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.
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.
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.