I was recently discussing with a friend the complex demands we volunteering professionals find ourselves under, I am sure you will be familiar with some or all of these.
Juggling the various aspects of our day to day roles whilst trying to keep abreast of changing trends
Attempting to meet the many and diverse needs of the volunteers that we support
Finding new, creative and collaborative ways to engage people in our mission
Trying to secure support and/or funding for our work
Like many people outside the profession she was surprised by these insights and genuinely interested to know how I managed to make time for myself, my family, and look after my own wellbeing in the midst of all of this. I confessed that the latter had somewhat lapsed towards the end of last year and that I was aiming to get back on track. I also admitted it is an ongoing challenge for me and many people I know in our area of work.
She smiled knowingly and said what you need to remember is ‘Love thy neighbour’.
No, not the rather cringe worthy 70s sitcom but the second commandment* ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’. I was rather puzzled as to the relevance of her comment so I asked her to explain how this would help. She said very simply, if I am supposed to love my neighbour the same way I love myself, then I need to do a good job of loving me. I need to take good care of myself – eat well, sleep well, exercise, and rest and recharge my batteries when needed. For me, whether you’re religious or not this makes a whole lot of sense.
If I do a rubbish job of loving myself how I can possibly do a good job of loving and looking after others?
We hear a lot in the media about volunteering being a positive force for mental health and wellbeing but less about the challenges for people supporting and leading volunteers in an increasingly complex environment.
There are some enlightened companies that are now enabling their employees to stay healthy and supporting them to move through challenges when they occur. New initiatives include mental health first aiders, adjustments for women experiencing the menopause and more equitable sharing of parental duties, to name but a few.
So whilst we know that volunteer management has an additional layer of emotional complexity, thanks to the University of Leicester researchers and the National Trust, it still feels like the voluntary sector is lagging behind. We may have great awareness and good intentions but it’s the small simple actions on the ground, which can make a huge difference that seem to be missing.
Are we genuinely encouraging a culture where we talk about not just the practical but the emotional demands of the work we do?
Do we talk with colleagues about good self care, maintaining our resilience and making time for this to happen?
Is it ok to admit you are feeling a bit overwhelmed and ask for support, and if you do what response will you get?
Good self-care starts with the individual but if we are consistently working in an environment where eating on the move, skipping breaks, staying late and where going above and beyond is the norm then the underlying message is that self-care isn’t a priority no matter what the policy statement says.
I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I do want to open up the conversation……
What are you doing this year to take care of yourself? – (I‘m learning to Zentangle)
How are you and your team looking out for each other?
What one small thing could your organisation do to support and empower you to love yourself just a little bit more?
There has been much talk about diversity and inclusion in the third sector and recently a lot of conferences and workshops and yet it seems we are still way behind the corporate world in both investment and results. A brilliant, honest observation and challenge made by Dr Helen Timbrell at the recent AVM ‘Walk this way: diversity in volunteering’ conference.
The thing that made this conference different was the invite list. AVM and AVECO worked together with their sponsors (Jump, Sport England, National Trust and Cancer Research UK) to invite both CEOs and Heads of Volunteering from charities, to come along together to think and talk about the way forwards. Matt Hyde our CEO at The Scouts and I attended, along with one of our Senior Volunteers Kester Sharpe (Deputy UK Chief Commissioner), knowing that although we were already planning on investing in this area there was still much to discuss and learn… and we certainly weren’t disappointed.
A packed agenda covering recent research, the opportunities and challenges from different organisations perspectives around the importance of leadership and investment meant there really was something of value for all shapes and sizes of charity.
As well as an inspiring start to the day led by Gus O’Donnell who highlighted the importance of the impact of wellbeing in communities as a measure there were many other ‘takeaways’ … A few of mine…
The socio economic bias
This is an area particularly important to us at The Scouts, as we embark on work to extend our reach and attract volunteers and young people from under-represented communities, was the research presented by Will Watt, from Jump Projects. Will gave a passionate and pragmatic summary of their research on in this area ‘A Bit Rich’. This really made the audience consider how volunteering is biased towards higher socio economic groups and the different motivations and barriers for different minority ethnic groups. If we are serious about attracting volunteers from different backgrounds and new communities to those we are currently serving then we need to challenge our own ‘ask’ of our volunteers and how our recruitment and appointment systems operate to be truly attractive and inclusive.
Who asks is important
I have also gone away considering…Who is doing the ‘ask’? Are we investing time and effort in bringing our existing teams along this journey to ensure that those who are our front facing team are advocates for diversity and inclusion….and are we even present in the areas we are hoping to attract volunteers from? Salma Perveen, Youth & Volunteering Development Officer at St John Ambulance, gave a genuine and touching account of her experience of becoming a volunteer ,and she told us that the most important part for her was not being made to feel different but being made to feel a part of the team: ‘volunteering felt like home’. We need to make sure that is the experience for all new volunteers.
Inclusion starts at the top
Finally but probably the most powerful messages for me came from Hilary McGrady, Director General of the National Trust, in her compelling and heartfelt address. Her key message was that you have to start at the top: leadership is key as is investment, believing and being bold. Hilary shared the Trust’s story of the last few years where they have strived to change the perception that their places are only for a certain demographic and are in fact somewhere everybody should feel welcome. Hilary shared the leadership journey that goes with such a bold drive for change including the investment required, the commitment needed from the very top of the organisation and the disruption that is sometimes needed to change mind-sets but the most important part is the belief that Diversity & Inclusion is simply about being an organisation that everyone wants to be a part of and where everyone is welcome to be.
An inspiring day that will hopefully lead to many conversations and a step change in an area that has become somewhat of a ‘Groundhog Day’.
Putting this into action
At The Scouts we are committed to being bold, we plan to invest in more staff resource and external expertise to build on and drive our work further in this area. We will strive to achieve our goals to increase the diversity of our teams, recruit volunteer’s, staff and young people from more diverse backgrounds and remove barriers to participation. So in short, if we want to stop the ‘D&I Groundhog Day’ it’s up to us to take the lead, use the research to make the case and ask our organisation’s to be bold, invest and start ‘walking the talk on diversity’.
Donna Bennett is Head of Volunteering for The Scouts with responsibility for Volunteer Journey Transformation, Growth and Volunteer Line Manager Support. The Scouts have over 160,000 volunteers that support the delivery of Skills for Life for nearly 500,000 young people, Scouts is in its 13th year of consecutive growth and has 50,000 young people waiting to join. The team Donna leads has 60 development officers in the field opening new Scouting provisions across England to meet demand and support new provision in new communities. Donna is also building a new team to design and deliver the change programme that will transform the volunteer journey to recruit more volunteers from more diverse backgrounds so even more young people can gain skills for life.
Previously Donna was the Director of Youth and Volunteering for St. John Ambulance where she led the transformation of the organisations volunteer recruitment and induction programmes.
AVM Chair Ruth Leonard’s response to NCVO’s ‘Time Well Spent’
There seems to be plenty of research telling us who does what in terms of giving time; but less about the why – and indeed the why not, so NCVO’s latest report ‘Time Well Spent: A National Survey on the Volunteering Experience’ really fills a gap. Beginning to explore the role that volunteer management plays in the overall experience is an exciting start as well!
Empowerment not management
Empowering people to make a difference in their local communities and bring about change using their skills and assets is why I am excited and passionate about volunteer management. Volunteering today is really becoming embedded in thinking about how services are delivered; including within the statutory sector. It is interesting to see within this research some differentiation between which sectors volunteers give their time to – and therefore where we can learn from each other. AVM is an organisation which supports anyone who involves volunteers, from all sectors and disciplines in order to learn, share and connect.
I believe that involving volunteers is so much more than about saving money, and that even if an organisation had all the money necessary to deliver their services they should still want to involve volunteers – because of real benefit they bring. These include:
Engaging with local community: extending an organisation’s reach and relevance
Making a difference to service users: research shows us that people are more likely to believe what they are told by a peer or volunteer than by an employee or professional
Being objective decision makers: which adds credibility to an organisation’s stance.
Specialism and focus
One of the other aspects for me is volunteers’ ability to specialise and focus; but at the same time being able to innovate and experiment. I was interested to see that volunteers themselves don’t necessarily feel that they have the opportunity to be able to do this, with over one in six reporting that they have skills and experience which they’d like to use in volunteering that they’re not currently using.
Whilst this is clearly not a large number it seems statistically worth considering from a volunteer management point of view, so that we can ensure that volunteers are able to give in a meaningful way which also meets their personal needs. People-powered services should be exactly that – powered by people not by systems or processes.
Unpaid work or service – helping people who are ‘less fortunate’
Activism – mutual aid such as self help groups and campaigning
Serious leisure – such as in the arts and culture and sports fields.
I suspect that we are culturally used to viewing people giving their time through the first lens; what we might think of ‘traditional volunteering’, generally limited to predetermined functions and selected for specific tasks; but to do so would mean that we are moving away from people’s motivations and interests and merely valuing the transactional and that which is carried out through an organisation – which I think could be a barrier to those people who come forward because they want to just do something
There is a wide spectrum of reasons for giving time, energy and experience and people do so in many ways – including to a variety of sectors as well as to none. Boundaries are being increasingly blurred between the sectors – state, charities and private – and those who want to do something to make a difference want to do just that; so it is our responsibility to help facilitate that as much as possible.
Bringing groups and organisations together in a whole system response will provide a better, more impactful outcome and also tap into the motivations and assets of the wider community in a way which can make change more sustainable.
Enjoyment should not be underrated
And this is important; one of the things we know about people who choose to give their time is that they want to be involved in something where they can have real impact and make a difference; and this report shows that is important for 90% of those who volunteer – although “I enjoy it” comes out top reason with 93%. Volunteering demographics and expectations are changing – with the older volunteers now coming from the Baby Boomer generation more used to being self-directive and in charge then their traditional, dutiful stalwart parents. In fact this report refers to research about over-committed volunteers feeling overburdened and burnt out.
Younger people are being encouraged to play a more active part in society. Both groups are keen to shape their experiences and are adept at building new services which transform lives because they are rooted in how people really think. To quote the report, we need to be providing opportunities that resonate with people’s own lives and motivations and ensure they can shape the way they get involved. This, I believe is central to ensuring people can make the difference they want to – and which can make the difference to the organisation with which they’re involved.
Volunteer management and volunteer satisfaction
I am, unsurprisingly, particularly interested in the thoughts about how volunteer management affected people’s experience in giving time. It is testament to volunteer management in its broadest sense that satisfaction with volunteering is high, with this research showing that 96% of those currently giving time are fairly or very satisfied but I don’t think we can be too self-congratulatory.
We know that heuristics such as confirmation bias can affect how people respond; and the fact that the research shows that those who have spent longer away from volunteering may be less inclined to return to it does possibly demonstrate this, with the more recently involved they have been the more likely they are to be open to encouragement; so I think it is important that we all consider how we – as a movement – stay in touch with people and keep them engaged and potential opportunities engaging.
And even with this high degree of satisfaction the research shows that over a third (35%) of the volunteer respondents think their volunteering could be better organised and around a quarter (24%) that there is too much bureaucracy. This gives leaders of volunteering something to consider – especially as, the research points out, this is something which came up in the ‘Helping Out’ survey 12 years ago. How do we ensure the necessary and relevant structure without impeding the volunteer journey and experience?
Volunteer management: it’s not HR
One way is to be clearer about where volunteer management is different from HR. Particularly as another concern from nearly a fifth (19%) of the respondents is that volunteering is becoming too much like ‘paid work’, volunteer management needs to be less about telling and more enabling and encouraging flexibility.
Volunteer managers – which means everyone who works with volunteers not just those staff members with that term in their job title – need to be developing skills at mobilising social action; and this is something which should be built into the supporting infrastructure. We owe it to our volunteers – giving their time, energy and experience – to make this gift as effective as possible. We need to recognise and enable the deep connection people feel with volunteering and the complexity of its impact on their lives through developing and supporting them – and their managers – by means of community engagement and empowerment.
The real question leaders of volunteers need to ask is whether we have created a space for enabling genuine inclusion and involvement in our programmes. In order to achieve this, new processes should to be embedded in existing systems.
A key element of this infrastructure, I would argue, is having well-trained and well-supported people to provide the day to day volunteer management, whether paid or unpaid. We are all familiar with the well-deserved accolade of volunteers to our organisations – and indeed the sector as a whole. But in order to enable volunteers to offer the greatest value and in order to ensure that there is equity offered to everyone who wants to give time to us, we need to recognise that Volunteer Managers matter as well.
Keeping a balance between an efficient, supportive volunteer programme with a responsive and adaptable relationship carries all the way though a volunteer journey. Volunteers need to be supported once they’re involved, in a way that is meaningful to them and meets their changing needs. Organisations which involve volunteers have to reflect on the importance of putting resources into their volunteering programmes, including equipping those who work with our volunteers.
Leaders of volunteers are part of the solution
We may not be part of the problem but this does not make us actively part of the solution and I believe that our role as volunteer managers is to ensure we are just that, working together with volunteers to meet the needs of the organisation through their own skills.
This includes ensuring that leaders of volunteers feel confident and competent at managing some of the conversations with senior stakeholder around risk and developing the ability to cede some of their authority to enable people with something to offer to be able to do so in a meaningful way. Part of this should be looking at how volunteers can fully be involved and feel that they are able to influence the organisation; something which, this research shows, happens less for those who are managed by a paid coordinator.
Empowering everyone who works with volunteers – people giving their time – to feel confident in their abilities and knowledgeable about how to work with an individual’s and community’s existing assets is essential – and this is why this research is so important For me, volunteer management is the platform that enables people giving their time to be engaged, supported and motivated – and ensuring that volunteer management is recognised as a skill and a valued profession is essential to the continued flourishing of volunteers and indeed volunteering.
In a role that is predominately about supporting others, it’s easy to forget about your own needs.
Managing volunteers can be extremely rewarding, yet it is a complex role with many challenging aspects. Whether you are brand new to it or have years of experience to draw from, there will be times when your resolve is tested and your capacity to deal with people and respond positively to situations becomes depleted. Our workplaces are potentially one of our main sources of stress, as doing more with less becomes the rule rather than the exception.
Leading and managing volunteers is a role that requires energy, vision and commitment and a sense of determination as you are continuously influencing, organising, creating, delivering and problem solving. When it works well -it’s brilliant.
However, this is the kind of work that tends to be more than just a job. It can be something you care deeply about and become emotionally invested in. For some it is a vocation, a profession or a calling; and while this can build you up, it can also make you vulnerable.
You can’t do your best work if you don’t feel at your best
So, how can you manage an increasing workload and still feel at your best? How do we work through uncertainty and continuous change, and manage the constant demands of others? What we need is to explore ways we can become more resourceful, more resilient and more responsive to what’s happening within and around us. Focusing on our wellbeing can help with this.
One definition describes wellbeing as “the condition of being contented, happy or successful”. This is quite a broad explanation and open to interpretation in terms of individual and personal meaning. But maybe that’s the point? These words need further exploration before we can make use of them and apply them to ourselves, and to our individual needs and circumstances.
We would suggest it’s also about giving consideration to how we feel, how we are thinking and how we evaluate what’s happening for us at any time, and what we choose to do about that. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to this.
At 3B we support people to become more resourceful with their wellbeing and to help them find what works for them. We provide tools and strategies for managing ourselves, focusing on reducing and preventing stress and the feeling of overwhelm, rather than waiting until we are almost at breaking point before taking action. What we see happening in workplaces, and what we hear from our clients, is that there is an increased awareness of the importance of wellbeing, both within their personal and their work lives. However, because there is a challenge in defining it, as a result there is a difficulty in prioritising it, making it hard to build it into our every day routine. What we tend to do is hold on until we are feeling completely frazzled and burnt out before addressing our wellbeing needs, meaning that we are frequently on the back-foot and trying to catch up with replenishing our resources.
You owe it to yourself to feel at your best so you can do your best work
The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to help with this.
In order for you to become more resourceful, more resilient and more responsive to your own wellbeing, you need to understand more about you! To reflect on what makes you tick – what motivates you and what drains you. To discover where and how to replenish your energy and identify what you need. To learn about your pressure points and your negative triggers and how to pick yourself up after a set back. To identify strategies for keeping things going for others while making sure you get what you need at the same time. To learn about yourself so you know exactly what resources you need to draw on, and where and how you can get them.
Historically, we have focused more on health and fitness for our bodies, hoping that this will also impact positively on our minds. And while it definitely can, it’s not always guaranteed to have a long lasting effect, and it may not directly address what’s happening for us emotionally and mentally, which in turn can impact upon us physically. Our mind and bodies are interlinked and it’s just as important to focus on our mental wellbeing as it is to work on our physical health.
Make 2019 the year of your wellbeing
Starting a new calendar year can spur us on to address how we approach our wellbeing. Traditionally, it’s a time for setting goals, trying out new routines or making changes within our lives. The tendency however is to aim too big, often resulting in short-lived changes or non-starts, leaving us feeling demotivated and forcing us back into our default settings.
The reason? Usually, it’s because we are placing our focus in the wrong place – outside of ourselves rather than inside.
So, rather than setting big goals for 2019, why not make it a year for simply focusing on your wellbeing and understanding what that means for you? AVM’s Ways to wellbeing and productivity for volunteer managers event on February 21st is dedicated to this theme and can support you to take some important steps towards your own wellbeing.
Take some time out to reconnect with yourself, enabling you to reconnect with your role and your sense of purpose about your work. Get to know yourself better, so you can do more of what feels right for you.
Sue has worked with individuals and organisations locally, regionally and nationally in the UK and overseas, specialising in volunteer management, coaching and facilitation. Together with 3B Co-founder Claire Ross, she delivers workshops, events and 1-1 coaching focusing on wellbeing and resourcefulness – supporting people to expand their possibilities and transform their thinking, enabling more of those lightbulb moments.
Eddy Hogg, Lecturer at the University of Kent’s Centre for Philanthropy, will be speaking about how organisations can best attract young volunteers from a wide range of social backgrounds at AVM’s Volunteering’s impact on the community on 28 November.
I write this during #iWillWeek. A week which celebrates young people and the impact they have on the communities and causes they care about. But do all young people have the same opportunities to volunteer? To make a difference to things that matter to them?
Young volunteering approaches
We know that there is a relationship between social class and volunteering. What we don’t know is at what age and why the engagement gap emerges. We need to.
Government policies and the activities of volunteer managers on the ground often seek to encourage young people to volunteer. Policy is focused on widening participation to include under-represented groups. In recent years, National Citizen Service, which includes a ‘social action project’, has come to dominate central government’s youth work spending.
Getting policy and practice right is important. Investing resources effectively in encouraging young people to volunteer is likely to have an impact long beyond youth and young adulthood. If we want people from all backgrounds – not just more advantaged groups – to be able to access the benefits of volunteering, we need to understand how best to do this. For volunteer managers, knowing where best to focus their efforts to harness both short- and long-term volunteering commitment is invaluable.
Our research findings
Research by me and Rob de Vries finds a clear relationship between socio-economic advantage and volunteering by young people, but one that is far from straightforward. During Key Stage 3, when the role of school as a route into volunteering is strong for all socio-economic groups, we find little difference in engagement between young people from different backgrounds.
The role that schools play in encouraging children to volunteer gets smaller in Key Stages 4 and 5, as exam and other pressures loom larger. At this stage community groups and organisations become more significant as a pathway to engagement and socio-economic differences reappear. This matters. The patterns established at this time persist throughout adulthood.
The role of schools
This makes the role of schools – and the organisations who work with schools – vital. They are the most egalitarian way for volunteer managers and volunteer involving organisations to access a range of young people and encourage them to take part in volunteering opportunities. When this is left to community groups and organisations, we see clear class differences in who engages. This is regardless of the best intentions of volunteer managers.
We therefore argue those who seek to get more young people volunteering should focus their energies on working with schools to access and attract young people. The encouragement and support which eliminates significant socio-economic differences in Key Stage 3 should continue throughout young people’s school careers through to age 18.
Schools, and the volunteer managers and voluntary organisations who work with them, should also think about how they can encourage and support young people to continue volunteering post-18. This may mean community groups and organisations working in partnership with schools and each other to ensure that young people from all backgrounds – not just the most advantaged socio-economic groups – are aware of and feel comfortable in the kinds of organisations that can support a longer-term commitment to volunteering.
I’m delighted to be sharing my expertise at AVM’s November event, where I’ll be discussing how these recommendations can be put into practice. I hope to see you there, Tweet to @beardyeddy.
Does your success hinge on engaging young people or other communities?
Daniel Ingram, AVM Director, shares his thoughts on what this year’s International Volunteer Managers Day theme means for AVM, and leaders and managers of volunteers.
Time for change – what does that mean for you? We’re keen to hear about the change you think it is time for, so please take a few minutes to complete our short survey.
This year’s International Volunteer Managers Day call to action has me reflecting on the changes I’ve experienced as a volunteer manager, how AVM is changing, and which changes we need make to develop the profession we love.
I’ve been involved in volunteer engagement for over 10 years and a member of AVM for five of them. AVM was there when I took my first steps into strategic volunteer management, and it has been there through the ups and downs ever since.
This year change has been challenging. My role was made redundant in February and throughout this period of upheaval AVM members have been the rock I’ve clung on to. Whether that’s sharing their own redundancy story with me, putting me in touch with new opportunities, or just listening. You know who you are, thank you.
Ruth Leonard, Chair of AVM, explain’s AVM’s new vision and strategy.
Empowering people to make a difference in their local communities and bring about change using their skills and assets – this is why I have always been passionate about volunteer management. To effectively facilitate and support initiatives and enable people to contribute effectively we must develop and provide the right structure. This includes well-trained and well-supported volunteer managers .
We are all familiar with the well-deserved accolade of volunteers to our organisation and the wider sector. We know that volunteers can only offer the greatest value and to ensure equity is offered to everyone who wants to give time to us when volunteer managers are working most effectively. Volunteer Managers matter as well. This sums up the ultimate aim of AVM.
Your board has prioritised developing AVM’s new strategy. I was immensely proud to launch it at our recent Annual General Meeting.
Our work began in October 2017 with an away day facilitated by Martin Farrell. Together we explored AVM’s beginnings, the experience of board members and the history of volunteer management as a profession. This demonstrated both the breadth of experience in the room and the powerful recognition that as a board we needed to do more for our members.
We identified three key themes requiring our concentration and focus:
Holding events outside London. This echoed our International Volunteer Managers Day 2017 survey. We achieved this in 2018, holding events in Bristol, Manchester and Stirling
Mentoring – this scheme is due to be launched early 2019, and will fulfil a very longstanding ambition of AVM
Extending our online outreach. Our L&D events are filmed and available to members on our website. We want to further extend our online presence
Our members must feel that AVM is their association. We are therefore developing opportunities to allow members to shape AVM
We need to better understand what our members require from us. The International Volunteer Managers Day 2017 was just the start of this feedback exercise. The 2018 survey will build on this.
We also need to know why some volunteer managers have not become members and address any gaps or barriers.
We will develop partnerships and networks across the sectors so that members are better supported and we can ensure the voice of volunteering is heard.
Our next step was introspective. We examined the context we were operating in. We reviewed our business model, our governance and organisational structure. We considered our achievements and the products and services we offer.
We recognised the need to create sub committees to support the operational elements of AVM. We already had successful conference and events committees but needed more. We’ve created a Business Development Committee and task and finish groups for specific projects including the mentoring scheme.
Our thoughts then turned to the future. We needed to articulate AVM’s core elements and ensure we continued to be relevant for our members over the coming years.
We spent time describing our vision of where AVM should be in 5 and 10 years. This was deliberately aspirational. Responses were both concrete and tangible, and also anarchic and controversial. The picture illustrates one board member’s wish that volunteer management had been something offered as a career when she was at school – and our desire that one day it will be.
We created several options describing our desired future which we then asked our membership to comment on and shape. The 120 responses received clearly demonstrated the interest people had in this conversation – and showed us gaps in the general understanding of AVM’s purpose.
A further and crucial project was to agree the activities necessary for AVM to achieve its vision. We created a MOSCoW grid – activities we Must, Should, Could and Wouldn’t be doing. This has proven invaluable in prioritising our work plan and provided a focus for our energy. I have been laughed at for whipping it out at every opportunity– but am incredibly proud of what we have created together!
The vision launched at our 2018 conference is: Connecting leaders of volunteering to make change happen together
And our accompanying mission statement: Our mission is to inspire and empower leaders of volunteering. We are a recognised community of leaders of volunteers, sharing expertise and support. We build this through the provision of engagement, resources and advocacy.
The key goals to achieve AVM’s vision and mission are:
Developing and growing our offer
Building participation and increased relevance to members
Developing as a profession
Representation and advocacy
It was also important to us that we identified the strategic enablers to complement our goals,
Communicating – We shall develop an effective 2 way communication mechanism for our members including updating our website and digital platforms
Partnerships – We recognise that AVM doesn’t exist in a vacuum and are keen to develop collaborative partnerships and networks across the sectors
Supporting decision making – Developing influencing up tools as advocacy support for volunteer managers advancing their cause in their workplaces
Collaborating with our members – Ensure increased opportunities to become further involved and also volunteer
Evidence based – Develop measurement tools and key performance indicators including for management information purposes
Future-focussed – Develop thought leadership around the future of volunteer management in order to future proof the profession
AVM is developing into a dynamic organisation with its members at its heart. I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage you to become more involved.
Volunteer managers, which for us means anyone who works with volunteers, need to develop their skills and confidence; and AVM exists to support this . We owe it to our volunteers – giving their time, energy and experience – to make this gift as effective as possible. Volunteer management is the platform that enables people giving their time to be engaged, supported and motivated. Ensuring that volunteer management is recognised as a skill and a valued profession is essential for volunteers to continue to flourish and indeed volunteering.
Ruth Leonard is Chair of AVM, and Head of Volunteering Development at Macmillan Cancer Support.
Networking… you might love it, you may hate it, or you might fall somewhere in between these two extremes. But however you feel about it, it can be really useful for your professional development. And with conference only a week away, I wanted to share some tips on preparing to make the most of the networking time at conference. I’ve crowd sourced some of these ideas through Twitter, which I highly recommend as a great way to start networking.
Is there someone you’ve wanted to meet for a while? There are a couple of ways you can find out who is going, ahead of conference.
Eventbrite shares first name and organisation of participants, so you can check out in advance if they are going, and look out for them on the day.
If you’re on Twitter and not already following @AVMTweets (why not?) do so. People are already starting to chat about conference. You can always ask who is going to start a conversation. Or maybe someone you chat to regularly on Twitter is going to be there? Every year I get to meet people I’ve met on Twitter at conference.
This year’s hashtag is #AVM2018 so do include this in any tweets about the conference.
Try: Hi, I see that you work at Organisation X. I’ve been interested in – something you’re interested in learning more about. Could you tell me more about that?
This year I’ve been working with my mentor on a number of areas of professional and personal development. One of which has been to be more effective at networking, as I am really not very comfortable with small talk.
Part of my mentoring ‘homework’ has included preparing ahead of events like conference, or other AVM events. Things I’ve planned include something I’ve read that’s relevant to the event, or a key project I’m working on, and this has meant I’ve found I’m now less anxious before events.
I’ve also been thinking about questions to ask others at events. Is there something tricky I’m working on at the moment? I can ask someone if they’ve had to do something similar and how they handled it. I’ve also been working on building my courage to talk to speakers at events, or someone whose work I admire. I still find it rather daunting to talk to the ‘experts’ from the stage, but I’m getting there! I just have to remind myself they’re a person like me.
Try: Hi, I see that you work at Organisation X. I’ve been interested in – something you’re interested in learning more about. Could you tell me more about that?
A simple greeting
Starting a conversation can feel really daunting, particularly if you’re not particularly comfortable with small talk. If you’re not very confident approaching people you’ve not met before, look for someone you know – or at least have met before, even if it was earlier in the event – who is talking to someone you don’t. This can often feel less daunting.
But what if you’ve come on your own and not met anyone yet? Never fear, the weather is bound to be unexpected for the season, someone’s travel to conference was probably eventful, and if all else fails, my old failsafe is “food/ coffee/ biscuits* look good/ bad/ awful*” (*delete as applicable), something I ALWAYS have an informed opinion about (don’t worry, the refreshments have always been great at conference!).
But once you’ve got past that first chat about food, and suddenly realise you’ve not actually introduced yourself, you can learn a simple networking greeting by remembering Inigo Montoya. Inigo’s most famous greeting can be broken down into four simple steps:
Polite greeting: “Hello.”
Name: “My name is Inigo Montoya.”
Relevant personal link: “You killed my father.”
Manage expectations: “Prepare to die.”
And there you have it, a simple networking greeting: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
And don’t worry: nobody at conference is expecting an elevator pitch from you. Where you’re from and what your role is is a great relevant personal link.
Try: Hi, I’m Jo and I’m a Volunteer Manager at Organisation X. Is this your first time at an AVM conference?
When we’re at events we often want to meet more people, but sometimes our nerves can mean we find it hard to exit a conversation, either resulting in feeling we’ve overstayed our welcome, or rude when we leave. Don’t worry: most people won’t think you’re rude if you leave the conversation. And you don’t need to use comfort break as an uncomfortable exit excuse. A polite thank you and goodbye will be sufficient.
Try: Steve, it was really a pleasure speaking with you. I’m going to take a look at some of the other exhibits here, but if I don’t run into you later, I hope to see you at another event soon.
Following up with contacts
Strengthening your networks is a great advantage of AVM events. If you think that you’d find it useful to follow up with someone, ask for their business card, or let them know you’ll plan to connect with them on LinkedIn.
Try: I had a great time talking with you about X and I’d love to follow up with you later? Do you have a business card, or can I connect with you on LinkedIn, as it would be great to keep in touch?
Facilitating your networking
We know striking up a conversation with someone you’ve not met before doesn’t come easy to everyone, including volunteer managers. So this year we’ve again planned ways to help facilitate your networking experience. We’ll have discussion prompts on the walls, networking tables over lunch to discuss a variety of topics, and plenty of breaks for a cuppa and a chat.
We’ve also booked a space after conference so that those who are able to stay on can have a drink, and carry on some of the great discussions that were started during the day.
Sarah Merrington is Senior Development Manager for CIPD (the professional body for HR), recruiting HR professionals as volunteers to support job seekers and those who want to develop in their careers, and an AVM Volunteer.
Even though I have worked in volunteer management for some time, and for several organisations, there is always one thing that has both challenged and impressed me. Local groups of volunteers running community activities for local people. It warms my heart and fills me with hope, to see people giving back to others by running activities that their friends, family, colleagues and community can get involved in.
As someone who has always sung in local choirs or played sport I have definitely benefitted from these great local ‘group’ volunteers – the ones who love the activity or the cause so much they organise things so others can feel the same.
I’ve been there, as a treasurer and an events lead for local groups near me. But now as a volunteering professional it is certainly an area which I struggle to get my head round.
Community volunteers in leadership roles for their local group are a key area of volunteering for many charities and organisations. But how people want to volunteer is changing. Modern-day lifestyles can be challenging for people to find time to get more involved. People tend to move in and out of volunteering rather than wanting to volunteer consistently for an extended period.
So it is increasingly difficult to recruit into traditional committee-based volunteering roles, which can be perceived as too time-consuming, dry or old fashioned. It seems as though many people want to be out there “doing the doing” rather than planning the organisation and undertaking governance to make the “doing” possible.
In my experience, the main difficulties appear to be finding people to make the commitment, finding younger people and attracting diverse volunteers who better represent the community. In particular, by being unable to recruit younger members, committees remain heavily reliant on an ageing army of volunteers, hugely committed but with little opportunity for fresh ideas or succession planning.
Of course, I am generalising and there also many young, diverse and committed volunteers out there running activities for their community. But they are not attracted to the roles or organisations that I have been working for. And we need to change ourselves and our structures to encourage them to do so.
I have also found that there are issues relating to group structures where volunteers have been engaged for a long time and doing things in a certain way for often many years. There are challenges with encouraging innovation and change and driving different ways of working such as implementing new processes and systems.
How we do keep them engaged, keep them on message and remain compliant with up to date processes and procedures? How do we do this whilst also ensuring their organisational roles are interesting, simple, rewarding and empowering?
Having battled with this for a while and consistently meeting volunteering colleagues in other organisations who feel the same, it was time to do something about it.
On 2 October, AVM supported by Sport England, will be running a workshop for anyone battling with this topic or with practical ideas and ways of solving some of these issues. This is a new networking session, but it won’t provide you with all the answers. It aims to bring us all together to share ideas, solutions and work out how, as volunteering professionals, we can move forward this common, rewarding but challenging topic.
I am excited about the speakers who bring with them a wealth of knowledge in volunteer governance, new ideas on ways local groups can run themselves and good practice in consulting, managing and communicating with local group volunteers.
But primarily it is a chance to network and share experiences with others in similar positions and help move forward conversation in this area together, rather than tackling it individually.
Please join us to engage in this debate, wearing your optimistic, solution-focused shoes!
Sarah has over 18 years experience in project, event and volunteer management with her main area of expertise is in managing and delivering projects that promote and engage people in positive health and environmental behaviours. The majority of these have been established to increase communities’ physical activity levels and to improve nutritional habits. She has developed programmes across a range of different settings and population groups within local communities, schools and youth groups, workplaces, general practice and higher education. Volunteers have always been at the heart of her programmes, whether student representatives running sports clubs in universities, community volunteers and activists driving forward local change or members of an organisation looking to give back to their sector. Over the last year she supported Cycling UK to write their new 5-year volunteering strategy and ensure that volunteers were central to their organisation. She is now Senior Development Manager leading on mentoring for CIPD (the professional body for HR), recruiting HR professionals as volunteers to support job seekers and those who want to develop in their careers.
Laura Elson is a freelance consultant and a self-confessed volunteering geek. Currently consulting with England Netball and First Tech Challenge UK, Laura has been working in the volunteering sector for 15 years, and is a member of AVM.
I met a brilliant colleague of mine for coffee last week and straight away I could tell something was on her mind. It turned out she was preparing for an incredibly difficult conversation with a volunteer. She’d already taken three or four days to prep, sought advice and still was absolutely dreading it. After 15 years working with volunteers and volunteer managers it’s absolutely still the bit of my job I find the hardest. Lucky for me I’d just been to an AVM event and had some fantastic new tips to share with her!
Volunteers are passionate people determined to make an impact on causes they love. And as volunteer managers we are passionate about volunteers, doing everything we can to support them to feel they are making a difference. As that vital link between organisations and volunteers it often falls to us to have those difficult conversations. And for a group of self-confessed people pleasers it’s really, really tough.
So, it’s no wonder that this event on a hot Tuesday in London was packed with over 50 people looking to learn more. AVM has grown massively since I first joined about ten years ago and it was great to meet and learn from amazing people with one thing in common – we all dread those difficult chats.
Kicking off the day Mandy Rutter gave a fascinating talk and workshop. As a psychologist and consultant specialising in the neuroscience of emotion and conflict Mandy talked us through the science of emotions. When we feel stressed our natural fight or flight response can drag us back into the primitive parts of our brains. She suggests breathing deeply, asking questions, using positive psychology and managing your stress well to boost resilience and stay in the logical parts of our brains.
Next was the ever brilliant Kathryn Palmer-Skillings, London Volunteer Services Manager at Macmillan who shared their approach to volunteer programme design and supporting volunteer managers through challenging situations. Firm boundaries, short volunteer placement periods with a fixed end date, peer support, training and 24 counselling access are built into the project design. This ensures volunteers are supported emotionally from the offset, rather than waiting for a difficult day. Kathryn reminded us being honest and human about what you’re feeling with those around you is powerful and necessary.
Adam Williams from St John Ambulance talked us through their fantastic, bespoke training on handling difficult messages for volunteer managers. The St John approach was simple, well researched and effective. His advice is to prepare, choose the right setting and keep your message ABC (accurate, brief and clear).
Debbie Usiskin and Gilly Fisher from North London Hospice closed the day with a wonderful session and workshop exploring emotional resilience. Increasingly research is exploring the idea that volunteering is a form of emotional labour. One of the most useful takeaways from this session was a kind of self-care bingo asking how frequently we had gone for a walk, taken time for ourselves or made sure we ate regular healthy meals. A quick glance around the room showed that we’re not very good at this. Would these conversations be any easier if we were taking good care of ourselves as well as our volunteers?
Over the years if there’s one thing I’ve picked up it’s s that the best way to handle tricky conversations is to listen to your volunteers when designing projects at the start. At Parkinson’s UK we ensured that all our roles were clear, provided a comprehensive online induction and a brilliant problem-solving policy. At England Netball, we’re about to launch an innovative new strategy that will build a movement to empower women, based on our volunteers’ motivations, preferences and need to achieve not what we need to deploy them to deliver.
Volunteering is emotional and so we can never avoid these conversations altogether but after attending this brilliant #AVMLearn event I feel a lot more confident to manage those tricky conversations with compassion and logic.
I saw my colleague again this week and she was much happier – the learning from the day had been really useful. So the next time you have to have one of those chats do apply some of these ideas and although I’m not promising it won’t still be tough, it might not be as quite as tough as you think.
AVM members can view videos from previous events once logged into their AVM account. Watch event videos.
Laura Elson is a freelance consultant and a self-confessed volunteering geek. Currently consulting with England Netball and First Tech Challenge UK, Laura has been working in the volunteering sector for 15 years. She designed and scaled up prison based volunteer centres with NCVO, Nesta and Volunteer Centre Leeds, and has led on volunteering at Parkinson’s UK, England Netball and a wide range of charities. She gained qualifications in governance, voluntary sector management and an MSc in Non Profit Marketing from the Centre for Charity Effectiveness where her final project focused on revolutionizing volunteer recruitment techniques. Laura is a member of the Association of Volunteer Managers and the Institute of Fundraising and supports organisations with volunteering strategy and infrastructure, good governance and writing successful funding bids. When she’s not working or volunteering you can find her on a netball court.