Susan J. Ellis

On behalf of AVM, I am saddened to hear of the recent death of the great Susan J. Ellis. The phenomenal support she offered to leaders of volunteering, particularly helping to champion the importance of a properly resourced volunteer management programme led from the top of an organisation, was game changing. Her key success bringing the community together across the world – a powerful way to learn from each other, despite differences in culture and legislation.

I know she acted as a mentor to members of our community, so particular thoughts go out to you, but for everyone who works within the volunteer management field this is a huge loss. It is our role to keep her ambition alive.

Ruth
Ruth Leonard
Chair AVM

Empowerment not management

AVM Chair Ruth Leonard’s response to NCVO’s ‘Time Well Spent’

NCVO’s research report ‘Time Well Spent: A National Survey on the Volunteer Experience’ (source: NCVO)

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

16% say they have skills and experience they’d like to use, but aren’t currently using in their volunteering (source: NCVO)

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.

What exactly is volunteering?

There is a great piece of research which I would encourage anyone interested in this area to read called ‘A rose by any other name …’ Revisiting the question: ‘what exactly is volunteering?’ and in that the authors identify that there are three perspectives on volunteering:

  • 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

Enjoyment ranks highest among a range of benefits that volunteers feel they get out of volunteering (source: NCVO)

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

96% say they are very or fairly satisfied with their volunteering (source: NCVO)

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.

AVM responds to #bethehelpforce

AVM welcomes the recent announcement of #bethehelpforce, a partnership between Helpforce and the Daily Mail, encouraging more people to volunteer their time in the NHS in 2019. AVM believes in the power of volunteering to make a difference, not only to patients, but also to volunteers themselves, and every day we hear their incredible stories.

However, AVM is clear that volunteering should not be a replacement for fully funded public services. Staff and volunteers offer different support to the NHS due to a different working relationship. Every day volunteers of all ages and backgrounds make a huge contribution by giving their time, skills and experience to support the NHS. The real value of these volunteers is the extra value they bring on top of the care and support provided by hard working nurses, doctors and other NHS staff. Volunteers have the time to provide companionship to patients that clinical staff do not have.

While AVM welcomes this initiative, we want to stress that volunteering is not free, and that resources need to be in place to support increased volunteering. This includes volunteer managers who can provide the training and support to volunteers, rather than adding these responsibilities to already stretched clinical staff.

Dealing with abuse: are criminal records checks the answer?

Click here to view the guidance NCVO shared in response to concerns about safeguarding and charity shops, backed by AVM and the Charity Retail Association, NCVO have opened the safeguarding section of their updated Volunteers and the law resource to non-members.

Diversity in Volunteering: Attracting different demographics

22 February 2018, The Crypt, Christ Church, Spitalfields, 10:30 – 4:15 pm

Click here to book.

Interested in attracting a more diverse volunteer base?

Interested in targeting volunteers from a particular demographic?  

Hear from our experienced speakers on different strategies for attracting a more diverse volunteer base, as well as presentations from organisations that have identified specific demographics they are keen to recruit.

You will hear about the process of identifying the need and assessing the benefits throughout an organisation, then various approaches to targeting and recruiting volunteers from different demographics.

We will hear the experiences of three organisations working with older, younger and LGBT volunteers. We will also hear from two umbrella organisations that are developing or have developed strategies for attracting diverse volunteers in general.

There will be table discussions, networking opportunities and ample space for delegates to share their own experiences, concerns and success stories.

A light lunch and refreshments are included in the price.

Click here for further details or to book.

images (1) Diversity in Volunteering: Attracting different demographics.

22 February 2018, London.

Click here for Eventbrite page.

 

Contributing to the health and care workforce strategy

Health Education England have launched their draft health and care Workforce Strategy consultation. The Strategy will be published in July 2018 to coincide with the NHS’s 70th birthday. The draft strategy sets out the current workforce landscape in the NHS and social care, and the approach to shaping the face of the NHS and social care workforce for the next two decades.

The Association of Volunteer Managers will be submitting a response to the draft consultation, and would like to hear our members’ views to inform our response. Question five will be of particular interest to the volunteer management community, which asks:

 

Do you have any comments on how to better ensure opportunities to; and meets the needs and aspirations of; all communities in England?

Areas to explore may include:

  • What more can be done to attract staff from non-traditional backgrounds, including where we train and how we train?
  • How we better support carers, self carers and volunteers?

 

Members can submit their comments or questions to Ruth Leonard, AVM Chair via email [email protected]

The consultation ends in March 2018, so all comments or questions should be submitted by end of February 2018.

Volunteer Management In The Next Decade

Karl Wilding continues our tenth anniversary blog series with thoughts on how Volunteer Management’s journey to date will shape the next ten years.
In the ten years since AVM was established, much has changed in the world around us that has impacted upon volunteering and therefore volunteer management. Some of this surprised us: a financial crisis, a decade of economic stagnation and social tensions, albeit punctuated by the highlight of volunteering during London 2012, and more recently the decision to leave the European Union. Some changes we saw coming: the demographic pressures and changing social attitudes of an ageing, more diverse and more atomised society. What we probably didn’t see was how quickly these changes would come about and the pressure they would place on our communities and the services we use. We probably also didn’t see how the opportunities that digital technology would deliver, or some of the social fractures it would deepen. Building bridges between communities of place and interest is more vital than ever, a tension that saw volunteer management hit (for the first time?) the front pages of our national newspapers recently.
We live in interesting times. It seems to me that these wider social, demographic and economic changes will continue to shape and reshape volunteering over the next decade, though only the most foolhardy venture to make predictions these days. What therefore might AVM members want to mull over as shaping the next 10 years?
For me, the slow burn of demographic change will reshape volunteering and how we think about how we work with those who want to engage in the communities (note the plural) around them. Public services are already being refashioned so as to involve service users more in their delivery. Boundaries between paid and unpaid staff will blur as we try and cope with pressures from a growing, but ageing, population. Note also the less flexible labour markets that many argue will result from the decision to leave the European Union.
Informal volunteering, such as acts of neighbourliness, especially seem important as reducing demand is seen as a way of helping public services better cope. The Royal Voluntary Service’s increased focus on social action might be indicative of the way forward here. Do we need to (re)think volunteer managers as convenors, catalysts, shapers of people who want to get involved in their communities? If so, is it a radical rethink or an evolution of change already afoot? Either way, it will be more important than ever that we build and strengthen the bonds of community. More people helping people.
But it’s about more than just individuals doing good things: bringing people together so that they are more than the sum of their parts, working out how best to involve businesses who feel a responsibility to the community, and working out how to work alongside our public services are all part of the emerging landscape. We’ve learnt over the last decade that volunteers don’t always just appear spontaneously; or even when they do, good organisation and infrastructure enables volunteers to make a bigger impact.
Effective, impactful volunteering needs good infrastructure and networks. As government and business become more interested in social action, the case for investment in volunteer management might become more apparent, based on experience. In turn this will inevitably lead to more thinking about value for money, greater calls for management information, and more data collection. That has to be a good thing, but for some it might be the less attractive side of continued professionalization. If that leads to less of the ‘let’s sprinkle some volunteers on the problem’ type thinking, then a more data-driven approach is OK by me.
The topic of data leads to a discussion of digital (aka #techforgood) and how that might shape the future of volunteering. This is the most difficult to call: AVM’s ten year anniversary coincides with the device that pretty much kicked off the smartphone revolution, the iPhone. Could anyone seriously have predicted the impact that would have on pretty much every aspect of life? Current trends might suggest an ever-more efficient brokering of people who want to get involved with opportunities that fit (based on the data that your phone now collects about you); more emphasis on place and opportunities based on where someone happens to be; and more mopping up of small bits of spare time as the smartphone facilitates activities such as mentoring, remotely. Finally, tech blogs are currently awash with discussions of AI and machine learning. I can’t even begin to understand how these will shape volunteer management – they will – but in terms of volunteering itself, volunteers are already helping machines to learn how to recognise patterns that have a social outcome, such as this project around slavery. A brave new world indeed.
Volunteer management will not stay static in the next decade. Nor should it. I look forward to AVM leading the discussion around what the brave new world of volunteer management could, and might, look like.
 
Karl Wilding speaks and writes widely on issues facing the voluntary sector. Karl is Director of Public Policy and Volunteering at NCVO, a trustee of both Creating the Future and St Albans CVS, and an advisor to Charity Bank.

Winning in Volunteer Management: Working together, what can we achieve?

21 September, at The Crypt, Christ Church, Spitalfields
This event is looking at how we can work more closely together. Click here for more information or to book a place.
Prior to the 2012 London Olympics, the government asked sporting organisations what they knew about volunteering, and they asked volunteering organisations what they knew about sport. Both answers were the same: “Virtually nothing!”
Yet sports volunteering accounts for 22% of the UK total – more than any other sector. (This information came out at our last event on 27 July)
Many charities organise sports-style fundraising events, such as walks or runs or cycle rides, but is there cooperation with sports organisations in the preparation or administration of these events?
Surely the time is ripe for sports and non-sports volunteer managers to get together and start to work together: to share experiences and challenges and successes.
This event will hear from presenters with experience of both sports and other non-profit and charity organisations, from research professors working in collaboration with sports organisations across the world and from the London 2012 Legacy charity: Join In. There will also be the usual networking opportunities and the chance to voice your own opinions.

Speakers will include: Jenny Betteridge, Sport England; Chantel Scherer, Join In; Dr. Fiona Reid, SRVN / Glasgow University; Dr. Lindsay Findlay-King, SRVN / Northumbria University; Alex Beaumont, LTA -British Tennis; Kerry Marland, England Athletics.

Click here for more information or to book a place.                                                            

House of Lords Seeks Views on Active Citizenship

Volunteer managers are encouraged to take a look at the House of Lords’ latest call for evidence on Citizenship and Civic Engagement.
The Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement has published the call hoping that a wide range of individuals, groups and organisations will submit evidence that helps them understand the nature of the citizenship challenge for different parts of society.
The part that will be of particular interest to the volunteer management community is section six, which asks:

Do voluntary citizenship programmes such as the National Citizen Service do a good job of creating active citizens? Are they the right length? Should they be compulsory, and if so, when? Should they include a greater political element? Should they lead to a more public citizenship ceremony? Are they good value for money? What other routes exist for creating active citizens?

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, Chairman of the Committee said: “This Committee has been established to investigate citizenship in the UK, what it means and whether it should change. We also want to find out if there are barriers preventing people from being more involved, both locally and nationally. We hope to hear from people all over the country who have an interest in this topic, who work with communities who are disengaged as well as from people who are disengaged themselves.”
Interested parties have until 8 September 2017 to respond, and can find full details on the House of Lords website.

Every Journey Had A Beginning

Continuing our series of blogs celebrating AVM’s tenth anniversary, Rob Jackson reflects on his memories of the time leading up to the creation of AVM.
Joe Saxton recently shared his thoughts about what the next ten years might hold in store for AVM so I thought it might be nice to travel back in time to the birth of the Association.
AVM had its genesis in regular networking meetings John Ramsey and I used to organise (as volunteers) for volunteer managers. After the demise of the National Volunteer Managers Forum the only networking opportunity that remained was a closed group, which neither John nor I were a part of. We didn’t begrudge the group existing but did think that something should be available to any Volunteer Manager that wanted to take part.
The group met at various locations across London and, on one occasion, close to Old Street roundabout, the group hosted a visit from Australian colleague Andy Fryar. Andy had agreed to come and share his wisdom with us whilst visiting the UK on business. During the resulting discussion Andy challenged us to follow the lead of our Australian colleagues who were busy founding AAMoV, AVM’s cousin ‘down under’.
That meeting and that discussion gave birth to the idea that became AVM. To this day Andy rightly considers himself the midwife that helped deliver AVM.
Not long after that I started a new job at Volunteering England. My employer deemed it a conflict of interest for me to take up my new role and be involved in AVM and so I stepped back, leaving John to carry the baby to term, so to speak.
I take absolutely no credit at all for creating AVM. I was just one voice in a room that helped initiate the idea. John Ramsey deserves all the plaudits for making the idea a reality, along with all those early board members. It is thanks to their hard work, their risk taking (something Volunteer Managers aren’t always naturals at) and their commitment to our field that, ten years later, we have the Association of Volunteer Managers.
AVM isn’t perfect but, do you know what? Neither are volunteers and volunteering. We are much better off now with AVM in existence than we were twenty-three-years-ago when I started in this profession.
AVM is the sum of all of us. It succeeds when we all get involved, when we all commit to our field, when we all take action, when, as the theme for this year’s International Volunteer Manager Day states, we all take steps to ‘Be The Voice’ for volunteer leadership and management.
I can’t leave this article there, though. The last word should go my my friend John Ramsey. John’s death in 2014 left AVM and the profession of Volunteer Management weaker. Thankfully we have some of his wisdom preserved in his writing, so I end on one of my friend’s quotes, something we should all remember every day:

I will never tire of saying this: Volunteer management is about respecting our volunteers sufficiently that we properly invest in them to maximise their engagement and participation, and ensure the very best outcomes for our beneficiaries.