Collaborating to improve volunteering

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

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

AVM’s conference planning team at the 2019 conference

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

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

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

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

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

Carly, Lymphoma Action

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

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

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

What did the scheme look like?

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

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

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

Did mentoring change anyone’s’ tune?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benefits also extended to employers, with one mentor commenting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post originally appeared on Inside Government’s website.

Change the Tune this International Volunteer Managers Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing the tune

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

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

I love Margaret Mead’s quote:

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

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

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

Ruth

Ruth Leonard, Chair of Association of Volunteer Managers


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

My experience of the AVM Back to School Event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Launching CHAS Connect – volunteer alumni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing Volunteers: Free and Easy?


Screenshot of BBC Radio 4 In Business: Managing Volunteers episode

When producer Beth Sagar-Fenton asked on Twitter for people to share tricky experiences of managing volunteers for an upcoming programme, I think many volunteer managers were a little apprehensive about the motivations. Volunteering and volunteer management can often have quite a narrow narrative – either 100% brilliant (an amazing army of awesomeness etc) or a set of lazy assumptions about how an unpaid workforce could possibly be managed effectively. With the tone of the crowdsourcing questions, I think we were all nervous about the picture that might be painted.

As it turns out we shouldn’t have worried – what followed was 30 minutes of well researched and thoughtful content, which accurately summed up the unique complexities of managing volunteers. True, there were some comments that irritated, as Sally says below:

Interesting piece – useful to shine a light on the role of Volunteer Managers. I did bristle at the comment around ‘use of volunteers’ we do not USE anybody, volunteers (and staff) are valued contributors to our missions, we involve, engage, support but we don’t use (rant over)

— Sally Seddon (@sallyseddonSI) August 30, 2019

Overall however this was a welcome overview.

Here are the programme highlights:

  1. Volunteer managers are unsung heroes. The phrase is cheesy, but this was a real acknowledgement from the start that the role of volunteer manager was important.
  2. We have some great insight and research to help us continue to design relevant and impactful volunteering experiences. The NCVO report into their survey of the volunteering experience can be found on their website.
  3. Volunteering is not a free resource – it requires careful management. Yes, I know WE all know that, but how many people outside of the non-profit sector or even just volunteer management know that? It’s great to see the issues covered by In Business in order to reach a wider audience.
  4. Volunteer management is distinctive to paid-staff management. Again, I think we all know that, but having this accessibly communicated to a wider audience is crucial. As the programme briefly touched on, volunteer manager roles are often the first to go when funds are tight, so raising awareness of this distinctiveness with decision makers who may not have direct volunteer management experience is useful.

    “Volunteer management is something quite distinctive” – Jarina talking about the “exceptional people skills” needed in volunteer management. Listen now to Jarina on @BBCRadio4

    — NCVO Volunteering (@NCVOvolunteers) August 29, 2019

  5. The exceptional people skills talked about by NCVO’s Jarina Choudhury include the ability to perform emotional labour; the ability to manage your own, and other people’s emotions. This was one of the key findings from the National Trust commissioned research into the differences between managing paid staff and managing volunteers. You can read the full report online.

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

    — Shaun Delaney (@shaundelaney) August 29, 2019

  6. The programme concluded that there is much that the world of HR management can learn from volunteer management. A recent research briefing from NCVO reports that across all sectors, the ability to manage your own feelings, or handle the feelings of others, is the second biggest reported ‘soft’ skills gap, and the least improved skill over the past few years. Perhaps sharing our skills in emotional labour is our biggest lever?

Managing Volunteers: Free and Easy? was an insightful overview into the world of volunteer management. I know from colleagues it’s already being shared with non-volunteer manager colleagues to provide a compelling introduction. A useful resource now and in the future. 

BBC Radio 4 in Business ‘Managing Volunteers: Free and Easy?’ originally aired Thursday 29 August 2019. 


Listen again

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

Because you’re worth it! Managing flexible volunteering and risk

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!

Helen Johnston, Museum of London Archaeology, presents her ‘Risky business’ session

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!


Sketch note from delegate at Risk factor event – Alison Faraday, British Red Cross

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.

Catherine Bartlett, NCT, presents her ‘How to stay in control when managing risk’ session

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!

Netflix, Pinot Grigio and chocolate raisins – because you’re worth it

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 📈

I didn’t expect to learn this about influencing change

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:

  1. Be reliable and interested
  2. Focus on the things you can change
  3. 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 📈

Flexible volunteer management when there’s a risk it could all go boom!

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.


Unexploded WWII incendiary bomb we found on the Southbank under the Millenium Bridge in 2016 – Photo by Nathalie Cohen

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.


Thames Discovery Programme volunteers marking out a bomb crater on the Isle of Dogs –  Photo by Nathalie Cohen

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.

Helen Johnston has over 15 years experience of creating and delivering volunteering programmes. Her current portfolio of work includes leading an archaeological volunteering project and supporting small charities.