Resilience and determination – why volunteers are never more needed

Andy Broomhead, Head of Volunteering at Diabetes UK, shares how they adapted plans to celebrate Volunteers’ Week in light of the global pandemic

I think Volunteers’ Week has a greater-than-usual significance this year. Whilst in some areas there’s been an explosion in volunteering, social action, community support and organisation, in others the impact of coronavirus has seen charities and volunteers put their plans on hold almost immediately.

At Diabetes UK, as at many other health and well-being charities, we took the decision to pause the vast majority of our volunteering relatively early on in the pandemic. Many of our volunteers are in higher risk groups and it’s important that their welfare is protected first and foremost.

One of the things volunteers are great at doing is connecting with and supporting people that charities might not otherwise see. Their passion, authenticity and ties to their communities make them the trusted figures representing our organisations. At times like these, sharing those important messages to help people manage their health is vital. Volunteers understand and can empathise in a unique way that is so valuable for members of the public.

When health and well-being is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, reassurance, guidance and quality information is now more highly valued than ever. As we strive to separate fact from fiction and provide help to people who need our advice and support the most, it’s now that I think of volunteers caught between their drive to help others, whilst being unable to do that in the ways they know best.

Volunteers bring resilience and determination to our causes and I’m sure that my experience at Diabetes UK will be familiar to many other volunteer managers across the country. 

We’ve seen many of our volunteer-led groups turn to technology to continue supporting people affected by diabetes without missing a beat, becoming Zoom experts overnight. Volunteers have also been in contact with ideas for how they can continue doing the things they care deeply about, and suggestions for new ways to help with the changing demands people are facing.

We’ve also seen some of our roles expand with more volunteers looking to take part in what had been a small befriending service in one part of England but is rapidly growing across other parts of the UK.

We know how important volunteering can be for people’s well-being, and for many to have had those opportunities curtailed in a short space of time has been incredibly challenging. But it should be no surprise to any of us that volunteers have come into their own. 

The willingness and adaptability of volunteers to stand firm is inspiring. I know in a few charities some volunteers have even argued that their volunteering is more important than their own health and wanted to continue regardless – such is their commitment to helping others.

Volunteers’ Week rightly shines the light on all those people who donate their time, skills and dedication to the causes that matter to them. Whether they’re able to volunteer right here and right now is secondary. The collective efforts of volunteers over the last few days, weeks, months and years is what we’re coming together to celebrate this week.

Back to Volunteers’ Week blogs

L&D For Volunteers in the Covid Age

Nigel Ross, an L&D Professional specialising in the voluntary sector, shares his thoughts on how the global pandemic has changed L&D for volunteers

Image is of a laptop and tablet, sitting on a desk next to a set of headphones, plugged into a smart phone. On the laptop and tablet screen is the image of bookshelves. The background is a blurred image of the same bookshelves.

Providing volunteers with all the skills and knowledge required to successfully carry out their role is vital and most organisations pride themselves on having established excellent induction and training courses for their volunteers.

Covid-19 has challenged everything we do. Face-to-face and classroom based programmes are now largely impossible to deliver, and the only viable alternative is a virtual training programme.

Platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Webex and Zoom are currently free to use, and most of us are now very confident at virtual meetings – so it is a small step for any learning and development (L&D) professional to tweak their standard course to make it suitable for online delivery. With a little practice in moving from PowerPoint to whiteboard, opening and closing polls and the essential skill of controlling microphones, it is relatively easy to put together a slick online training programme.

But what must not be forgotten is that unlike paid staff, who are incentivised to stay with you by their monthly pay cheque, volunteers only stay with you if they find it rewarding and enjoyable to give their time – and much of that enjoyment comes from social interaction. Here is the biggest challenge to the L&D profession at this time – how do we keep the social interaction in a virtual training programme? It is relatively easy to make the virtual training course engaging, but there is no denying that sitting in your own home in front of a laptop does not offer the opportunity for social interaction that attending a face-to-face training event offers. You automatically lose the coffee break conversations. You also lose all the totally off purpose conversations that take place in pairs and small groups (yes we all know that much of the discussion time diverts into gossip about the news or moans about the journey or room temperature or food – but this is all valuable bonding!).

The danger is that at the end of an engaging virtual training programme, your new recruits will be left totally isolated – not knowing any other volunteers or any other faces in your organisation – and this is very different from how things have been in the past, where they would have had chance to bond with other volunteers, trainers and others who helped with the housekeeping/ catering/ meeting and greeting. There is a very real risk of all the hard work that is put into training being wasted because of a high attrition rate as the volunteers feel like strangers and out of place in your organisation. This may well be exacerbated by social distancing rules which make it difficult to interact in the way we usually would.

So – the answer? Well firstly force social engagement. Make use of forums and make it a training requirement to comment on at least a couple. This gets the group interacting outside of the virtual classes. Seed the forums with good discussion points that are not about your organisation – perhaps ask for tips on ways to keep children occupied in these strange times – or advice on how to cut your own hair!

And mentor your new recruits. Make sure that there is someone who takes them under their wing, helps them transfer the learning into practice and shows them where the coffee is kept. Remember how deskilled and uncomfortable you have felt in the past then you have started a new job and not known the basics such as: do you need 9 for an outside line and where do people go at lunchtime? As I said at the beginning, paid staff ride this discomfort for the financial reward – volunteers may simply choose not to return.

In the past we may have overlooked the important role our induction and training courses had in bonding groups of new volunteers, introducing them to the surroundings they will be working in, and introducing them to faces they will come across when they are in their role. In the future we need to be very mindful of this and ensure we plug the gaps that remote learning and social distancing leave.

Back to Volunteers’ Week blogs


Nigel Ross is an L&D Professional specialising in the voluntary sector. For over 17 years he was responsible for the volunteer learning function at Samaritans. Since leaving that post he has established a consultancy and has worked with major charities both in the UK and overseas.

Volunteers’ Week 2020

For Volunteers’ Week 2020, AVM asked leaders from across the sector to share their thoughts on what Volunteers’ Week means for them during a global pandemic. We will be publishing a new blog daily, from Monday 1st June.

Information and links to resources for Volunteers’ Week in England are also available below.

National Volunteers’ Week

Throughout the last month, we have been working with Tiger de Souza to share information about the national plans for Volunteers Week in England. Thanks to Tiger and a group of volunteers from our profession, this year’s Volunteers Week efforts are truly owned by volunteer managers.

There is fantastic activity happening in all countries across the UK, with Volunteers’ Week being supported by Volunteer Scotland, WCVA and Volunteer Now in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This week we will be joining others to share and connect to the national messages. You can still get involved in one or all of the following opportunities. Join many of your colleagues in saying thank you in a connected and collaborative way. Download the messaging toolkit to give you all the details you need. Don’t forget to use #VolunteersWeek on everything you do.

  1. Send out the coordinated, consistent press release on 1st June highlighting the importance of volunteers. Download the template from the AVM website.
  2. Share the Volunteers Week 2020 film ‘commUNITY makes us’, narrated by Claire Balding and Gethan Jones. It celebrates the contribution of volunteers before, during and after the pandemic. You can find the English and Welsh versions on YouTube to share.
  3. Encourage your organisation, both internally and externally, to show their appreciation by using the Wave Your Appreciation for Volunteers approach from Volunteering Australia. If you do use this please use #WaveForVolunteers alongside #VolunteersWeek
  4. Link your activities, case studies and communications to one of the seven-day themes. 
    • Monday – Listening & support (e.g. helplines, citizens advice)
    • Tuesday – Health & well-being (e.g. mental health, tackling social isolation)
    • Wednesday – Fundraising to support service delivery (e.g. charity shops)
    • Thursday – COVID-19 response and informal community civic action
    • Friday – Nature & Outdoors
    • Saturday – Arts & Culture
    • Sunday – Sport & Leisure
  5. To help give a boost to the message on social media, join others in a ‘howl’ through Pack.org over the course of this week. Pack.org is a way for people to work together on social media to help share a key message or campaign. Sign up up to the VW2020 Pack.
  6. Run virtual activities with The Big Lunch on 6th & 7th June to bring volunteers together to say thank you.
  7. Send out the co-ordinated, consistent press release on 8th June that highlights that volunteers are #NeverMoreNeeded and link to that wider campaign. A template will be available soon.

What’s the point of volunteer managers… part 2

‘What’s Next’ is this year’s International Volunteer Managers (IVM) Day theme, and it is the hot topic on the lips of those volunteer managers (VMs) who have been furloughed, as much as it is on those that haven’t been.

How they answer this question at this current time initially depends on how they feel they have been treated by their organisation as an employee. how they have been communicated with and supported during this time, and how many people in their organisation have been furloughed. This is about their organisation’s culture. No one has been taken by surprise by how their organisation has behaved towards them (and it wasn’t all negative for some! 😁).

The reality is, VMs can’t picture their return. They don’t know what has, is or will happen, and therefore can’t really plan. Very few feel like they will be able to shape how or what the organisation does next in relation to the volunteering experience, engagement, delivery and output on their return.  Many fear that leaving it until their return will be too late.

Our biggest challenge is that we work in organisations that generally don’t see themselves as organisations that ‘do’ volunteering – they involve volunteers to deliver their purpose. Unfortunately this does mean that volunteers are seen as a resource and commodity to utilise, rather than a driving force for decision making. This isn’t to say those same organisations don’t recognise the importance and uniqueness volunteers bring to their role, enhancing their success; it’s just felt that this isn’t at the forefront of senior management’s decision making.

VMs who aren’t on senior leadership teams* do a great job of influencing from where they are (although they don’t think they do and as a profession we are frequently told that we need to do better), and when they get back, they will continue to do so. They hope that they haven’t lost too much ground, that the relationships with their volunteers (on behalf of themselves and their organisations) aren’t too damaged by their absence, they will get the support and resource they need, they will be shown empathy for their enforced absence, and they will be able to reciprocate this back to those that have stayed working who might feel resentful towards them.

This is hard for everyone and it’s going to be a while before organisations are back whole again, most likely in a slightly new configuration. In the meantime, we will continue to be there for furloughed VMs and if you are reading this and want to connect with us, do please get in touch to find out how you can join our community.


*(I should add,  it’s not to say those that are on the senior leadership team don’t, it’s just that they aren’t part of my network calls.)

Collaborating for Volunteers’ Week 2020

AVM, facilitated by Andy Broomhead (Diabetes UK), hosted 38 organisations for an information and networking session on Volunteers Week 2020. The group heard from Sarah Merrington, deputising for Tiger de Souza, on the plans for this year’s coordinated response to Volunteers Week in England. Sarah ran through the plans for the week and how organisations could get behind the coordinated response, by aligning their messaging and activity where they can. Participants then broke out into groups to discuss what they were doing for the week and how it might link to the national response. 

A recording of Sarah’s presentation is available below.

In summary the main activities will be:

  • Shared press release on day 1 to announce the Volunteers Week 2020 and our intentions, sent by all of us in a synchronised way (template to be provided)
  • Shared joint Volunteers Week 2020 video promoted through social media by all organisations on day 1
  • Use of daily ‘themes’ so we do our external pushes through the week in a joined up way to maximise media interest and gain most coverage. These are:
    • Monday – Listening & Support
    • Tuesday – Health & Well-being 
    • Wednesday – Fundraising for the causes we care about
    • Thursday – COVID-19 response and informal community civic action
    • Friday – Nature & the Outdoors
    • Saturday – Art & Culture
    • Sunday – Sport & Leisure
  • Continuation of the Australian #waveforvolunteers social media campaign, by encouraging as many as possible to take a photo of themselves saying thank you to volunteers in this way – something you can be doing on the day that makes most sense to your organisation
  • Make a big effort on Thursday to recognise the volunteers who are helping out in an informal way who don’t normally get acknowledged through Volunteers Week
  • Link to the Big Virtual Lunch on 6/7th June any opportunities organisations have for their volunteers coming together virtually:  https://www.edenprojectcommunities.com/thebiglunchhomepage
  • Final synchronised press release on 8th June focusing on volunteering to support us coming out of the pandemic linked to the #nevermoreneeded campaign 

A full messaging toolkit will be available from Friday 22nd May which will include information about how you link up to each element, template press releases, hashtags and key messages. To receive this and be a part of this fantastic movement of over 60 organisations coming together to promote as one voice the vital role volunteers play in supporting society, email Tiger.deSo[email protected] and join the ‘Voluncheers Planning Group’ on Voluntary Voice.

For AVM members in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Volunteers Week is being coordinated by Volunteer ScotlandWCVA and Volunteer Now.

Resources for Volunteers’ Week 2020

Volunteer engagement during lockdown

When we closed our doors at Tate in March, the Volunteers Team immediately made keeping volunteers supported and connected our top priority. The result has been some fantastic volunteer engagement with positive feedback pouring in from volunteers – ‘I’ve never felt so connected in my life’ said one volunteer.  

Tate has close to 400 volunteers involved in front of house activities – welcoming visitors and leading our brilliant free guided tours. Some have been volunteering with us for 10, 20, 30 even 40 years and all are incredibly enthusiastic and passionate about their involvement in the gallery spaces.  So, what to do whilst those gallery spaces were closed?  

Within just a few weeks of closure, we had set up virtual volunteer sessions with volunteers giving talks about Art to other volunteers – from 10 minute talks through to one hour presentations.  These talks have proved immensely popular with up to 98 participants per session.  We’ve run two talks per week and now have talks booked in through into June.  We had to support a number of volunteers over the phone with technology in order for them to join the talks but this effort was more than worthwhile as volunteers were clearly over the moon to have cracked the tech and to join sessions and ‘see’ other volunteers online.

The Volunteers Team also identified volunteers who are particularly isolated or vulnerable who we felt might appreciate regular support calls and these calls have been greatly appreciated.  We wrote some  ‘weekly chat guidelines for staff and volunteers’ to clarify the purpose of the calls as being to connect with each other and reduce feelings of isolation; to lift spirits and share suggestions of things to do.  We explained calls were not to offer advice e.g. on finances, housing or personal matters and ensured all parties knew who to contact if they felt uncomfortable or concerned at any time.

One of the team had another great idea, setting up an Instagram for the volunteers to share their art works with each other and this has proved very popular.  It’s been great to see the creativity and talents shared in recent weeks. 

On top of this, we’ve kept up with all communications via email and sent out our weekly updates as usual every Friday packed with updates and lots of great links to Art programmes, articles and events that volunteers can watch, listen to, explore or read.

Our next challenge at Tate will be how to involve all our engaged and enthusiastic volunteers safely once we re-open.  Our volunteers cannot wait to get back to volunteering at the galleries so now we are beginning to explore what that will look like as part of our re-opening plans.

Meantime, we are all excited about this week’s talks on Zoom – 114 booked on so far! 


Jo joined Tate as Senior Volunteers Manager 6 months ago following over 30 years working with volunteers in the Charity sector. From 2015-2019, she was Head of Volunteering at Whizz-Kidz, a national charity supporting young wheelchair users. Prior to this, Jo managed international volunteer programmes at VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) and is still involved as a volunteer running the VSO London Action Group. Jo is a passionate advocate for the value of volunteering.

What’s the point of volunteer managers?

Here at AVM we believe that volunteer managers are vital in ensuring any volunteering effort is directed, efficient, effective and recognised, along with the person and people behind that volunteering effort. We believe that, as we often see, organisations don’t always pay attention to the volunteering relationship in the way they should. We’re here to help our members feel a little less lonely and a little more heard.

The title of this blog is quite provocative, depending on whether you read it in a positive or negative voice. I would say if you are reading this, you probably would be on the side of positivity.

During this crisis we’ve seen communities pull together and ‘volunteer’ to help their friends, families and neighbours – this isn’t new, but is always vital to any society.

We have also seen a call for organised and coordinated volunteering – that usually comes from an organisation backing. This has also been closely followed by an outcry of dismay from volunteers who have not been put to use (yet). It’s always hard to get this right from the get go, and it’s even harder to coordinate an approach when the services, infrastructure, organisations and charities you would coordinate with have been decimated, stretched and diversified. I think it is safe to say that it’s even harder to know when the future is unknown and organisations are having to focus on cash flow – they have furloughed as many staff as quickly as possible and for as long as possible, to ensure they can be here on the other side of this crisis. Unsurprisingly this has included volunteer managers. But how do volunteer managers come back from here?

It’s too early to tell if they have succeeded and that will all depend on what we think success should look like and will be very personal to each individual involved.

I have started to hold network calls with members who have been furloughed – we know those on the call are a fraction of who have been furloughed but they do come from the full cross section of sectors involving volunteers. It’s clear they feel in the dark; they understand the why but they are frustrated. They want to know that their organisation’s volunteers are being thought about during any decision making made by their organisation’s leaders (they aren’t confident they will be – but this isn’t new). If volunteers are still delivering activities on behalf of the organisation, they want to know they are getting the same care and attention they know is needed. Will the volunteering offer be the same on return and if so, will it still work? How does the volunteering offer and output continue if our volunteers aren’t willing to come back in the same way? When will volunteer managers be able to explore this and advise? What repairs to the relationship on behalf of their organisation will they need to do? Will they be heard when they make a recommendation? Will they get the support (time and money) they need? Will they be allowed to make their organisation stronger and more resilient in the future? How crucial are their volunteers in what their organisation does?

These are lots of questions, and there are very few answers at this time. Depending on the organisation and their raison d’etre, the VMs line manager and director(s) and the timeframe they are/will be working within will all play a part in what happens next.

This blog may not be the most linear in topic but then none of the conversations I am having at the moment are. We will continue to talk with and listen to our members and find ways to help them get through this unusual time.


Rachel Ball is a Director of AVM, and a volunteer manager. At time of writing, Rachel is on furlough due to impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Using Design Thinking to innovate and problem solve

A practical guide for leaders of volunteers

To complement our BiteSize mini series on design thinking, Amie Frayne, Volunteer Development Manager at The Brain Tumour Charity, has shared a practical guide to design thinking, for leaders of volunteers.

Amie explains why she developed this, in the guide:

In my experience as a volunteer manager, it can sometimes be challenging to get buy-in across my organisation, when it comes to involving volunteers in new and innovative ways. When planning for the future or for an upcoming project, including volunteers to maximise impact often isn’t at the forefront of my colleague’s minds.

This was perfectly highlighted when a couple of weeks ago, our corporate team carried out a needs analysis: they asked each team to come up with ways that our corporate partners could support them, be it pro-bono work, or gifts in kind. Teams came up with a long list of skills they were looking for and projects that would benefit from expertise. I had carried out a similar exercise for volunteering a few months previously, with little success, and yet looking down the list, a large proportion of the opportunities could have easily been filled by volunteers.

This is not to dismiss the valuable contribution that corporate partners might bring to The Charity, but it seems there is something about the word ‘volunteer’ that stops people coming up with new, potentially valuable ways for people to donate their time and skills. So how can we get people thinking differently?

This was exactly the conversation I was having with a colleague a few weeks ago, who suggest I look into Design Thinking. While in no way a new idea, it was new to me – so I went away and did my research (there’s some useful content in this podcast, if you’re interested).

So what is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a process for creative problem solving. At its core, it’s a human-centred. It focuses on and seeks to understand the people who are involved, redefining problems and identifying new solutions – that might not have been initially obvious. The idea is that using a Design Thinking approach will lead to better products, services or processes.

I decided to try this approach with The Charity’s regional fundraising team, to identify new opportunities for volunteers, to maximise the teams’ impact, while also providing a great experience for those donating their time. Community volunteers have always played a vital role for The Charity, raising awareness, attending fundraising events, giving talks and managing collection tins. But as this team has developed over time, so too has developed lots of untapped potential for volunteering.

Before running the session, I felt uncertain about how it would be received. But what I quickly found was that Design Thinking allowed team members to feel heard, their concerns understood. By taking a collaborative approach to problem solving, participants were bought into the process and were excited about the potential solutions. We came away with three distinct ideas about how volunteers might support the regional team in future, and with an action plan to begin making this a reality. The next step? To test these ideas with volunteers.

Attached is a quick guide to running a Design Thinking workshop. There are plenty of different activities you could do to achieve the same outcome – but I hope it’s a helpful starting point.

If I could give one piece of advice to anyone thinking of facilitating a session, it would be this: let go of what you think are great ideas. Although with your volunteer manager’s hat on, you might see lots of opportunities, bringing these to the table goes against the principles of Design Thinking. Ideas should come from within the room, as a result of going through the problem solving process. As a facilitator it can be hard to begin a session not knowing the direction it might take – but I promise it’s worth it for the outcome.

Amie would like to hear how you get on! Please let her know in the comments below.

Download Amie’s Design Thinking workshop

Moving to action – addressing inclusion and diversity in volunteering

In our latest AVM Bitesize, we chat with Dr Helen Timbrell and Hadji Singh about Helen’s recent research: “What the bloody hell are you doing here?” A comparative study of the experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic and White volunteers in four organisations

Improving the diversity of our volunteers and creating more inclusive, welcoming environments is top of the wish list for many volunteer managers. But how do we actually do this? How do we move from knowing there’s an issue around the lack of diversity in volunteering, as established frequently and most recently in NCVO’s Time Well Spent Report, to moving to purposeful action?

Focusing on experiences 

“Some White volunteers were simply unable to conceive that the experience of a volunteer could be impacted by ethnicity or that their own experience would not be shared by others of a different ethnicity.” (report extract, page 16)

To move to a place of sustained, purposeful action we need to understand more about the actual experiences of volunteers within organisations. What is actually going on for people? Knowing this helps us to clarify where things are going well, so we can do more of that, and where things are tricky, so we can invest in targeted improvements. ‘What the bloody hell are you doing here?’, Dr Helen Timbrell’s recent research, which compares the experiences of BAME volunteers and White volunteers in four organisations, does exactly that.

In our latest AVM BiteSize, which we’re making available to all, we chat with Helen, and Hadji Singh, about the research. Hadji is a volunteer with the Witness Service at Citizens Advice, one of the organisations who participated in the research. To get a copy of the report, do email Helen at [email protected].

Where next?

“Organisations need clear strategies for their work on equality, diversity and inclusion….those strategies must specifically focus on the role volunteering, volunteer managers and volunteers play in creating inclusive organisations”  (report extract, page 35)

Have a listen or read the BiteSize transcript, and/or read the report and then let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

This is important work helping all those involving volunteers to better understand where we could make a difference to developing an inclusive environment for BAME volunteers to feel they have a place and a voice.

At AVM we are acutely aware of the lack of visible diversity at our events and from those on behalf of our members and would value the opportunity to address this. From a practising volunteer manager’s point of view, we do try to ask what we are doing that’s adding to the problem, and this is an important question for the profession to grapple with – where is volunteer management itself getting in the way?

This is a scary question but with an open mind and an assumption of positive intent (if sometimes unintentionally clumsy practise), we believe we could begin to work in a more inclusive way where those who are seldom heard from can have a voice. This is, after all, the power and strength of volunteering.

There is an obvious role for organisational leaders to create the environment for honest dialogue and reflection, and to introduce measures that drive results. As Helen talks about in the BiteSize, there is also a clear need for us, as volunteer managers, to build our own knowledge and skills around diversity and inclusion, in order to then support volunteers.

At the same time, as Hadji says, there is also a real fear of getting it wrong. Learning through doing is crucial here, and feeling a bit scared is usually a positive sign that you’re learning something new, but if people are too scared, and lack support, that’s not going to help.  So how might we, as a community of volunteer managers, support each other on our journey to develop purposeful inclusive practices that make a meaningful difference? As the report highlights, to be successful this will need to be focused on action, not just more discussion!  If you’re interested in joining in this important work please do get in touch [email protected].

BiteSize with Helen Timbrell and Hadji Singh

What I actually do

At the end of every week I email all our volunteering colleagues with a round up of things they may need to do, read or should be aware of outside Diabetes UK. It’s a good way to put everything in one place and balances the inevitable asks with a little bit of levity and humour – I’m not one for taking things too seriously where we can avoid it. I think it’s generally well received, more so after I updated the format in response to calls from some volunteer managers to include “more memes please?”

This week I shared this with the team:

It got me thinking about the perception of working in volunteering versus some of the more practical elements we all encounter. Before I go any further, I should probably ‘fess up that before I started working at Diabetes UK I probably had a fairly narrow view of what volunteering meant as a career.

Let’s take a minute to run through these pictures, starting with the top row. My friends and family probably have a very specific idea about what I do based on my previous experience as an actual volunteer. My daughter used to come along and help on stalls, and when we talk about somebody needing a volunteer for something, she points at me because “that’s what Daddy does”. It’s hard to explain that your job is often so far removed from what volunteers do and in my case involves a lot of train travel and saying “can you hear me?” on Skype calls.

As for society, I’m not sure we’ll ever completely break that perception that volunteering is first or foremost standing somewhere with a collection tin. Nor do I necessarily think we should try and entirely sever that link. We might call it fundraising, but the tins and buckets don’t hold themselves or have those conversations with the public about our cause. While volunteering is so much richer than this, and if we want more people to be part of what we do, we definitely have a responsibility to talk more about all our opportunities, I still think it’s many people’s first impression of what we do.

In my role, it’s rare that I find myself in any of the situations in any of the top pictures any more. I do make sure I get out to visit volunteers and our local groups regularly, as well as attending as many of our networking events and conferences as possible, but running a stand or holding a collection tin is a much more infrequent event.

Let’s look at the bottom row. It’s wholly unfair to suggest that my (wonderful) boss thinks I only do one thing, but it’s a meme innit? I’m lucky that she understands the complexities and variation that comes with my job and supports me in all of the challenges that it throws up. I picked that picture because I think there rightly is that expectation that I’m looking at how volunteering becomes a stronger part of everything we do at Diabetes UK.

What I think I do…  I won’t lie – it involves a lot of meetings. No, I mean a LOT of meetings. And a lot of travel. No, I mean… well, you get the point. I’m very lucky that my role is home-based, but it does mean days in the office can often be back-to-back-to-back as you try and shuffle your diary to see people face-to-face where you can. It’s not uncommon to balancing a sandwich and a half-drunk coffee on my laptop as I go from one room to another.

What do I actually do?  It’s been one of those periods where it feels like the 9–5 (ha!) has been dominated by some of the more detailed aspects of my role. As we continue to ensure we have the most appropriate and safest recruitment practices in place when it comes to our volunteers, there are inevitably safeguarding questions that pop up. I’d be surprised to hear of any volunteer manager who couldn’t relate to that. Similarly, when you’re dealing with volunteers’ information you end up having a lot of GDPR conversations.

As hard as we try, we don’t always get things right and my job means I’m the first escalation point for some of the more involved complaints we might receive. I spoke at the AVM conference in November about this – we don’t get a lot of volunteering-related complaints, it’s just the ones that we do get often need more thought and attention and when you get a couple at once it can feel like it’s all you’re doing. Coronavirus is just the icing on the cake. I imagine it’s caught all of us off-guard to a large degree and having to be able to adapt and respond as information changes means it’s a large focus of our time.

This is the most varied and complex job I’ve ever had, but it’s also the most rewarding. It’s tough to balance that societal perception that it’s easy (and we’re all working for free) with the difficulties that sometimes come along. It’s also hard to reconcile how quickly and immediately volunteers want or need information with the wider considerations that we need to take into account. Providing a knee-jerk response to one volunteer can feel like we’re providing the best service possible, but sometimes taking a day to think about how one problem (e.g. coronavirus) can affect all your volunteers and putting together a more concerted response is better in the long run. Overall, I think the perception of volunteering is that it’s a never-ending stream of happy, sunny, easily organised events that run seamlessly.  And it often is. But the bits that are hidden are those that often take a huge amount of time and effort, sometimes even just to share what feels like the simplest of messages.