Fame without fortune

“What’s the one thing you wish people knew about your job”

That’s a tough one because volunteer management is probably the most complex job I’ve ever had, and I really don’t know how you begin to describe it, let alone narrow it down to one thing you’d like people to know.

In the end, I’ve plumped for something fairly broad that gives me a bit of leeway (yes that’s cheating, but what of it?) I think the one thing I’d want people to know is that quite a lot of the time it’s like being famous, but without the luxury of the fortune.

Working for a charity means there’s public interest, not only in what you’re doing but how you’re doing it. There are hundreds, thousands or even millions of people out there who are just as passionate – if not more so – about the cause you’re fighting, and they see your organisation as the public vehicle for change. And that makes you fair game to some degree. Or at least I think it brings with it an enhanced level of public accountability for what you’re doing. When you add in a layer of responsibility to a volunteer army there’s an added pressure.

People will (rightly) be quick to tell you when they’ve had a bad experience. In the last few weeks I’ve had messages from volunteers on social media and via email that all boiled down to a sentiment of “do more” or “do better”.

And whilst people should be holding us to account, and we should be doing everything we can to make sure the people who want to help us can do so, the mechanics of how a charity actually works are a mystery to most. I think it’s fair to say nobody who works in volunteering is sat with their feet up or resting on their laurels. It’s more likely that they’re having a swig of lukewarm coffee with a stale sandwich at 3pm for ‘lunch’, or trying not to think about all the time they’re owed that they’ll never get to take.

I’ve had abusive emails when trying to resolve complaints and I’ve been tagged in public messages where people have taken pleasure in hearing about a bad day at work. While I think some of that inevitably comes with the territory, there’s rarely an opportunity to put across context or balance.

I’ve volunteered in a few places (and still do). I think I’ve become more forgiving – or accepting? – about some things, having seen it from both sides of the table. For all the times we try as volunteer managers to get the right information to the right people at the right time, we know it won’t always happen. As volunteer managers, we know that people hate the burden of ‘health and safety gone mad’ and GDPR, and that they definitely don’t volunteer for paperwork. But we still know all those things are important to keep them safe and protected and so we grit our teeth, ask for a form or two, and wait for the backlash.

And whilst it’s short-sighted to equate money with happiness, I’ve always thought that the riches fame can bring probably go some way to offsetting the constant scrutiny that comes from being in the public eye. As volunteer managers, we’re accountable to people who need and rely on us, rather than an adoring fan base, and I think there’s a lot more pressure there then wondering if people will like my new album. (To clarify, I don’t currently have an album coming out myself).

We all want it to be simpler and easier, but we’re often trying to change culture or practice in organisations that have been behind the curve compared to private companies, and don’t have the resources to keep up. It’s also hard for us to talk about that because it feels like we’re making excuses rather than telling the truth. Volunteers and volunteer managers are fighting the same fight – we shouldn’t be fighting each other.

This is the first of our anonymous blogs. The blogs give leaders and managers of volunteering the opportunity to share some of the frustrations and challenges of their role, with the intention of letting readers know they are not alone in facing some of these issues.

If you’d like to write for AVM’s website, drop us a line at [email protected]

Being a Volunteering Manager at a Higher Education Institution (UK)

The post originally appeared on Mariana’s blog. Read the original article.

For months I’ve been thinking about what I should write about and after International Volunteer Managers Day (@IVMDAY) (5th November) I finally realised that there is a specific topic I want to address.

In the UK, Universities and Student Union’s usually have teams that support the provision of extra-curricular activities to students. Those activities often include volunteering and there are specialised teams within Higher Education Institutions (HEI) who do this.

Like every other volunteer manager out there, we do a variety of ‘jobs’, from coordinating volunteers to marketing, advertising, supporting and advising students and colleagues, policy writing, delivering events etc.

The questions that came into my mind after a conversation with Dave Coles (Volunteer Manager at LSE) as we were preparing a session for the AVM were:

  1. Why are we still seen as people who merely copy-paste role descriptions into a platform and promote it to students?
  2. Why are we still seen as the Managers who have ‘an easy job’ because we have a ‘pool of available volunteers’ at any time?
  3. Why are we still seen as the Managers that couldn’t get a job at a charity and have taken a job at a University instead?

So…. 5 points that might be of interest.

1) We do a bit more than just advertising external volunteering opportunities

True… a part of our roles is to advertise opportunities to our students, but that’s not all that we do. We also organise and deliver opportunities ourselves, we are responsible for vetting every volunteer opportunity that is advertised and provide advice about it, if needed. We write volunteering policies, health and safety policies, risk assessments, safeguarding guidelines, training guides etc. We deliver 1–2–1 sessions to hundreds of students, we deliver inductions and training sessions (which can be bespoke to the different courses) and we also provide support and training sessions to our partner organisations to help them engage with our students. The list goes on….

2) We do have an understanding of the third sector

Volunteer Managers working in HEI do have an understanding of how the third sector works and have an idea of some of the issues that charities face. We work very closely with charities on a daily basis and a lot of us have worked for a charity or a not-for-profit organisation before. Some of us still do!

3) We do not have a ‘pot of volunteers’ ready to go

Nops. Sorry. It’s not a thing.

Students sign-up to our volunteering platforms and decide who they want to volunteer with and why. We don’t get to call them and tell them to go volunteer with someone on a specific day and time.

What we do get to do is tell them about the amazing volunteering opportunities and incredible organisations we partner up with and why we believe they should support them.

4) We do this (our job!) because we’ve chosen to (the majority of us anyway)

I can’t speak for all HE and FE Volunteer Managers/Coordinators out there but I do believe that the majority of us have chosen this job, and it’s not just a temporary role until we get ‘that other job at X organisation’.

This is my case anyway.

I love the sector, I love seeing ‘my’ student volunteers engaging in a variety of activities and I honestly can not think of a better job at this point (maybe panda hugger or goat walker but let’s not go there).

5) We focus on the students and their development, and that’s absolutely amazing

I’ve worked for a charity before and have been a volunteer for a variety of other organisations as well and I really do feel that the challenges and focuses between charities and HEIs can be different. Some organisations have to focus on their specific volunteer numbers targets or their fundraising goals. That’s ok and completely understandable! As for me… I get to focus on people. I get to focus on how I can make students’ lives better by engaging in volunteering! And I absolutely love it.

Maybe other HEI do have to report back and have a ‘minimum’ amount of volunteers involved, or a minimum amount of hours volunteered. That’s not my case, thankfully. Thankfully because it allows me to focus on the things I believe are relevant, like their volunteering experience and the communities they’re getting involved with.

I get to talk to students about my love for volunteering, how it’s changed my life and has helped me become the person I am today. I get to talk about how a lot of what I know today was actually learnt during a volunteering experience, how I met some of my closest friends whilst volunteering and how without realising it I was building up my CV and gaining new skills.

Yes. I love volunteering and I love being a Volunteering Manager at a HEI.

Mariana Rocha is Volunteering and Civic Engagement Manager at University of West London.

This post originally appeared on Mariana’s blog. Read the original article.

Being More Pirate: reflections on AVM’s 2019 conference

I have now finished my second month as an Alumni Volunteer Manager at UCL (University College London). However, I have been working with volunteers for the best part of 4 years in different shapes and forms. Most of my experience has been stewarding groups of volunteers, and in the last year it has taken a more strategic turn.
 
The most exciting thing about starting at UCL is joining their campaign ‘It’s All Academic’, and being able to contribute to achieving 250,000 alumni volunteer hours. No small feat; so when I was asked if I would like to go to the AVM conference I jumped at the opportunity!
 
The morning of the conference was a busy one. Having not attended an AVM conference I wasn’t sure what to expect, despite knowing a few friendly faces from the volunteering world. While stuck in tube delays Twitter soon diminished any doubts I had, I saw lots of tweets from other volunteer managers who were sharing gifs about their journeys and needing coffee. On arrival I enjoyed maybe a few too many pastries, and had a look around the various stalls. One of my first observations was just how many people from different organisations who were all here for volunteers!
 
All the main stage presentations and panel talks where excellent; however my particular favourite was ‘Be More Pirate’. Alex Barker told us about the golden age of pirates, which was absolutely fascinating, and not just because I am a history nerd! Alex discussed how volunteers can play a pivotal role in challenging and reshaping systems. She drew comparisons between people who are considered do-it-yourselfers, side hustlers, and the Golden Age Pirates. As a new starter in a brand new role this was certainly food for thought!
 
I also thoroughly enjoyed Amira Tharani’s impact and evaluation workshop. Amira’s workshop gave me great insight on where to start when evaluating a project area or programme in such an interactive way. I came out of the workshop armed with new ideas and resources to make those ideas a reality.
 
Going forward, I am excited to get further involved in AVM and learn everything I can from the fantastic network!

Hannah Kinghorn is Alumni Volunteer Manager at UCL (University College London)

Collaborating to improve volunteering

The post originally appeared on Lymphoma Action’s website. Read the original post.

Lymphoma Action’s Volunteering Development Manager, Carly, shares why she is part of a team who organise an annual volunteer managers conference.

AVM’s conference planning team at the 2019 conference

This October saw another successful Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) annual conference in London. AVM is a membership organisation that aims to support, represent and champion leaders of volunteering across the UK. Carly, our Volunteering Development Manager, has been part of the conference planning team since 2016, helping to identify a programme of speakers, promoting the conference and coordinating the event on the day.

This year’s conference welcomed over 250 leaders of volunteering, with a jam-packed agenda where attendees explored the future of volunteering, alongside practical tips for recruiting, managing, supporting and empowering volunteers.

By being involved, Carly is able to stay up-to-date and connected with sector news and ideas that will support the development of volunteering at Lymphoma Action, as well as representing the charity and contributing to the learning and development of volunteer managers across the UK.

Following the the launch our new Volunteering Strategy, Carly is reviewing key take aways from the conference to grow our volunteering programme and support our volunteers to make the greatest positive impact for people affected by lymphoma.

“It’s fantastic to collaborate with other volunteer managers to plan the conference and to experience the event as a volunteer manager too. It’s inspiring to hear about the collective impact the voluntary sector is making and to be part of the engaging conversations for developing volunteering in our own organisations.”

Carly, Lymphoma Action


The post originally appeared on Lymphoma Action’s website. Read the original post.

Want to “change the tune” of your volunteer management career? Consider mentoring.

International Volunteer Managers Day is coming (5 November) and this years’ theme is ‘change the tune’. As a Director (volunteer) at the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM), the achievement I’m most proud of was setting-up and piloting a mentoring scheme for volunteer managers. I think many mentors and mentees ‘changed their tune’ through participating, so I’m taking this opportunity to tell you a bit about it…

What did the scheme look like?

We launched the scheme in January 2019. Twenty AVM members volunteered, half of them as mentors, half as mentees. The scheme took place entirely online, enabling volunteer managers all over the UK to participate. We delivered webinars introducing the scheme and ran an online “speed-networking” event through Zoom. Then we set up a Slack group, helping the group to break the ice and get to know each other.

Mentors and mentees self-matched, and although some reported this bit as being a little tricky (one mentee described the feeling as being like a teenager trying to get a teacher to like her..!) on the whole, the self-matching approach was well received, with comments including:

“I felt it was really important for the mentors/ mentees to match themselves, and in fact more so for the mentees to seek out what they are looking for. A bit like the Bumble dating app, its putting the ‘power’ of the relationship where it needs to be, for them its with women, for us its with the mentees.” – Jenny Betteridge, Strategic Lead Volunteering, Sport England (mentor)

Did mentoring change anyone’s’ tune?

Generally, feedback was really positive, from both mentors and mentees. 100% of survey participants said they were extremely or very satisfied with the scheme, and all said they would recommend it to others. The majority of participants said the scheme had helped them to progress in their career, and several of the mentees said having a mentor had helped them to find a new role:

“My mentor helped build my confidence, drive and motivation to find a new role” – Mentee, anonymous

“I was transitioning in to line-management at the time of the scheme and I would say this mentor relationship had a direct (and positive) impact on how I approached this…” – Calleigh-Marie Lawrence, Volunteer Support Executive, The Charity for Civil Servants (mentee)

Almost all mentors and mentees said they felt being part of this scheme had created a sense of being part of a strong volunteer management community of practice, or a place for mutual learning:

“My experience has been totally positive. My mentor has vastly more experience than me in Volunteer Management but we both have the same challenges.” – David Little, Volunteer Coordinator at Carlisle Carers (mentee)

“the ‘mentor/mentee’ relationship can and should switch – plenty to be learned down what can be a two-way street” – Shaun Crummey, Head of Volunteering, Absolutely Cultured (mentor)

…and both mentors and mentees said participating in the scheme had improved their leadership and management skills:

“It was a huge learning curve in what it means to be a manager…I learned a lot about my strengths” – Mentee, anonymous

“I thoroughly enjoyed being a mentor. I got to work with someone whose experience gave me new insights into the current workplace. Their challenges made me think in new ways about the best way to support them as they found their own solutions. I’d definitely do it again and would encourage others to mentor a colleague as well.” – Rob Jackson, Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd (mentor)

Benefits also extended to employers, with one mentor commenting:

“My employer is supportive and mentoring meetings have been part of my working hours. Certainly viewed as part of my CPD.” – Damian Sherwood-Johnson, Volunteer Development Coordinator, Sistema Scotland (mentor)

The scheme ran for six months, and although AVM’s involvement has now ended, many of the pairs have continued their relationship. That’s one of the great things about mentoring – it often out-lasts schemes or jobs.

So, I think mentoring is a great way to change your volunteer management tune, both for mentors and mentees. I speak from personal experience too: in setting up this scheme I’ve found my own mentor, and I also mentor another volunteer manager. I find both relationships incredibly valuable.

AVM has changed its tune too: although providing a mentoring scheme has been a goal of AVM’s for a long time, now, we’ve turned that goal into reality.  We’ve also got better at delivering services online/ avoiding the London-focus – watch this space for much more of that.

So, if you are a volunteer manager and you want to change your tune, give mentoring a go! AVM plans to develop the scheme in 2020. It’s open to all AVM members. If you’d like to participate, you can register your interest on our website.

Angela Wilson is a former Director at the Association of Volunteer Managers and Head of Volunteering at MS Society. Follow her on Twitter: @Angelawilson__

This post originally appeared on Inside Government’s website.

Change the Tune this International Volunteer Managers Day

Ruth Leonard, Chair of AVM, holds up an IVM Day pledge which says "I'll 'Change the Tune' by connecting leaders of volunteering"

For me, the power of volunteering is people seeing a need in their community using their own strengths and assets to address it and make a difference. Even more excitingly – and importantly – one of the assets which groups of individuals from disparate backgrounds bring is alternative thinking and cognitive diversity to approaching an issue, which can help lead to new opportunities and solutions.

Yet frequently when volunteering – and therefore the volunteer management infrastructure to support this – is discussed, the tone turns towards transactional. Volunteers are there to fill gaps identified by an existing organisation, and role descriptions to describe the precise requirements. In order to encourage flexibility, organisations suggest splitting the current proscribed activities, so elements can be done by different volunteers, and take into account their individual motivations.

So, what would volunteering look like if organisations gave the ability to develop the solution to volunteers? What if they worked with people wanting to gift their time, skills and experience to shape these activities?

How could leaders of volunteering create an infrastructure to enable this, and what are the skills that volunteer managers would lean on and develop to maintain?

Volunteering needs to be meaningful, and meet an organisation’s strategic objectives, but I don’t think these need to be contradictory. Involving people who are not embedded within an echo chamber of employment, and therefore have the intellectual freedom to present alternative options, creates possibilities which an institution may not have been able to see.

Changing the tune

There are a couple of ways leaders of volunteering can change the tune. The first is to recognise the importance of volunteer management in creating an effective way for supporting and enabling volunteers. The second is to empower and give confidence to people who involve volunteers, to embed flexibility into the infrastructure that allows volunteers to create their own gift.

The current melody of volunteer management is to package our volunteer roles as offers and products, and then market these to our volunteer ‘customers’ to join the human resource ‘workforce’. How exciting would it be to riff on the leifmotif of co-creating and using our skills of working with volunteers to co-develop the solutions?

I love Margaret Mead’s quote:

“never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I believe volunteer management provides the essential organisation that enables ‘thoughtful, committed citizens’ to achieve their ends, and prevents the energy dissipating. The vision of AVM reflects this: Connecting leaders of volunteers to make change happen together.

This year, join us to celebrate International Volunteer Managers Day by:

Ruth

Ruth Leonard, Chair of Association of Volunteer Managers


International Volunteer Managers Day takes place annually on 5th November, and is an opportunity to celebrate the profession of volunteer leadership. Find out more on the IVM Day website.

My experience of the AVM Back to School Event

Having worked with volunteers for the past four years, I was long overdue attending an AVM event! Although I have been to various other volunteer manager meetings, I was very excited to attend the AVM Back to School event in September.

I had been in my new role at NCT for just three weeks, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn, feel inspired, and come away with plenty of new ideas. It was also quite an intimidating prospect; but my fears were quickly assuaged by the group of friendly people that I met on arriving at the London School of Economics meeting space.

One of the main reasons I love working with volunteers is personal relationships. This is something emphasised by Mariana Rocha and David Coles (Volunteering & Civic Engagement Manager at the University of West London and Volunteer Centre Manager at LSE respectively). They spoke about how the key to volunteer motivation and retention is spending time on the ground with volunteers, recognition of their achievement, and personalising communication – talking to volunteers about themselves and their interests, not just their volunteering! As someone who loves a natter over a cup of tea and biscuits, general chit-chat is something I often try to incorporate into my communications with volunteers.

Our next speaker, Lauren Hogan, Volunteering Projects Officer at Turn2us, gave me lots of food for thought about using the wealth of ‘lived experience’ that our volunteers at NCT have. Celebrating lived experience and knowledge means you are able to offer consumers a more authentic and relatable service, which is invaluable!

Next up was Sarah Latto, Volunteer Development Manager at Shelter Scotland. I found her talk absolutely inspiring. The way Shelter involves volunteers in their decision making is such an incredible demonstration of inclusivity and valuing volunteer input. A really interesting idea that I took away for the day was removing as many barriers as possible to volunteering with your organisation. Are reference checks essential? Do volunteers have to complete an application form, or could a phone call do the job? Making small changes could open up your volunteering opportunities to a whole new community that you weren’t previously able to reach.

At NCT, we meet a similar challenge to many other organisations, which is building up these personal relationships when you’re working with a team of thousands of volunteers! Melanie Merrill, Volunteering Programme Manager for Quality at Macmillan Cancer Support, stressed the importance of creating a high quality volunteering experience, which comes from having meaningful interaction and support from the organisation. I felt inspired to continue making sure that every interaction I have with a volunteer has a personal touch, and doesn’t feel like a corporate or formal interaction. Knowing that you’ve helped a volunteer to feel supported or to carry out their role more confidently makes it all worthwhile!

One final thing I took away that I’d like to share is this quote – “feeling connected lies at the core of the volunteer journey”, ‘Time Well Spent’, NCVO, 2019

Emily Poulter is Volunteer Support Officer at National Childbirth Trust, working in Bristol to support the large team of volunteers at NCT, who support parents across the UK.
 
Previous to her role with NCT, Emily supervised the Visitor Experience Volunteers at the SS Great Britain, as well as helping to oversee the volunteering programme.
 
Like many volunteer managers, Emily stumbled upon a job which involved working with volunteers, whilst searching for jobs within the heritage sector following her History degree. She soon realised that volunteer management was where she wanted to be.

Big up a Volunteer Manager on International Volunteer Managers Day, 5 November 2019!

I’ve now finished my term as Director for the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM). It’s been one of the most rewarding volunteering experiences I’ve ever had. I’ll tell you why…

I was elected as Director just after I’d returned from a years’ maternity leave. I was feeling rusty, shattered, and, honestly, quite lacking in confidence.

But as any volunteer manager worth their salt knows: volunteering can help with all of that!

In my role as Director at AVM I was surrounded by a wonderful network of other volunteer managers – the other Directors and other AVM members. My people! They held me up, energised me, helped me realise where my strengths were, and gave me a great volunteering role where I could make a difference to the lives of other volunteer managers, which of course, made me feel great.

The other Directors at AVM feel the same – we all gain so much strength, knowledge and confidence from our fellow volunteer managers.

So, on International Volunteer Managers Day, we would like to take the opportunity to big each other up and give a little recognition and thanks to all the great volunteer managers that we know are out there.

Get ready on Twitter…and use the hash tag: #BigUpVM – let’s all tell another volunteer manager we know that we appreciate them, and big them up.

Angela Wilson is a former Director at the Association of Volunteer Managers and Head of Volunteering at MS Society. Follow her on Twitter: @Angelawilson__

Launching CHAS Connect – volunteer alumni

CHAS volunteer alumni pack, including letter, newsletter, pen and badge

A couple of years ago, an elderly volunteer (let’s call her Mary) left CHAS, after twenty years of involvement with the charity. Mary’s health had declined and in spite of support being put in place to enable her to volunteer for as long as possible, she felt that it was the right time for her to retire. And rightly so. We thanked her and as a team, we celebrated all the amazing work she had done for the charity.

Mary had no family and CHAS was her social life, providing her with friends, structure, routine and a sense of purpose. She was part of our team, our cause. I felt saddened about the prospect of this connection being lost when Mary retired from her role. Recent research has evidenced the strong correlation between volunteering and improved health and wellbeing. Volunteering is proven to reduce social isolation and loneliness, and to improve both physical and mental health – something I’ve witnessed time and time again at CHAS.

I’d often wondered what had become of volunteers, like Mary, whose time had come to step down after many years of involvement with a charity. I was uncomfortable with the prospect of communication being cut and a volunteer feeling distanced from the charity that they devoted part of their life to. When you volunteer, you invest yourself in a cause. That emotional investment doesn’t disappear overnight.

We were also facing the same challenges with our younger volunteers. Many leave CHAS to relocate for university and a large number of them go on to study nursing and medicine. We know that in Scotland, we are facing a shortage of paediatric palliative care professionals. These former CHAS volunteers will go on to staff our hospitals, GP surgeries and perhaps even join the medical and nursing teams at CHAS in years to come. If we could stay connected with these people in some way, we could keep them informed about CHAS, throughout their time at university and beyond. Early volunteering experiences are powerful and stay with people for life. These volunteers may end up not just as future staff but could be future legators, donors, corporate partners and in time, volunteers again. But more than that, they will talk about CHAS – they will know who we are and be up to date with how the charity is evolving.

I was thoughtful of what we could do at CHAS to keep the lines of communication open and nurture those deep connections with volunteers past and present. This is where the idea for CHAS Connect was born. By joining CHAS Connect, our new network/alumni for leavers, employees and volunteers have the chance to remain part of the CHAS Community once they have left the organisation. This allows us to stay connected with the committed, talented people who have shaped CHAS over the years – a no brainer as we strive to grow awareness of our cause in Scotland.

CHAS’s partnership with The Lens (a charity that supports organisations in Scotland to develop intrapreneurial thinking) provided the perfect platform for me to develop this thinking. After the initial inception, I worked alongside Catherine, a CHAS volunteer, to further progress the idea. The CHAS Lens Final took place in December 2018 and Catherine and I were lucky enough to be able to pitch our idea, Dragon’s Den style, to an audience and panel of judges. Nerve-wracking? Absolutely! It was all worth it though and we were successful in securing £2,500 to realise our ambition.

We hit the ground running! We quickly realised we required communications and marketing support so we recruited two volunteers, Mairi and Kirsty, who had the experience to bring our ideas to life. We worked together to establish the network, create a joining process, design a membership pack and craft the first newsletter. All volunteers and employees who leave CHAS are invited to join the network, become part of the alumni essentially. New members receive a welcome pack with a letter from the CEO and Chair of the Board, consent form (we are storing members’ details on our database), freepost envelope, pen, pin badge and copy of the latest newsletter. Once they are members they receive a bi-annual newsletter with updates about the charity. Many of our former volunteers and employees are financial supporters of CHAS so we worked collaboratively to ensure that the newsletter complements supporter mail, both in content and timing.

In August 2019 we launched CHAS Connect. We contacted leavers from the last year to see if any of them would like to join and 50% of them were keen so we sent them membership packs. Three weeks after we launched we had our first 20 members. Our research showed us that for the community to be a success, it needs to grow organically and be driven by members so we’re not being too prescriptive about how it will develop at this stage. It’s a bit of a learning process. We’re hopeful that a couple of social/networking events will be hosted next year and in order to keep membership high, we will promote the network to current employees and volunteers so that they are aware of the network and feel inclined to sign up when they leave the charity.

As leaders of volunteers, we focus much of our time on recruitment, support, retention and engagement but very rarely do we invest time in the exit stage of the volunteer experience. We might look at why people are leaving and gather feedback from exit interviews in order to inform retention strategies. However, do we have a role to play in supporting people to stay connected with our organisations after they have left? We nurture relationships with donors of money throughout their lives. Should we not do the same for donors of time, especially when they are stepping back from volunteering for reasons beyond their control? If you ask us, absolutely!

Volunteers outnumber staff in CHAS three to one. Two thirds of the charity’s volunteers have made financial gifts to CHAS. Last year our volunteers were so motivated that they donated over 60,000 hours of their precious time to our charity. As these volunteers move on to other things, it’s critical that we grow and nurture the deep emotional connection that these passionate ambassadors have for CHAS. These are the people that will ultimately help us achieve our ambition of reaching each and every child and family in Scotland that needs our help.

Morven MacLean is Head of Volunteering at Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS), and is a dynamic and values-driven leader, with over eleven years’ experience in raising the profile of volunteering and achieving successful outcomes through volunteering across third sector and public sector bodies.

Morven is influencing the national volunteering agenda through her membership of the Scottish Volunteering Forum and as Chairperson of the Forum’s Impact Measurement Sub-Group. An energetic and passionate volunteer herself, Morven is also a volunteer befriender for The Silver Line, a helpline for older people across the UK.

Managing Volunteers: Free and Easy?


Screenshot of BBC Radio 4 In Business: Managing Volunteers episode

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)

— Sally Seddon (@sallyseddonSI) August 30, 2019

Overall however this was a welcome overview.

Here are the programme highlights:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

    — NCVO Volunteering (@NCVOvolunteers) August 29, 2019

  5. 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.

    While many think volunteer managers can learn from managers, Dr Jenna Ward explains how the opposite is more true. Listen more on @BBCRadio4 https://t.co/wnqwIKW6yX

    — Shaun Delaney (@shaundelaney) August 29, 2019

  6. 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. 


Listen again

Annabel Smith is an AVM Board member and Head of Volunteering and Participation Development at the National Trust.