AVM responds to the NHS Long Term Plan

It is promising to see recognition within the NHS Long Term Plan that volunteers contribute to high quality care, and that there are a myriad of ways in which they make this contribution. Volunteers within the NHS have a significant role in promoting improved health outcomes within the community, and providing support in out of hospital and hospital environments. There is even more that volunteers can achieve within the NHS, and with the publication of the Long Term Plan, the NHS should now renew its focus on what roles volunteers undertake, and broaden its approach when creating volunteer roles.

The Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) takes the view that the number of volunteers is less important than the quality of the volunteering experience. Numbers of active volunteers is an important marker for any organisation, but consideration should be given to the outcomes volunteers achieve for the NHS, and the positive personal impact of volunteering on health, wellbeing and resilience.

It’s key to recognise that volunteering is not the core activity of the NHS; it exists to support the core service functions, and alongside the capacity issues many NHS organisations face, creating the right environment for volunteering to flourish can be challenging. The volunteer / organisational relationship is very distinct from the employee / employer relationship and requires a particular skill set. The volunteer manager’s required skill set is the same regardless of sector. Unfortunately many NHS organisations work in isolation developing volunteer-focussed services, and successful collaborations would benefit many more patients, across age groups and social demographics.

For this reason volunteer managers in the NHS could learn from successful programmes run by charities. For over a decade, the Association of Volunteer Managers has been committed to sharing knowledge with volunteer managers regardless of sector. Learning events are matched to current climates, and our 2019 line up of events will include more introspection of public service – encouraging public sector volunteer managers, volunteer managers who support publicly funded projects and other volunteer managers to learn together. We’re also creating events to examine the triangle of support between volunteers, service users and carers.

Our membership is as diverse as volunteering itself, and includes public, third and private sector organisations. As we reflect on the impact of the Long Term Plan, NHS organisations with volunteers or those who would like to start programmes should consider joining well-established support networks such as the Association of Volunteer Managers to gain from the experiences of our members.

Building bridges between volunteering and research

This is a guest post by Shaun Delaney, volunteering development manager at NCVO, overseeing strategy for volunteer management and good practice. Previously, he was head of volunteering at Samaritans and is currently a volunteer trustee of Greater London Volunteering. This was first posted on the NCVO website

As a volunteer manager, I like my practice to be evidence-based. I think we all do. We’re forever evaluating, surveying, measuring and holding focus groups to make sure we are doing our very best by our volunteers. But as we know, there are some things we could do with knowing a bit more about.

On 7 June, the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM), Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) and the National Network of Volunteer Involving Agencies (NNVIA) held an event to plan how we can answer these questions – an event which NCVO was thrilled to support and host. This event brought together the researchers, practitioners and everyone in-between to ask ‘how can we better work together to advance volunteering research’. Get the full lowdown from AVM Chair Ruth Leonard’s blog and comments from VSSN’s Jon Dean.

Practitioners tackle the problems, researchers tackle the solutions

The day had a packed agenda. We started by hearing from the researchers and academics. Margaret Harris was quite clear – ‘if there isn’t a problem, why are we spending time on it?’ And I agree. While we perhaps all wonder why milk makes our cereal soggy, there are bigger problems to solve. As busy people with limited resources, let’s focus on the big issues we are facing. As one of our speakers said, ‘it’s not just about academic masturbation’.

This was my first main message of the day: Let’s be clear what problems volunteer managers face, then ask researchers to help us find the answer.

Practitioners and researchers speaking a shared language

After lunch, we heard from volunteering specialists. First up, Rachel Bailey tackling a key question of the day – ‘why don’t academics and volunteer managers work together more?’ Rachel helped us see something that we perhaps hadn’t noticed before.

Volunteer management isn’t an academic profession. You can’t do a GCSE in social action or a Masters in volunteering. In fact, as recent research suggests, volunteer management requires insight and skills in emotional labour – one of the key things that separates volunteer managements from staff management. So naturally, volunteer managers start their careers in people-oriented professions and may not know one end of a researcher form the other.

So my second take-away message: for practitioners and researchers to work better together, we need to better understand each other’s language.

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it

We finished the day looking to the future. How can we find the solutions we need, by better working together? We came up with quite a list. But the thing for me that came out was around communication. For any of this to mean anything, we need to have an audience that is receptive to research – and will actually read it! There is stacks of great insight out there. But if it’s impenetrable, it’s just another dusty book on a shelf. People rarely change how they do things after passively reading a single document too so this insight needs to be engaging.

My final piece of learning for the day: Research is great, but finding a way to bring it to life makes it even greater.

For more information, check out the AVM and VSSN blogs.

Volunteer Management Progress Report – AVM’s response

The recently published​ 2018​ ​Volunteer Management Progress Report once again highlights the range of job titles in ​our profession​, across the world​.  Although there is a slight increase in ‘Coordinators’, and a ​small decrease in ‘Managers’ in practice Coordinator and Manager roles are likely to overlap, with similar tasks and responsibilities.  2018-VMPR-Cover-e1517423490909

This echoes the IVMD Survey carried out by AVM in 2017.  A third of survey recipients indicated that their role was non-managerial.  Their job titles included Officer / Coordinator / Supervisor / Engagement.  With the potential to negatively impact on the scope for career progression, particularly for new entrants to the industry, improved consistency in naming conventions is needed.

The report also identified time as a challenge for volunteer managers. A proportion of respondents had other core responsibilities alongside their volunteer management role, facing ​the reality of splitting time between competing ​workloads.  Do competing workloads compromise the ability of volunteer managers to be effective?  Is more investment needed?  

The answer may seem obvious but the question is not new.  In 2008 the Institute for Volunteering Research’s​  Management Matters survey found that:

Volunteers are often a vital resource for organisations, yet it would appear that many are not dedicating significant resources to their involvement….While human resources are more readily available for managing volunteers, they are often dispersed and may be hidden within people’s wider roles. (p.7-8, IVR, 2008)

A disappointing trend is the lack of budget assigned to volunteer management. For many of us necessity really is the mother of invention when it comes to managing volunteer programmes but this should be the exception, and not the norm.  An under-financed programme is unlikely to reach its true potential.  16% of the IVMD Survey recipients highlighted budget, resources and finance as an existing challenge they faced in their role, but 25% cited this as a challenge for the sector in the next few years.

IVMD

Good budget management provides evidence for sustainability and growth, and all organisations promoting and relying on volunteers should properly fund this endeavour, and provide budget writing and management training for their volunteer managers.

The 2010 Valuing Volunteer Management Skills study acknowledges the difficulty in developing a relevant training programme for volunteer managers given that their role is rarely standalone.  It should be noted that the earlier survey recognises that barriers to training opportunities may deter those who are new to the role but are not hampering the development of models of good practice by longer standing practitioners.

Although there was a correlation to salary, there were still relatively high levels of satisfaction amongst volunteer managers, and this has been consistent in the time that the survey has been produced.  Role satisfaction is closely matched by the intention to continue working in this field.  It’s not only volunteers who find the environment rewarding but also volunteer managers!

The Case for a Code

A code of practice for professionals in volunteer management

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Volunteering has come a long way. The understanding of the valuable role volunteering plays and its contribution to building communities is now part of the political mainstream. It’s become a firm fixture in the rhetoric of public figures from princes to prime ministers and has featured on the policy agenda of successive governments.
The nascent role of volunteer management has been a key driver in the greater recognition and impact of volunteering. However, this role is not well understood and too often public discourse on volunteering makes little reference to volunteer management. The knowledge and scope of what’s required for successful volunteer engagement remains one of our sector’s best kept secrets.

Volunteer management as a profession

Research repeatedly indicates that there are a growing number of people, both paid and unpaid, across public, private and voluntary sectors, helping to cultivate this recent blossoming of volunteering. What we do goes beyond simply having a job, carrying out a function or fulfilling a contract. We are professionals and should be recognised as such.
Evidence points to a growth in those taking a professional approach to volunteer management whether as managers, leaders or involved in its development. The support and interest in the Association of Volunteer Managers since its inception in 2007 is just one indicator of this trend.

Building a new profession

We believe there is a growing appetite to build a new profession in volunteer management.
As professionals in volunteer management we’re faced with complex situations that require our specialist and expert knowledge. This knowledge is gained through reflection on our own practice and learning from others with similar experiences.
If we are to apply that knowledge, we require autonomy – we need to be able to come to our own judgement independent of other professions and disciplines.
However, with professional autonomy comes responsibility and accountability. To support professionals with that responsibility, the profession of volunteer management needs, collectively, to develop its very own set of professional values – a code of practice.

The need for a code of practice

What’s needed is a code that inspires each professional’s ongoing performance and practice to improve and develop.
Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) would like to propose to members that we take forward our profession and agree together a code of practice for professionals in volunteer management.

This code of practice in volunteer management should:

  1. provide a framework that guides the core practice of professionals in volunteer management
  2. encourage active reflection among professionals in volunteer management on the wider implications and impacts of their work
  3. inform the practice of others who work in association with professionals in volunteer management
  4. support constructive communication between professionals in volunteer management and the public on complex and challenging issues in volunteering
  5. raise the standards of practice by ensuring the integrity of members and thereby raise the public’s trust in what we do

Help to Work

The Association of Volunteer Managers advises its members to think very seriously before getting involved with the new Community Work Placements (CWP) or the Mandatory Intervention Regime (MIR) as part of Help to Work.
The CWP is a mandatory work placement scheme that unemployed people will be forced to take up and complete (at 30 hours per week for six months) to avoid losing their benefits. Any charities signing up to the scheme should be very clearly aware that this is not volunteering and that volunteer management practices will not necessarily be applicable.
Organisations will have to understand that they will be required to report a claimant’s non-attendance or poor performance, and that this could result in their loss of benefit.
Volunteers support us with their skills, effort and time because they want to and so a level of willing support for the cause can reasonably be assumed, which will clearly not be the case with CWP.
Whatever views we may have of the principles behind this change to the welfare system, it is worth noting that the government do not refer to it as volunteering. It is the media who have used that word in their reports and have made the situation appear worse than it is.
Organisations primarily concerned with the welfare of the most vulnerable people in society must be especially careful as the potential for reputational damage is significant.
AVM Board of Directors



Background
Government announcement: Help to Work: nationwide drive to help the long-term unemployed into work (30th April 2014)

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Archive: blog post by a former AVM Board member