Reasons to be cheerful… 1, 2, 3!

With the dust settling after a whirlwind conference – our biggest event ever – we wanted to make sure everyone had caught up on the big three changes AVM’s announced in the last couple of days.
Part 1 – new Twitter handle
We’ve had a lot of feedback over the past year about our social media presence. In response to one of the recurring issues raised we’ve adopted a new easier to remember and shorter twitter handle. You can now catch us at @AVMtweets.
Part 2 – refreshed visual identity
Yesterday’s conference saw the first outing of our refreshed visual identity.
Taking the work done since AVM’s inception, we’ve retained the essence of our identity and developed a fresh new look. As the way we communicate and work changes, we’re bringing everything we do together to prepare the ground for the way AVM will evolve over the coming years.
Part 3 – new package for organisations
The third and biggest change announced at conference is that AVM is taking its first steps into engaging organisations as well as individuals. Our popular and relevant membership offering, available to individuals for the last nine years, has been overhauled and is now complemented by new Organisational Learning and Development Package.
We’re working to ensure that volunteer engagement skills are valued and nurtured across the whole of the volunteer involving sector. The new Organisational Learning and Development Package will allow organisations to place themselves at the forefront of volunteering development, and ensure that managers are inspired, engaged and supported by an engaged and knowledgeable network of volunteer management professionals across the country.
More details about the organisational package will be shared in the coming days, but right now you can get in contact with Anne-Marie for an informal chat about what’s involved and the next steps.

AVM Hires First Employee To Grow Events Programme

I’m pleased to announce that AVM, in partnership with nfpSynergy, has just recruited its first full time employee.
To grow our range of events, seminars and conferences we’ve employed Abigail Cooper in the role of Events Manager. Having worked on our plans for over a year we know Abigail will be a huge asset to our work, and allow us to do more events, in more places, on more topics.
We know there is demand for the growth in volunteer management and leadership expertise from both large and small organisations and we aim to fill the gap in the market and support volunteer managers.
Abigail’s appointment will also increase our capacity, freeing up directors to focus on reviewing our membership model to include organisations, not solely individuals, to create a sustainable platform for growth.
To help us make this move nfpSynergy have offered office space, administrative support and professional services during the first year.
With a greater programme of events, we believe we can grow our income, increase our impact, and support the appetite for training and CPD from the volunteering development sector. We think it’s a win/win for AVM, and hope you’ll join us in welcoming Abigail.

AVM loses its founder

John Ramsey speaking at AVM's launch in 2007
John Ramsey speaking at AVM’s launch in 2007

We are sad to announce that our founder, John Ramsey, passed away on Saturday 20th September following a period of illness.
Although his death was not unexpected, the loss is a profound shock to all who knew him. John was a tireless champion of volunteering and volunteer management.
Without his passion, drive and energy the Association of Volunteer Managers would not exist. A great volunteer manager himself, his gift was bringing people together from across the field to build the organisation that we are today.
He was our Chair 2005-09, and continued to be actively involved with AVM. In typical fashion, John volunteered to run a workshop at the upcoming AVM conference in October. He will be sorely missed.
Many of you will have memories to share and tributes to pay. Do please leave your comments here below or email us at [email protected] if you prefer.
We will pass on all messages to his wife and daughter and extended family who can take comfort from the respect that he had within our community.

Every little helps

Back in November, NCVO research told us that micro-volunteering is on the increase. The Institute of Volunteer Research published a report: “The value of giving a little time: Understanding the potential of micro-volunteering“.
Their report defined micro-volunteering as “bite-size volunteering with no commitment to repeat and with minimum formality, involving short and specific actions that are quick to start and complete.”

“This research found that micro-volunteering is not new in itself, but is changing. People have less time to give and are volunteering in new ways and, often facilitated by developments in technology that enable people to participate immediately and independently of time and place…
The research found that micro-volunteering will not suit everyone nor every organisation. It highlighted that organisations need to think carefully about whether and how micro-volunteering fits in with their strategic direction, and whether the term ‘micro-volunteering’ is the best way for them to brand these small actions. When it is appropriate, and if the challenges identified in our research can be overcome, the benefits for the individual volunteer and the organisation of micro-volunteering can be significant.”

Today, NCVO published guidance for those in volunteer management interested in offering micro-volunteering opportunities. Kristen Stephenson, NCVO’s Volunteer Management and Good Practice Manager blogged:

What we say in our guidance released today is that in order to maximise the potential of micro-volunteering we need to steer clear of management becoming disproportionate. If organisations micromanage their micro-volunteering they run the risk that the role becomes something the volunteer didn’t want or expect and they leave.

Kristen identified the following as quick tips:

  • Adopt a more flexible approach
  • Ask people whether they want to stay in touch
  • Take a joined up approach
  • Consider shadowing
  • Plan ahead
  • Use online tools and technology
  • Think about risk but be sensible

More information and the full guidance on Kristen Stephenson’s blog post.

2009 – the year of… ?

A new year is inevitably a time when we look forward, normally with more hope than trepidation. 2009 of course promises to be different – in charity parlance, a year of ‘challenges’ for all of us.

But let’s start with some of the more exciting events that will affect us. Firstly OTS hopefully will be shortly releasing details regarding their £4mil investment in volunteer management. Although this has been much delayed since its announcement last year, AVM has been assured the Govt is still committed to this and represents a real breakthrough in how volunteer management is viewed.

Of course, £4mil does not compare to the amount invested in, say, young people volunteering and equally whatever plans they have will never meet everyone’s approval but it’s fair to say that even 5 years ago the thought of £4mil being invested directly for VMs would have been outlandish.

Secondly the work of the Commission on the Future of Volunteering Action Groups will be coming to an end. I think one of the succeses of the work so far is how it has brought together players from across the sectors – the challenge for all of us involved in volunteering is to take forward what comes out of the Action Groups, build on it and not simply disappear back into our collective caves.

Thirdly, there is the revision of the National Occupational Standards on Volunteer Management. Strictly of course this happened last year although a new introductory guide will be coming out this year. The NOS were always very useful but in truth highly indigestible. The new format makes them much more user-friendly and should provide us with a tool to establish the skills and competences of a good volunteer manager, and enable organisations to properly value the role of volunteer manager.

Which leads me nicely on to what we as volunteer managers need to be doing.

Volunteering will have a crucial role to play in our society over the next couple of years – eg by meeting the demand for services and as a route for people to re-train and re-gain confidence having been made redundant. However, as charity income drops there will be internal jostling as funding decisions are made and the fear is that volunteer managers may be in the firing line as the work we do is not universally recognised.

I think there are three things that we as volunteer managers need to be doing:

Firstly, ensure our volunteer programmes have the flexibility and robustness to meet the upcoming challenges by re-looking at policies and practices and possibly the culture of the organisation.

Secondly measure the impact of your volunteering. Can you prove to your trustee board/funder the value of funding your volunteering programme, the impact on clients, themselves and the wider community? As a starting point have a look at the Volunteer Impact Assessment Toolkit by Institute for Volunteering Research.

And thirdly, measure the impact of your own volunteer management. The question you may be asked is what value do you add to the volunteering programme. AVM has some generic stats around the value of volunteer management but can you measure the impact on your own organisation? Maybe you can look at a correlation between volunteer numbers/hours and the introduction of a volunteer manager. Or identify areas that would not have been picked up without a volunteer manager eg the old ‘volunteer contract’ that you insisted was removed or the safer screening measures you put in place.

Alternatively you might just want to mention the York CAB case…

What’s Wrong With Incentives Anyway?

I thought you might be interested in reading the transcript of the short speech I gave in the debate on incentives at VE’s AGM this week:
Thank you for inviting me to join the debate today. When I first heard of RockCorps initiative of offering young people concert tickets to encourage them to do 4 hours of volunteering I initially found myself doing a very bad impression of Victor Meldrew and being somewhat annoyed. Taking a backward step I started to explore why this was.  If found that there were a number of different issues, but the only that really stood out for me was how will offering incentives to volunteer impact on the integrity of volunteering?
I think everyone’s take on this is different and given that volunteers are involved in many different areas and in many different ways, I don’t think there is an easy answer. The Compact Code of Good Practice on Volunteering describes volunteering as “an activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or individuals or groups”.
The Compact Oxford Dictionary describes to volunteer as to “freely offer to do something”(2).  For me, the definition which comes closest to my understanding what volunteering is I came across in an article posted on the UKVPMs online forum last week. It describes volunteerism as the willingness of people to work on behalf of others without being motivated by financial or material gain.
I think it important to also recognize that people do volunteer for reasons other than the greater good, motivated for reasons of self-development, improving self-worth or gaining skills and experience in order to gain employment for example. I think these are perfectly valid reasons for volunteering as I believe that through self improvement we do something, perhaps indirectly, that benefits society.
I think part of my unease around offering incentives for volunteering is that it seems somewhat incongruous with notion of volunteering being unpaid or without financial or material gain. Can it truly be stated that you are offering your time for free if you are given a concert ticket for 4 hours of volunteering? But then, one person’s incentive is another person’s recognition award. Rockcorps consider the concert as a celebration of their volunteers achievement.
In this month’s Volunteering England’s online magazine there is an article on volunteering with the RSPB. The article makes mention that every volunteer who give 50 hours or more of their time in a year are given a Volunteer Card entitling them to 20% discount on RSPB goods in recognition of their contribution. So what is the difference between a concert ticket and a discount card? What makes one an incentive and another a recognition award? When does incentive become recognition?  Is it simply a case of an agreed commitment of time? Do we draw a line in the sand at 10 hours, 20 hours, 50 hours?
I don’t think it is as simple as that. I personally feel that 4 hours of volunteering for a concert ticket, whether you consider it an incentive, celebration or recognition, somewhat devalues the value of recognition and would feel more comfortable it was in recognition of say 20 hours. I have no logic to base this on. It’s just something that I feel is about right. It doesn’t mean I’m right though or invalidates what Rockcorps are doing.
I understand the reasons behind Rockcorps incentives and the appeal of them. I think it would be disingenuous, cynical and wrong of me at state that the many thousands of young people who have volunteered through Rockcorps have volunteered simply for a concert ticket. My hope also is and I have no evidence to doubt, that the 35% who Rockcorps have re-volunteered within a year have done so for the greater good.
I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong in offering incentives to volunteer, however, I think we as a sector need to look very carefully at how incentives might impact on the integrity of volunteering. Do we run the risk of disenfranchising the vast majority of people who volunteer freely, without financial or material gain?
Do we also run the risk of creating a culture where people’s primary reason for volunteering is the incentive itself rather than doing something to benefit the environment, society or for self-development?
I can’t help but feel hollow inside if the answer to those two questions were yes. Thank you.
Post by Sean Cobley

Regional volunteering strategies

Steve wrote recently on UKVPMs that he had advocated regional volunteer management strategies in his last post in a national organisation, but was looked at blankly.

I have recently been working in a national organisation with a centralised volunteering strategy role and certainly one of the things I thought was that if I were setting up a department from scratch there should be a regional element to it, fitting in with the way that the volunteering infrastructure has been organised as well as taking into consideration local needs as well as local opportunities for recruiting volunteers, other local organisations to work in partnership – and so much more.

But reading Steve’s post, and thinking of recent conversations at AVM board meetings as well as in the pub(!) I wondered if there was something else to consider. There is a common prevailing attitude that everyone in every volunteer involving organisation is an expert, and that the role of volunteer manager is not particularly complex and does not require much skill or expertise. This attitude is supported by the lack of high level independently accredited training, poor salary structure (how many Heads of Volunteering are paid a comparative salary to other Heads of within their organisations), poor positioning within organisations of volunteering (how many directors or executive directors of volunteers are there?) and an almost invisible career structure for those wanting to remain in the field (who of us is clear where to go next – what is a move up and what would be a move sideways – this is not always clearly reflected by salary alone).

Is it perhaps in the interest of people holding this attitude to continue to reinforce their beliefs by not giving the suggestions made by professional experts any credence. Is it a way of saying “you are only a manager of volunteers – what do you know of strategic development?”

We need to work together as a community of professionals to get others to recognise our expertise, many things are different when engaging with volunteers, including how to develop strategy, we know this because we do it on a daily basis and we need to shout more and more loudly about it so others recognise that.

Now – go and recruit a colleague into AVM and strengthen our voice just a little bit more!

pin-striped philanthropists

There’s an interesting article in today’s Guardian:

looking at the likelihood of people who have started volunteering as part of a CSR/ESV scheme continuing now the economic outlook is on the gloomy side. They reckon people will continue to volunteer on the grounds that; “There’s a recognition among employees that times are tough for lots of people so the idea is ‘Let’s see how I as an individual can help'”.

Is that people’s experience, or is CSR falling by the wayside?