoring call, as they can be set up by the volunteer manager/ service manager, and protect the volunteers’ personal details. If a volunteer wants to use their personal phone (because many organisations cannot provide them with mobile phones), it was felt important to let volunteers know how to protect their phone number.

Some care homes/ hospices/ hospitals are asking people to donate redundant communication devices (smartphones, ipads) or asking people to donate redundant devices, as many residents don’t have access to them.

Longer-term impacts

There are obviously some concerns about the unknowns, and when things will become ‘normal’ again, and how this might impact volunteer retention where you’ve had to close down volunteering programmes, as well volunteer recruitment in the future.

Concerns about how to re-engage volunteers whose roles our outdoors were raised, particularly where they have been reluctant to stand down in the first place. These concerns come from how this fits with the government’s plan for ending lockdown, in order to minimise another high, second wave of the virus.

While some organisations are developing short-term volunteer roles for the duration of the pandemic crisis,others hope to continue virtual roles beyond. 

A few of you mentioned you are already seeing opportunities where you can simplify some processes in the long-term. As it has been proven this can be done in a crisis, there is a good case for reducing some red tape in processes once social distancing is over. Asking the question “what did we drop to make it easier to volunteer during the crisis” makes it easier to ask “so why do we need to still do it?”

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