What is ‘volunteering culture’?

In the first of a series of exclusive blogs in the run up to AVM’s “Embedding a Volunteer Culture Within an Organisation” Networking Day on 8 July our guest blogger Lynn Blackadder explores volunteering culture and the factors that can influence it.
I have often asked new clients: ‘What is the volunteering culture like here?’
Sometimes people look a bit vague, so I then ask: ‘Is it a pro-volunteering culture?’. Thinking about it, I’m still not sure what I’m asking with these questions: are paid staff pro-volunteering; or is the organisation a place where volunteering flourishes; or are these the same thing?
It’s not just about how staff feel. Volunteering culture is also shaped by volunteers themselves, and they operate at different levels and in different ways: in charities, at the most senior/responsible level as the Board of Trustees (usually unpaid); at another level, delivering services on the front line; and sometimes, increasingly, at all levels in between – advising, facilitating, influencing.
Volunteers can also operate in a way that one might call ‘political’. ‘Office politics’ is not the domain of paid staff alone.
‘The way things are done around here’ is often how organisational culture is described: a system of shared assumptions, values and beliefs that govern how people behave within an organisational structure.
In my experience, rarely are values shared in a negative culture. And volunteers are as likely as staff to become entrenched – perpetuating long established, outdated and undermining ways of working (occasionally with Machiavellian fervour!), influencing through conscious or unconscious bias. Some volunteers can also have a very strong – often inappropriate – sense of entitlement based on the fact that they are not paid and therefore not contracted (‘you can’t tell me what to do’), whilst others assume a subservient role (‘I’m just a volunteer’).
Organisational structure can also negatively set and influence culture – rigidity, bureaucracy and inefficiency. And it’s difficult to implement change when we rely operationally on large numbers of people who are against it.
What does a ‘pro-volunteering’ culture look like? It’s not as simple as there being lots of volunteers around, or finding something for everyone to do who wishes to turn up.
The ‘gift’ of time/expertise has no value if it doesn’t benefit both parties. Staff and volunteers will soon become dissatisfied, disgruntled and ineffective if there isn’t real, meaningful work to be done, in a mutually beneficial way. Customers and beneficiaries are the first to pick up on this negative cultural vibe.
A pro-volunteering culture is a bit like Blackpool Rock: it’s visible at the top and the bottom, and runs in a rich, consistent seam throughout.
Volunteering is more than a means to an end: volunteers are ‘in with the bricks’, influencing and underpinning the organisational vision, aims and plans. Paid staff aren’t afraid of unpaid colleagues – their motivations and abilities. The culture is one of equality, team work, shared values and respect for standards – behaviours and performance. It is one where everyone’s contribution is valued and people celebrate together. There is no volunteer ‘program’: the human resources function leads and develops paid and unpaid people in the same way, whilst sensitive to contractual requirements and individual motivations.
Volunteering is not an ‘add on’, and volunteer leadership and management are recognised as professional skills – not ‘extra’, but essential key tasks in job descriptions. Staff working alongside, rather than directly supervising volunteers, are also trained to understand why people volunteer and how to get the best out of working relationships.
A key test is to ask why staff would want to have their own celebrations without volunteers, e.g. at Christmas time. We don’t always get on with our colleagues, but if staff are more likely to get on better with other staff than volunteers, you’ve got volunteer recruitment wrong at the very least.
This guest blog is by Lynn Blackadder, a coach and consultant with 22 years’ experience of helping organisations involve volunteers. Lynn will be writing several blogs in the run up to AVM’s event on 8 July, exploring volunteering culture and the factors that can influence it.
[email protected] , @lynnblackadder )
To book a space on AVM’s “Embedding a Volunteer Culture Within an Organisation” Networking Day click here

Networking Day: Embedding a Volunteer Culture Within your Organisation – 8th July

  • Does your organisation actively support volunteers or could they be doing more?
  • Do you struggle to get buy-in from senior level and the wider team for the importance and need to volunteers?
  • How does your organisational culture impact on a volunteers experience and what does this mean long-term?

This special Network Day has been designed to focus specifically on sharing experiences of how we can better develop a pro volunteering culture within our own organisation.
Book your space HERE
This event is kindly supported and hosted by Jewish Care.

Jewish Care
Amélie House,
Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Campus,
221 Golders Green Road,
NW11 9DQ

NOTE: Please do not bring any food or drinks to the venue other than water as all food on site needs to be kosher. Any other food or drink brought to the event will not be allowed on site. Lunch and refreshments will be provided throughout the day.

10:00am Arrivals, Tea and coffee and Informal networking

10:30am Welcome from AVM
10:35am Structured networking
11:00am Building and Effective Volunteer Programme from the Ground Up.
Rachel Tapp – Volunteer Co-ordinator – London Borough of Havering Council
How do you build a volunteering programme from scratch? What challenges might you meet along the way and how can you overcome them?
We will explore the journey towards an effective, working volunteer strategy woven throughout the aims and objectives of the wider organisation. This talk will touch on identifying the need for volunteers as well as writing and implementing rewarding and valuable roles and formalizing programmes with written policies all whilst getting your most important resource on-board – staff and service users.
12.00pm Developing a volunteering culture at Royal Mencap Society by engaging staff and volunteers through our internal people communications work.
Kate Adams – Head of Volunteering & Liz Cyro Head of Internal Communications – Royal Mencap Society
This presentation will take a look at Mencap’s volunteer culture as well as their agreed principles to volunteering and how internal communications have been an essential partner in developing their people messaging. Kate and Liz will give a practical overview of building the internal relationship whilst sharing internal communication copy and giving practical examples of what they did.
13:00 Lunch – To be provided
13:45pm Creating a Volunteer Culture Within Your Organisation.
Adrienne Thompson – Volunteer Development Manager – Arthritis Care
Arthritis Care has long been referred to as a ‘volunteer led’ organisation. However, until 2015, it had no dedicated volunteering function to ensure they honoured this statement.
While there have been amazing things happening across the UK, which are volunteer led, the culture within the organisation did not always exist to support this.
During this presentation Adrienne will describe the steps they have taken throughout the course of the year, and will share some tips around how to get organisational ‘buy in’.
Of course there have been challenges, but there have been many successes and lessons learnt. They hope to share these with you, and their plans for this ever evolving piece of work.
This has been an exciting journey for the whole organisation, but it isn’t over yet.
14:45pm Open Space (with tea and coffee)
An opportunity for attendees to lead or request discussions on topics relevant to them, drawing on peer support to explore challenges and celebrate successes
15:45pm Final comments and evaluation
16:00pm Close
Book your space HERE
Not a member? Why not join AVM and save on the cost of your ticket?  YOU CAN JOIN HERE
Simply complete the paperwork and send us a cheque and then pop back here and book on as a member – what could be easier? No need to wait for confirmation of membership

AVM Network Day – Retail Volunteer Management

Our latest networking day on getting the best from retail volunteers was held in London on Thursday 19 May and brought together 35 participants from all over the UK, from retail heavyweights to those considering retail as a new revenue stream, small local charities to big national organisations it was a great day for networking and sharing new ideas and best practice.
Diane Eyre and Lily Caswell from Save the Children opened the day with their talk on the charities predominantly volunteer managed network of shops, the opportunities this model presents as well as the possible pit-falls and creating the right foundations to manage both. The key message being that if you empower your volunteers to do more and to take more responsibility then your organisation will reap the rewards.
They were followed by Karen Allsop and Liz Reed who joined us from Blue Cross who’s retail offering has increased significantly over recent years. Rapid expansion has forced them to take a closer look at their recruiting process and how they can attract volunteers more effectively by streamlining the application process and making volunteering for them more accessible.
And finally Alex South and Darryl Neville from Sense rounded of the day with their approach to volunteer recruitment and managing their individual shops needs with their Four Group Plan as well as demonstrating how they have implemented clear strategy to boost sales.
Many thanks for those of you who attended and to Nightingale Hammerson who very kindly provided the meeting space. For those of you who couldn’t make it we hope you will join us at our next event but in the meantime follow the below links to access the presentations
Managing the Rising Costs of Retail Staff by Diane Eyre & Lily Caswell, Save the Children
Keeping Pace with Retail by Karen Allsop & Liz Reed, Blue Cross
Empty Nests to Social Hubs – Alex South, Sense
The “Orange Shop” an Ongoing Journey – Darryl Neville, Sense