When producer Beth Sagar-Fenton asked on Twitter for people to share tricky experiences of managing volunteers for an upcoming programme, I think many volunteer managers were a little apprehensive about the motivations. Volunteering and volunteer management can often have quite a narrow narrative – either 100% brilliant (an amazing army of awesomeness etc) or a set of lazy assumptions about how an unpaid workforce could possibly be managed effectively. With the tone of the crowdsourcing questions, I think we were all nervous about the picture that might be painted.
As it turns out we shouldn’t have worried – what followed was 30 minutes of well researched and thoughtful content, which accurately summed up the unique complexities of managing volunteers. True, there were some comments that irritated, as Sally says below:
Interesting piece – useful to shine a light on the role of Volunteer Managers. I did bristle at the comment around 'use of volunteers' we do not USE anybody, volunteers (and staff) are valued contributors to our missions, we involve, engage, support but we don't use (rant over)
Volunteer managers are unsung heroes. The phrase is cheesy, but this was a real acknowledgement from the start that the role of volunteer manager was important.
We have some great insight and research to help us continue to design relevant and impactful volunteering experiences. The NCVO report into their survey of the volunteering experience can be found on their website.
Volunteering is not a free resource – it requires careful management. Yes, I know WE all know that, but how many people outside of the non-profit sector or even just volunteer management know that? It’s great to see the issues covered by In Business in order to reach a wider audience.
Volunteer management is distinctive to paid-staff management. Again, I think we all know that, but having this accessibly communicated to a wider audience is crucial. As the programme briefly touched on, volunteer manager roles are often the first to go when funds are tight, so raising awareness of this distinctiveness with decision makers who may not have direct volunteer management experience is useful.
“Volunteer management is something quite distinctive” – Jarina talking about the “exceptional people skills” needed in volunteer management. Listen now to Jarina on @BBCRadio4
The exceptional people skills talked about by NCVO’s Jarina Choudhury include the ability to perform emotional labour; the ability to manage your own, and other people’s emotions. This was one of the key findings from the National Trust commissioned research into the differences between managing paid staff and managing volunteers. You can read the full report online.
The programme concluded that there is much that the world of HR management can learn from volunteer management. A recent research briefing from NCVO reports that across all sectors, the ability to manage your own feelings, or handle the feelings of others, is the second biggest reported ‘soft’ skills gap, and the least improved skill over the past few years. Perhaps sharing our skills in emotional labour is our biggest lever?
Managing Volunteers: Free and Easy? was an insightful overview into the world of volunteer management. I know from colleagues it’s already being shared with non-volunteer manager colleagues to provide a compelling introduction. A useful resource now and in the future.
BBC Radio 4 in Business ‘Managing Volunteers: Free and Easy?’ originally aired Thursday 29 August 2019.
AVM is pleased to announce Alex Barker, Right Hand Pirate to Pirate Captain Sam Conniff Allende, author of the book ‘Be More Pirate‘, as our keynote speaker for this year’s conference!
Alex will be launching our conference with an interactive session, to get us thinking about how we, as leaders of volunteering, can take on the world – or at the very least, our organisations – and win! Alex will also be staying the whole day, as she will be joining the panel for the afternoon surgery session, so get thinking about what you want to ask Alex on the day.
We will also have Karl Wilding, early into his tenure as the new Chief Executive of NCVO, in conversation with AVM Chair, Ruth Leonard, in the afternoon. Ruth will be asking Karl about his thoughts on volunteering, volunteer management and the place of civil society within the changing world.
To join Alex, all our brilliant speakers, and over 200 of your peers, book your ticket to THE premier event for volunteer managers, leaders and heads of volunteering today.
If you can’t wait to hear from Alex, join us 19 September, from 7:30pm, for our Twitter bookclub #LoVolsBookClub, where we’ll be discussing ‘Be More Pirate’.
We might be biased, but the AVM conference is always a – if not THE – highlight of our year. So we’re really pleased to let you know that you can get your early-bird tickets for #AVM2019 now!
We’re really excited to tell you that this year we will have a conversation with Karl Wilding, the new Chief Executive of NCVO. AVM Chair, Ruth Leonard will be asking Karl about his thoughts on volunteering, volunteer management and the place of civil society within the changing world. Karl will start his new role mid-September, and we’re so pleased that he has committed to speaking at our annual conference so soon into his new role.
Our members tell us that AVM conference is the premier event for volunteer managers, leaders and heads of volunteering. Each year conference creates the kind of buzz that will only get with 250 people who are passionate and proactive about volunteer management in the same place.
Each year we select a varied range of speakers, who are at the forefront of volunteer management and thought leadership, to offer you a mix of inspiring keynote speakers, workshops on a variety of themes, and, for the second year running, the Volunteer Managers’ Advice Surgery.
Not to mention, there will be loads of opportunities for you to network and chat to other leaders of volunteering from across a variety of sectors and organisations, and make new connections throughout the day.
Early-bird prices are available for the first 50 members booking, so don’t delay, book your ticket today!
You can see the full agenda, venue details, and book your ticket to #AVM2019 on our website.
I am pleased to be able to announce the appointment of Jo Gibney to AVM’s first strategic level staff role, Head of Business Development, starting 1st August 2019.
Last year we launched our strategic vision, of connecting leaders of volunteering to make change happen together. In order to do that we realised it was time to develop the fulltime support necessary for ensuring that we can continue to engage with our members and be here to meet the changing needs of the profession.
This means creating a robust business model and effective infrastructure to ensure the essential operational work can continue alongside the strategic future development.
Jo has been a member of the board for nearly two years, where she led on communications and also helped to cement key partnerships. Her background in volunteer management gives her clear understanding in the needs of our members and this is augmented by her knowledge of membership organisations and operational management of events, planning and stakeholder engagement.
I’m looking forward to working with Jo more closely to position AVM for future growth and development, as we enter our teenager years – and to be able to continue to work with our members and partners in order to make our vision a reality.
Ruth Ruth Leonard Chair of Association of Volunteer Managers
Notes for Editors
The Association of Volunteer Managers is an independent membership body that supports, represents and champions people in volunteer management in the UK regardless of field, discipline or sector.
We were launched on 5th June 2007.
Our income comes from membership fees and ticket sales which we invest back into our work directly supporting those in volunteer management.
When I first saw the email advertising the ‘Risk Factor’ event, the subject line, ‘⚠ Can you manage risk and flexible volunteering at the same time? ⚠’, asked a question that I had been grappling with for months. I didn’t hesitate in booking, despite the minor consideration of an 800 mile round trip!
We’re not alone in this balancing act
Like many organisations, we are investigating how best to respond to volunteers’ increasing demand for more flexible or episodic volunteering. I suspect Shelter Scotland are not alone in finding it difficult to balance our formalised risk and safeguarding procedures with more informal volunteering. We’re reviewing our flexible role to make it more inclusive and volunteer led, but it’s proving difficult to ensure that such a flexible commitment is sustainable when we need to invest so much time in recruitment and training. It’s a bit of a catch 22!
As such, I was really looking forward to the event on the 21st May. I didn’t flinch when my alarm went off at 5.45am for my 7.30 train from Edinburgh to London, and even the 1.5 hour delay to my train didn’t dampen my spirits!
A sustainable flow of volunteers
I rushed in the door with two minutes to spare, having gulped down a bag of roasted peanuts and an apple for my lunch, and immediately got into the networking with other lovely volunteer managers. The event started soon afterwards, and we were introduced to Helen Johnston from the Thames Discovery Programme. Her presentation was really interesting, and definitely gave me lots of food for thought. She has about 750 volunteers who support archaeological exploration on the banks of the Thames in a really flexible model for participation.
I was interested to hear how they are able to keep the model sustainable given that it is such a skilled role with no minimum commitment required. This is likely, in part, because they charge for training, but also because they have a very pragmatic approach to risk. Indeed, she told the story of her volunteers who successfully dealt with finding an unexploded World War II bomb, without the need for her involvement.
As well as providing in depth training, they have developed a culture of safety by holding briefings at the start of each session and placing a lot of trust in their volunteers to make sensible judgements about risks they encounter. I think this emphasis on trust in volunteers is perhaps something that all of us large national organisations could learn from.
Risk versus objective reward
Secondly, Daniel Ingram from AVM led a discussion about risk appetite. My key takeaway point from this was that risk should not be assessed in isolation, but rather in line with the impact they would make in helping us achieve our objectives. If the activity is likely to be of significant benefit, perhaps it is worth the risk?
Next up, Catherine Bartlett from NCT told us about a volunteer led project with significant risks but also significant positive impact. Yet again, we were hearing about the balance between potential risk and actual benefits. Catherine, as a former barrister, highlighted the need to really take time to evaluate and understand your risks. Building detailed evidence to support your assessments will help to instil trust with colleagues and reassure the most risk averse!
Because you’re worth it
My trip to London for the AVM Risk Factor event was definitely worth the risk! It gave me lots of food for thought regarding our approach to risk in Shelter Scotland, and highlighted to me the value of two quite different approaches. I also had a far less eventful journey home too – Netflix, Pinot Grigio, chocolate raisins and six pages of notes to ponder!
Sarah Latto is the Volunteer Development Manager for Shelter Scotland and Co-Chair of the Scottish Volunteering Forum
Learn more. Our upcoming events can help your professional development and boost your volunteer management career 📈
It’s really important to me that the value of volunteers is recognised across The Brain Tumour Charity, and that both volunteers and the staff who support them have a great experience.
Within my relatively short time in post, I’ve learnt that positive change often requires support for volunteer engagement across teams and at all levels. So when I spotted an email about an upcoming AVM event focusing on ‘successfully influencing change’, it got my attention.
At the event we heard from Charlotte Witteridge, Head of Volunteering at The Myton Hospices and Clare Burgess, CEO of Surrey Coalition of Disabled People. Both shared the way they had wielded influence in order to embed volunteering more deeply in the culture of their organisations.
For them, building a case for support and thinking strategically about the changes that were needed was really important. But even more crucial was their ability to bring people along on that journey. Below I’ve parceled their advice on doing just that into three top tips:
Be reliable and interested
Focus on the things you can change
Know your allies
1. Be reliable and interested
1Doing what you say you’ll do (which includes saying no), and making a point to learn something new outside of your work remit each day, will engender trust among key stakeholders. By building your personal brand, people are more likely to believe in your ideas and in your ability to make those ideas a success.
2. Focus on the things you can change
Don’t spend time focusing on your ‘circle of concern’ – the things which challenge you but you can’t do anything about. Instead, think proactively about your ‘circle of influence’. If you do this you’ll become more effective at making change and increase what you’re able to influence.
3. Know your allies
Work out who it is you need to influence, and how you can get on their radar. This isn’t always about targeting those who hold important job titles. By building strong connections across and outside of your organisation you may identify people who can break down a barrier for you.
To get decision-makers on side, think about how each person needs information delivered to them. Some people are most interested in facts, some finances and some in stories.
I came away from the event with lots to think about, some action points and overall feeling more confident about influencing within my organisation. But having had a bit of time to reflect, my main learning from the day was perhaps a more surprising one.
I didn’t expect to learn this
I know that I’m not alone in finding conferences and events like these a daunting prospect. Part of the reason, I think, is that many of us feel that we have little of value to share. Day-to-day, we’re not doing anything radical or out of the ordinary.
We (volunteer managers) are quick to be self-critical and to focus on the areas that aren’t going right, but I learnt something valuable from everyone I spoke to at the event. During group discussions, people shared lessons learnt through experience – lessons that will undoubtedly save others time and heartache in the future.
My key takeaway
By sharing what your organisation is doing well at events like these, it encourages others to take small steps to improve their practice, which will in turn improve the experience for volunteers in their organisation. And our willingness to speak about these positive things, with colleagues, with other volunteer managers, or with potential volunteers, will make us better influencers too.
Most of the positive, proactive changes that you’ll make during your time as a volunteer manager will not be brand new concepts, but that doesn’t make them uninteresting, or less valid. What you see as your bread and butter, the areas where your organisation is succeeding, are probably the very same areas that others are struggling to crack.
We should shout about these positive things more. I know I certainly will.
Amie is the Volunteer Development Manager for The Brain Tumour Charity.
Learn more. Our upcoming events can help your professional development and boost your volunteer management career 📈
At AVM’s Risk factor event Helen Johnston will be sharing how she established a flexible volunteering model while successfully managing the risks that archaeological fieldwork can dig up.
It’s Crimbo Limbo, the gap between Christmas and New Year, I’m on the sofa under a blanket, contemplating another rummage through the Quality Street tin to see if there’s any of the good ones left, idly scrolling through Facebook. And then, there it is, one of my worst-case scenarios: a photo of one of our volunteers flanked by two police officers (all smiling thankfully!), and the next one, a close-up of what looks like a rusty bit of scaffolding pole. I know immediately what it is and why the police are involved; it’s unexploded ordnance, left over from one of the World War bombing campaigns. Chocolate forgotten, I shake off my sofa-haze to find out what’s happened and make sure everyone’s safe.
At Thames Discovery Programme, we run a flexible volunteering programme to monitor and record vulnerable archaeology on the Thames’ foreshore, the area which is revealed at low tide. As well as running fieldwork coordinated centrally, we have groups of volunteers who organise themselves to regularly monitor particular sites on the river. But the foreshore is not a safe environment, and there are many risks that need to be considered when working there.
On that lazy Saturday afternoon, a couple of our volunteers decides to make a last-minute visit to Fulham, the site of an ancient river crossing, to check on the interesting prehistoric archaeology there which is under threat from erosion. It’s matchday, and fans are streaming through the nearby park for a Fulham Palace home game. As the tide begins to come in, the volunteers are making their way back to the steps when they notice something that, thanks to their training, they immediately recognise as potentially an unexploded bomb.
Unexploded ordnance is not an uncommon find on the Thames; London was heavily bombed in World War 1 and World War 2, and the river wall was deliberately targeted to try to flood the city. At Thames Discovery Programme we come across possible ordnance every year or two, and so our volunteer training includes what to do if you find a bomb.
In this case our volunteers do all the right things, they leave it where they found it, call the Police and move away from the area. When the Police arrive, there’s a bit of discussion about whether it’s a rusty aerosol can before they make the decision to call in the bomb squad. The river is cordoned off, the last of the football fans are kept out of the area, and the device, which is identified as a WW1 incendiary bomb, is safely removed to be disposed of somewhere a long way away. By the time I find out about the incident on Facebook that evening, it’s all over, and everyone involved is back home. I check in with the volunteers over email to make sure they’re all ok, finding things like this can be unnerving. They were fine and they’d already sent us a full account of what happened, including pictures!
Even if your risk assessment doesn’t need to consider possible explosions, managing volunteers remotely and flexibly is not without risks. On 21 May in London, I’m going to discuss how we’ve developed our flexible volunteering model at Thames Discovery Programme when there’s a risk we’ll dig up bombs. Join me at AVM’s Risk factor: flexible volunteering and risk management event and join the discussion at #AVMRisk.
Charlotte Witteridge will be sharing the lessons she’s learnt on influencing change at AVM’sIn volunteers we trust event on 3 May. She leads The Myton Hospices’ volunteering programme with Ruth Freeman as her CEO.
The Myton Hospices are committed to the delivery of high quality palliative care and enabling those with life limiting illnesses to live well until the end of their life. Supporting us with this is a team of over 1,000 volunteers who work within all areas of Myton, from direct patient contact roles and those that help to support the smooth day-to-day running of our hospices, to roles based within retail and fundraising.
We have recently secured significant investment from our Board of Trustees to develop our volunteering team. This recognises the potential to expand our volunteer team to help strengthen and enhance the work that we do and enable us to reach out to and support more patients and families across Coventry and Warwickshire. This hasn’t always been the case within Myton, however, and this is my story of how I have worked with our new Chief Executive to secure this additional funding to develop our volunteering team.
23rd December 2011… My first visit to the Warwick site of The Myton Hospices… I had been to visit Myton to discuss the Volunteering Development Officer job that I had seen advertised. Being shown around the hospice and having conversations about what this new role would involve, I instantly realised that the full potential of volunteering at Myton was yet to be realised. I drove home full of excitement knowing that I had to work my hardest and do everything possible to secure this role.
After submitting an application and going through the recruitment process, thankfully I was successful in securing the role.
I joined Myton in February 2012 and was full of enthusiasm about my new position, only to realise very quickly that I was responsible for all things “volunteering”, with no administration support, no database and no basic infrastructure to underpin the engagement of approximately 1,000 volunteers.
I love a challenge, and was able to realise the impact that my new role could have on Myton’s volunteering. Slowly, over time, I began to build up our volunteer programme and the policies and processes to underpin volunteering throughout our organisation.
Although I did initially make progress, it was incredibly slow. Slightly more resource had been allocated to the team in the form of part time administration hours – this was making a difference, but we still weren’t in a position to move volunteering forward and still struggled to keep up with the day-to-day tasks. My role had also changed in title to Volunteering Development Manager, but I still didn’t have the authority to make organisation wide changes.
The lack of resources within the team was highlighted following a complaint directly to our Chief Executive Ruth Freeman; I had been so overwhelmed with work (and hadn’t asked for help), that I failed to respond in a timely manner to a gentleman who had enquired about giving his time as a volunteer. Being a conscientious individual, I was mortified at the mistake I had made and worried about the reputational repercussions that this may have (especially when a large part of my role is about protecting our reputation in the way in which I engage with our volunteers!).
Now, I’m not advocating making a mistake or letting things get to the stage that I did, far from it (my biggest learning is that I should have asked for help sooner…) but this did open up an opportunity for me, because Ruth recognised that help was needed and we worked together to carry out a review of our volunteering function. The outcome was the realisation that the volunteer department was severely under resourced. Ruth and I then embarked on building a case for investment in volunteering…
A word from Ruth:
”Charlotte is a great advocate for volunteering within our organisation but for a long time she was a lone voice. In working closely with her it became clear that she was quite understandably frustrated with the fact that Volunteering was the only cross–organisational function at Myton that didn’t have a voice at senior level. This meant that top-line decisions were made without consideration for the value that volunteers could add to every area of our work”.
Building a Business Case for Volunteering
Step 1: Identify how volunteering supports your organisation to meet its strategy
Myton’s vision is to ‘provide high quality, specialist care to people whose condition no longer responds to curative treatment, from diagnosis to death. We aim to meet their physical, psychological, spiritual and social needs and ensure their families are supported both through and after this difficult time. We are also committed to training, supporting and encouraging other care providers to practice good palliative care’.
When developing our business case for investment into the volunteering team, we were clearly able to demonstrate how volunteering supports our organisation to meet its strategic aims and fulfil our mission – this is a clear influencer when getting the Board of Trustees and Senior Leadership Team to buy into your business case. Some examples of this linked to areas of our strategy are as follows:
We want to touch the lives of more people who need us – we will be able to reach out and support more patients and families by recruiting more volunteers for the right roles that enable us to deliver our services to more people…
Strengthening our marketing and communications – volunteers are ambassadors for our organisation, and they have the potential to build awareness of what we do within their local communities. This support of Myton will help to support our fundraising efforts and market our organisation externally to reinforce our brand and to educate people about hospice care. This all contributes towards ensuring that we are a sustainable organisation for the future (another key area of our strategy).
Step 2: Demonstrate the future potential of volunteering within your organisation
For us, this included…
Identifying areas of our organisation where volunteers can really add value to the service that we provide to patients and families. This involved coming up with ideas about how we can make the best use of our current volunteer resource, but also committing to work with areas of our organisation who do not currently involve volunteers.
Understanding our current volunteer profile (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, length of service) and the correlation between this and the changing external volunteering environment (e.g. providing flexibility in how people can give their time, potential changes in volunteering motivations and an ageing population). Having the data on our current volunteers helped us to identify future areas of opportunity but also areas of concern that we will need to address to ensure that we remain relevant and sustainable in the future.
Step 3: Consider and challenge your own views of volunteering
In some organisations, volunteers can be quite protected… “Betty is giving her time to Myton, she is already giving us so much, and we couldn’t possibly ask her to fundraise for us too…” This is an attitude that I have come across during my career – we don’t want to ask volunteers to do more for fear of upsetting them.
When building our business case we flipped our thinking on this to consider the future potential of viewing our volunteers as ‘engaged supporters’ of our organisation. We focused on ensuring that volunteers are well managed, supported and have a great volunteering experience with us. By investing in our volunteering infrastructure, the longer term outcome of this will be that we are able to work with our volunteers to extend their support of our organisation (e.g. getting involved in different volunteering opportunities, being participants in our fundraising events, supporting our shops etc.).
A word from Ruth:
“Whilst volunteers don’t have the same contractual obligations as paid members of staff there are many examples where we have seen the commitment being no less than that of paid staff (and in some cases more). We should be looking for volunteer roles in most departments. We should be looking for specialists and be attracting volunteers to specific roles because of their skills and experience and ensuring they have the scope to use them.”
“Senior Leaders within the organisation need to take a serious approach to encouraging and rewarding their teams for achieving successful outcomes relating to working with volunteers. Each success should be celebrated and communicated across the organisation and training & support for managers and those designated to work with volunteers should be on-going.”
Step 4: Demonstrate the return on investment
With any business proposal, it is important that you are able to demonstrate the return on investment. In order to show this for our volunteering function, we used the Volunteer Investment to Value Audit (VIVA) tool which gave us a calculation of the value that volunteers add to our organisation, and the return on our investment into volunteering. For us, the figures were staggering… using this tool, the estimated total value added by volunteers to Myton is over £1.5million, and for every £1 that we invest in volunteering, there is a return of £10.
A word from Ruth:
“In presenting to the Board it was important to focus on the true added value of volunteers and volunteering. Just like many other charities, Myton waxed lyrical about the difference volunteers make to our work without really understanding what the true difference is or what the potential might be. There was (and still is) a reticence from managers to let unpaid staff undertake those specialist tasks traditionally saved for those that are paid. In the proposal we pointed out that this thinking must be challenged because significant opportunities were being lost. We also pointed out that a culture which treats volunteers as ‘nice to have’ must change, but that this could only be achieved with a great deal of hard work across the organisation supported by a team of volunteer development professionals.”
Ruth presented our business case to the Board of Trustees and was successful in securing the investment – we doubled the paid resource within our Volunteering Development Team, including the addition of a significantly more senior role!
Head of Volunteering post – this was a newly created role (that replaced the previous Volunteering Development Manager post within our establishment) that we felt was vital for us to establish volunteering as a strategic priority to support the sustainability of our organisation moving forward. Volunteering now has representation. around the decision making table, which is a huge step forward for us
Volunteering Development Officers (two new posts) – these roles will focus on ensuring that all departments across the organisation have support with developing their volunteering.
Other Top Tips
To help with the development of our business case and to secure support from the wider Senior Leadership Team, we found the following things useful:
Develop an action plan for volunteering
This was the starting point for building our business case, as it provided a clear plan of work that needing carrying out and the potential resourcing implications that delivering on this action plan would have. This action plan has also helped other members of the Senior Leadership Team to understand the volunteering function in more detail.
Get your Board of Trustees and Senior Leadership Team (SLT) involved with volunteering
Don’t forget that your Board of Trustees are volunteers themselves. We have found it really useful to ensure that members of our Board and SLT are present at all of our volunteering events. This has helped to demonstrate the importance of volunteering and the impact that volunteers have across the whole organisation.
Listening to feedback from volunteers
Volunteers come to us from a variety of different backgrounds and with many different skills and experiences. Once you have worked your way through some of the grumbles, there can be some really useful and ideas and feedback brought to you by volunteers.
A word from Ruth:
“My top tip would be to focus on opportunity, potential and the significant return on any investment in volunteering, which can range from cost savings to significantly increased organisational resilience and sustainability.”
Our new Volunteering Development Department structure was implemented in June 2018, timed perfectly to coincide with the start of Volunteers’ Week, and we are still in the process of building our team. I think it is fair to say that we are at the start of our new journey in relation to volunteering, but the investment that we have made into volunteering will help to support the future sustainability of our hospice and to ensure that we are able to respond to the external influences that will affect volunteering in the future.
My Story Continued…
On the 18th May 2018 I was delighted to have been successful in securing the Head of Volunteering role within our new structure. It has taken me years to get to this point, however, I would encourage you to continue to have belief in your vision for volunteering. These things can take time, patience and tenacity. You have control over the way in which you present information to influence others to demonstrate the true value that volunteering can add to your organisation. Working with Ruth gave me the opportunity to demonstrate my leadership skills, and in doing so, my passion for volunteering shone through.
A word from Ruth:
“Charlotte is totally committed to her vision about raising the profile of volunteering at Myton, she is testament to the saying ‘never give up’ because she never did and that tenacity has paid off for her and our organisation.”
“Oh baby please give a little respect to-ooooooo meeeeeeeeee!”, a line from the brilliant 1988 electro-pop anthem A Little Respect from pop tour de force, Erasure. Over the years, I must have heard this song a million times! Recently it’s assumed a new relevance following an incident that happened a couple of weeks ago. I’ll elaborate on this in a bit, but first a bit of background for you…
I’m relatively new to volunteer management, having had a variety of other positions within the heritage and arts sector. For the past six months I’ve held two part time roles at different museums, with responsibility for around 130 volunteers. Throughout my career I’ve managed teams of paid staff, both large and small, but never such a large volume of people coming from all corners of our society. One of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my career is become a volunteer manager (VM) and I have the privilege of working with an amazingly diverse and talented group of people. In my opinion, it is this diversity that’s central to a successful volunteering programme; the differences between us make us stop and think and often lead us to better ways of doing things whilst enriching our own personal learning and development.
Much of my time is spent ensuring that our volunteers are happy, well trained and feel supported in their roles whilst developing skills that will be useful to them in outside of the museum. I try my hardest, as do VMs everywhere, to treat everyone with professionalism, courtesy and respect. We have volunteer agreements in place which state what our organisations will do for the volunteer, and what in turn we can expect from them. Aside from the usual day-to-day niggles, this has been a positive and enriching experience. A couple of weeks ago I received a phone call from a frustrated and somewhat animated volunteer who made it very clear, in no uncertain terms, that they were unhappy with a decision that I had made that day. The strong tone of voice and colourful choice of language used took me by surprise and I felt somewhat anxious and demotivated afterwards.
This incident really got me thinking about how we care for ourselves as volunteer managers; many of us work in organisations with limited resources and often we work in relative isolation. Most VMs appear to be extremely patient and resilient, but we do have our limits! I’ve since sat down with the individual involved, their passion and enthusiasm (two qualities that are to be applauded!) had run away with them. They were mortified that they had caused upset, things are now fine, and we’ve moved on. We are only human after all. I know I’m far from perfect, who is? However, it’s made me think about the relationships we have in the workplace and how we look after ourselves when things become challenging
In February, I attended AVM’s Ways to wellbeing and productivity for volunteer managers, the first event of its kind and a litmus test to gauge the appetite for this topic amongst the VM community. I found the productivity session, led by Rob Jackson, exceptionally useful and I’ve radically changed my relationship with email as a result (this is worthy of its own blog article and I digress slightly!). The other wonderful speakers presented us with some amazing tools, developed to deal with our internal response to difficult situations with guidance on how to adopt them in the workplace. We also received suggestions on how we can improve our overall resilience.
Managing difficult situations and adopting self-care comes with time and practice. This event certainly gave me pointers to help me navigate my way. However, one thing remains clear to me and that is give a little respect to me and I’ll certainly give it back to you.
Colin is the Manager of East Grinstead Museum as well as the Volunteering and Training Manager at the London Canal Museum.
On behalf of AVM, I am saddened to hear of the recent death of the great Susan J. Ellis. The phenomenal support she offered to leaders of volunteering, particularly helping to champion the importance of a properly resourced volunteer management programme led from the top of an organisation, was game changing. Her key success bringing the community together across the world – a powerful way to learn from each other, despite differences in culture and legislation.
I know she acted as a mentor to members of our community, so particular thoughts go out to you, but for everyone who works within the volunteer management field this is a huge loss. It is our role to keep her ambition alive.