We know from our member’s feedback that volunteer managers often feel like they are the only one who gets what they are going through, and that coming together with other volunteer managers is always an opportunity to share ideas, concerns and mutual support.
A request for peer support is often one of the first things we hear when volunteer managers are asked what they want to get from membership of groups like AVM, the Voluntary Voice platform, and talking to members at the AVM Conference.
To set the ball rolling we shall launch our first peer support session on will be on Zoom Monday 12th of July at 4.30pm. This session will be hosted by AVM Director Neil Monk.
This meeting is open to all AVM members. Future events will be planned by location (to hopefully enable future meet-ups in person), and also by sector (so watch this space).
The last year has underlined the important role of volunteers and volunteering in all our lives and we have all seen and felt the benefits. It is clear that volunteering has a fundamental role to connect people and communities. Volunteering is broad, from spanning hyper-local acts of neighbourliness to national programmes enabling people to help out where they are needed. It is a way for people to share skills, resources and time, and it offers volunteers a sense of purpose and fulfilment as well as delivering services and support to people and communities.
There is a clear need to harness the important role volunteering has played during the pandemic, and nurture it for the coming years as we recover from Covid. Voluntary sector infrastructure organisations The National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA), the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), together with Volunteering Matters and the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM), have been working together through the pandemic as the focus and role of volunteering has changed.
Now AVM, NAVCA, NCVO and Volunteering Matters are working to create a space for people from all parts of the voluntary and community sector to come together and develop a long-term Vision for Volunteering. The intention is to fully integrate volunteering into post-Covid recovery, harnessing the skills, experience and enthusiasm of volunteers.
Last year a coalition of infrastructure bodies, including AVM, wrote an open letter to senior leaders which we launched at our event on the future of volunteer management during volunteers week. To reflect some of the activity which has happened over the pandemic we have refreshed this letter and are issuing it today as Volunteers Week 2021 comes to an end.
The contribution of people giving their time and sharing their assets within their communities has been a source of positivity and optimism through the pandemic; and we want to ensure that this can be enabled and highlighted as we move forward. Taking the learning from some of the great initiatives – including how to recognise when infrastructure needs to be kept at a minimum – is something which Volunteer Managers are well placed to do, and AVM supports the call to ensure that Leaders of Volunteering have a place at the decision making table within their organisations, to help them become sustainable for the future, through thinking in new ways
Please lets keep this conversation going and use this as an opportunity to genuinely and meaningfully recognise and celebrate what can be achieved through volunteering.
The surprising truth, beauty and opportunity hidden behind life’s sh*ttier moments
Jo Parry, AVM member (my own views, not representing AVM, but had great fun discussing them with other members at a recent AVM members’ book club.)
‘Struggle’… is that a word that has resonated with you recently?
I was initially drawn to the title of the book ‘Struggle’ as it perfectly defined where I was at that moment. ‘Life’s sh*ttier moments’… I think we have all had a few of those in the past year!
Picking up the book, I hoped it would help me come through to ‘the other side’ of struggle. It did something far more powerful. Grace Marshall encourages the reader to acknowledge there will often be struggle and sh*t moments in life. To not fight against it, run away or see it as a failure but to accept that it is exactly where you need to be to. Grace suggests that ‘rather than waiting for the struggle to pass, we live out life in all it’s fullness, whatever the situation, wherever we find ourselves’.
Grace’s words and the topics discussed in the book provoked some personal reflections on the last year and home, work, and volunteering life.
Throughout the pandemic, it feels like sector colleagues, whether out of work, in work or on furlough repetitively, shared the same heightened challenge – learning to be comfortable in discomfort. ‘Struggle’ discusses the how we might start to move from feeling comfortable in what we know to learning to feel comfortable in what we don’t know.
We have all had to tread into the unknown this year. ‘Struggle’ explores how this is when we ‘learn, how we develop…and discover how capable we are’ as ‘there is often magic in the mess’. With our adoption of new ways of working, perhaps the book would suggest we have grown more than ever this year. Have our own relationships with risk evolved to help us to step out of our comfort zones more?
We now more than ever recognise the importance of prioritising the areas of life most important to us. ‘Struggle’ explores the biology and psychology of wellbeing and self-care (‘not necessarily ‘spa days and smoothies’) in a refreshing way. That ‘Technology is 24/7, humans are not’. Parallels drawn to the dangers of continued ploughing resulting in a ‘failed crop’. Might we all need a ‘fallow season’ after such a challenging year?
‘Struggle’ is built around bitesize chunks and short chapters which make it very readable and easy to pick up and put down (useful if you have a short attention span!). It cleverly builds a logical path of encouragement, balancing storytelling, and curiosity through philosophical and practical discussion points. It is warm, non-judgemental, accepting and encourages you to take the same approach towards others and their Struggle. I highly recommend.
A guest blog for Volunteers’ Week, from AVM member Imo Greatbatch, Head of Volunteering at England Netball.
Last year I wrote a blog on the netball volunteer strategic journey and the silver-linings it presented to a grey COVID-19 cloud (read it here). This year I am being ‘braver’ (as Brené Brown would say), sharing a story a little closer to home… an insight into life as a leader supporting volunteers emerging from the pandemic, which also made me want to champion the value and importance of a simple ‘Thank You’.
I am hugely passionate about volunteering, people, and being a part-time working mum, but if I am totally honest with you, this has turned out to be one of the most challenging years of my life. I’ve cried in more meetings than I would professionally like to confess to, and experienced anxiety in ways that has been quite debilitating.
Why am I telling you this?
It is only in the past month that something has started to change, the balance is positively shifting (slowly) to experiencing more good days than tough ones and I thought sharing this might help others going through similar, know that it will get better.
In Netball we have over 3000 member organisations (Clubs, Leagues, Counties and Regions, Schools and Universities) catering for thousands of netballers. Women and girls who love being on court together. Most are powered by volunteers (defined as ‘someone who gives their time and talents freely to make netball happen and is not paid more than out of pocket expenses’).
As a National Governing Body (NGB), we have been focussed on equipping and empowering those restarting netball to build knowledge and confidence interpreting the government guidance, and developing a care package of support tools to enable them to manage and mitigate risk for the netball opportunities they organise.
Our jobs have not been as we knew them, we have all muscled in to do what we can, support each other and consistently reflect and re-evaluate, if what we are doing provides the best possible support to empower people to do this, to the best of their ability.
Volunteers have been incredible this year, dedicating significant hours reading ‘restart’ guidance, learning how to be a COVID-19 officer (over 2500 people have stepped in to fulfil this critical role), attend forums to listen and share experiences, all to ensure they can enable participants to access netball in the safest way possible.
I have started to do a weekly reflection, it inspired me to action my gratitude, by writing this blog to say a big Thank You to those who have supported me and more importantly, the volunteers I champion.
To all staff at England Netball for genuinely caring about supporting volunteers (and me) to help us get community netball back up and running.
To fellow volunteer leaders/managers (within, and beyond sport), through the numerous forums we’ve been on together, you always inspire me. I have witnessed how you all give every ounce of energy you have, to supporting the volunteers, supporting your causes.
Last and not least, to ALL volunteers (especially those in netball, obviously!) for supporting so many of us. We would not be able to do what we do without you, we will build back stronger from this because of the incredible partnership we have been re-building to empower you, support us, enrich lives through netball.
To finish, if you’re having a tough time, reach out for support. My biggest lesson learnt this year is the importance of putting ‘me’ first, to be my best for others. Reaching out for support was more helpful than the fear I felt of seeking it. Please make sure you look after you.
If you read this and think you’ve been able to access sport or, do something because of the time a volunteer has invested, don’t forget to say Thank You. It may seem simple (because it is!) but don’t underestimate how many forget, it’s crazy how big, and positive the difference it could make.
Our latest Active Lives Adult Survey report, which we’ve published today, gives an overview of volunteering in sport and physical activity in England.
It shows that one in five adults – just under 10 million people – gave up their time to support sport and physical activity at some point across the 12 months from November 2019 to November 2020.
It underlines what we already knew: the response by sports volunteers to the challenge posed by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has been inspirational and phenomenal.
While many will have had to make the difficult decision to step back to shield themselves or protect family members, others have been able to step forward to help their communities when they needed it most. And now community clubs and groups are reaching out to welcome their volunteers back.
Nevertheless, while the importance of volunteers has remained, the pandemic has had a profound impact on people’s relationship with volunteering.
Whether it was learning new digital skills and hosting AGMs online or creating remote connections to support and motivate others in new ways, Covid-19 has changed habits and it has never been more important for us to understand the roles volunteers perform.
We know that, with greater understanding and insight, organisations with volunteers are better able to adapt their work, invest in volunteer support and engage their volunteers (and prospective volunteers) to understand their experience.
This is why, for the first time in four years, the volunteering questions we asked within Active Lives have changed.
Instead of focusing on a twice-a-year threshold for our reporting, we now ask a wider question about how often (the frequency) someone gives their time to support sport and activity.
We believe this will allow voluntary organisations to explore whether people are more likely to volunteer weekly, monthly, or as one-off or occasional opportunities.
We also now ask about the amount of time a person usually gives while volunteering – the average duration of each session.
Recent years have seen a growth in micro-volunteering opportunities, where someone can meaningfully contribute to a team effort in short chunks of time and can fit better around busy lives. Understanding more about this will again help organisations offer a range of options to cater for a wider variety of people.
As with previous reports, we continue to ask questions about the roles people are performing, but we now recognise the invaluable role of ‘organising fundraising’ for their sports club or group.
Finally, we now ask current volunteers about how long they have been volunteering in their current role. We know from other studies, such as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ Time Well Spent, that 70% of people in the UK volunteer at some point in their lives, but only 7% volunteer consistently throughout.
Our own work with Jump Projects, Lifecycle of Volunteering in Sport (download), which was published in 2019, suggests the average time volunteering in sport is 5.9 years. Now this question is incorporated into Active Lives, we’ll be able to understand if this is changing over time.
We hope these more nuanced changes to Active Lives will enable even more voluntary organisations to continue to build their understanding and insight and that, by coming together to share our learning, we will do even more to support people to volunteer.
Active Lives is a national survey and we would encourage all organisations to use this data alongside their own volunteer surveys.
We’ve produced a guide (download) to help organisations establish their own annual volunteer survey, including a bank of suitable questions, but anyone who would like some help developing a volunteer survey please get in touch.
Hints and Tips for Leading and Managing Volunteers in a Pandemic
Well what a year 2020 was and already early 2021 is looking pretty similar. Leading and managing volunteers in a pandemic is probably the single biggest challenge those of us who are leaders and managers of volunteers have faced in at least a generation – if not longer.
There’s been no manual for this and with guidance either being not there at all in the early days or changing and evolving regularly at short notice it has been more than a little tricky to lead and manage volunteers.
In this article we can’t give you a guidance on what to do – much as we might like to – as all situations are different. What we can do is give you a few hints and tips that might prove useful in your ongoing journey (not challenge) to lead and manage your volunteers well during this global pandemic.
We all know volunteers volunteer for people not organisations. As such key to supporting, leading and managing volunteers in the pandemic has been communication. Communication about volunteering and doing it safely, communication while volunteers can’t volunteer to keep them warm and engaged and communication about how to restart volunteering or indeed stop it again depending on changes to government/s guidance.
Outlined below are a few hints, tips and principles that may help those of you navigating this ever changing situation. You will need to decide which, if any, may be applicable or useful to your situation/organisation. Hopefully at least some of these are helpful or at least thought provoking.
Wherever possible follow appropriate government advice rather than create your own bespoke advice around volunteering and what is or is not allowed. All four countries of the UK have issued specific guidance around volunteering (see Useful Links below).
Many organisations have taken the view that they consider volunteering to be ‘work’ for the purposes of their operations. This makes following the appropriate country Covid-19 guidance a little easier if you read anything relating to work as also covering volunteering.
As the vaccine roles out volunteers may be asking if this changes if they can volunteer and what they can do. At the moment as I write the government/s advice on Covid-19 restrictions is not changing regardless of whether you have or have not had the vaccine.
Ensure those who are extremely clinically vulnerable are protected – as at Jan 2021 this means they can only volunteer from home. In Scotland and Wales there are useful tools for assessing the risk to individuals who are clinically and extremely clinically vulnerable. Some organisations have used this to assess if it is safe or not for particular volunteers to volunteer. This can be helpful as it is government guidance you can refer to that you are following if challenged by volunteers on why you are taking that approach.
You might want to consider covering the cost of a Flu jab for your volunteers under your expenses policy – some organisations have done so.
Zoom, Teams and any other video conferencing tools are now your new best friend. They are a great way to keep in contact with volunteers. Many volunteers previously unfamiliar with this technology now are, as a direct result of the pandemic and the need to keep in contact with family. Other volunteers familiar with these video conferencing tools can also support others in using them – just to keep in touch or indeed to run events and activities.
Considering treating volunteers and employees the same as much as you can – saves producing separate guidance for two elements of your workforce if the guidance is and should be applicable to both. Guidance for Covid-19 secure workplaces, as an example, is the same regardless of if you are a volunteer or an employee.
Help volunteers understand the difference between the guidance for ‘work’ and volunteering versus the stricter guidance for ‘social’ and personal activities. Just because something might be allowed for ‘social’ or personal activities does not mean it can necessarily be undertaken safely in a ‘work’ environment and vice versa.
Trust your volunteers. For those supporting community groups of volunteers give them guidance on how to undertake activities safely and in a Covid-19 secure way. Then let them take responsibility for running those events in line with local restrictions. The BBC has a really useful guide on local restrictions – see Useful Links below.
Some organisations have provided volunteers who are commuting to or from their volunteering or undertaking essential travel as part of their volunteering with a letter signed by the organisation they can show if challenged. Increasingly useful as authorities crack down on unnecessary travel.
Don’t forget you can say ‘No’! Just because volunteers want to volunteer does not mean it is necessarily safe or appropriate for you to let them volunteer. Levels of risk an individual may be willing to take are not the same as the levels of risk an organisation should be prepared to manage and take or indeed legally can take.
As always volunteering is a gift of time and it is for the volunteers to decide if they feel comfortable, or not, giving that gift of time in a global pandemic.
Ultimately it is also worth remembering a quote that a colleague shared early in the pandemic that has stayed with me since.
‘We are not all in the same boat. But we are all in the same storm.’
Everyone’s circumstances are different.
Governments Guidance on Volunteering and Covid-19
Volunteering will continue to be impacted as the Covid-19 pandemic continues. There is separate government guidance on coronavirus for the four nations:
Is 2021 the year you could make a difference to another volunteer manager?
AVM’s mentoring programme is seeking more members to join us as mentors. If you have experience of leading volunteers, then to be a mentor you may not need as much experience as you think.
What you do need is to have had that experience of taking on a volunteer leadership role, and having the confidence to support another to tackle their learning curve. You are probably still learning yourself (who isn’t?) every day, but know how demanding the role of volunteer management can be and have worked out how to meet many of those demands.
Helping another person can be a hugely rewarding experience for mentors, as well as mentees. We often find that our mentors learn as much as their mentees through the mentoring experiences, and helps them gain confidence.
If you’re already a mentor, why not encourage someone to sign up as a mentor, and give them that confidence boost?
Neil Monk is Peer Support Project Officer at Norfolk County Council Adult Social Services, and a Director of AVM
I recall my early forays into leading volunteers. I was already on some steep learning curves, starting new initiatives in campaigning as well as building a project to support orphaned children in Uganda from scratch. This all needed volunteers (I was one myself). I had gone to this with little thought that leading volunteers would be another steep learning curve in itself, a whole new job description.
I look back now and realise how much I could have gained from support, advice and encouragement from someone who had experience and knowledge of why, and how, volunteer management is very much a skill in itself.
So, giving back when you can is a large part of what the whole volunteer sector is about. It’s great for me to be in touch with a new volunteer manager. While my mentee is looking to gain support from someone with years of experience this can also be a two way experience. Mentoring someone else, in my case with someone new to working with volunteers, puts me back I touch with the initial stages of leading volunteers, and gives me an insight into the challenges faced in the sector today.
Becoming a volunteer mentor
So, what do I need to have to become a volunteer mentor? I think that the answer here is that, along as you do have experience of leading volunteers, you may not need as much as experience as you think. If you feel that you have been on that sharp initial learning curve (and, of course, still learning every day) and have lessons learned that can be passed on then mentoring well be a way that you can pass on your experience in a way that not only supports another volunteer manager, but supports the whole sector of volunteer management, as this strengthens the line of support within a specific job description framework.
A while ago, I realised I liked mentoring – the sense of learning from the energy that new recruits bring, and sharing a longer term view of an occupation. As I work part time at school, I am not best placed to support new trainees or teachers, but I like supporting and coaching volunteers in the roles I have with Samaritans. I recently mentored a new Samaritan as they took their first calls, and I was blown away by how much I learned from the process and how refreshing it was to work with someone who saw everything we do from a new perspective. Feeling connected is also a huge motivator in my volunteering, so I was delighted to try a role that lends itself to building a relationship quickly. There is a vulnerability that I think comes from learning together and sharing expertise that can be a real bonding experience.
The first meeting
From my first emails from my mentee, I was really excited to be involved in the programme. She is a bubbly, proactive individual and the process helped us be clear about how much time we will spend together and how often. We are both organised, and have a lot to fit in, so this worked well. I was thrilled at how well-matched we are. As a teacher, it has been really interesting to see how someone else has used their education background in the third sector, and it has helped me understand the development of organisations much better. My mentee is part of a relatively young, youthful organisation with humorous yet serious messaging and it has helped me to reflect on how Samaritans has evolved.
It was great to meet my mentee – via Zoom – and the meeting lit up my whole week. We really hit it off. I just love listening to how other organisations work and what solutions different teams come up with for our common challenges. It has really helped my imposter syndrome to be able to offer solutions that have worked for our volunteers at a branch, regional or national level and reflect on my own volunteer management journey and learning.
It was really straightforward to make a few notes on what we’d discussed for both our reference, and to email these with a Zoom invite for the next meeting that we arranged together.
The second meeting
I was excited to find out what my mentee had been up to in the interim: she had worked on some of the things we’d discussed, and much more besides! So far, the things I have most appreciated about being a mentor have been:
A practical use of my listening skills;
Sharing mutual enthusiasm;
Fits easily within a busy week – doesn’t take too much brain strain or time and gives such a lot back;
Has clear benefits for me and my mentee – we can be clear in sharing what we are gaining for ourselves and for our organisations;
In 2020 – a year that could seem like many doors were closing and avenues closed – a good way of getting to know someone I wouldn’t otherwise have met.