When I first saw the email advertising the ‘Risk Factor’ event, the subject line, ‘⚠ Can you manage risk and flexible volunteering at the same time? ⚠’, asked a question that I had been grappling with for months. I didn’t hesitate in booking, despite the minor consideration of an 800 mile round trip!
We’re not alone in this balancing act
Like many organisations, we are investigating how best to respond to volunteers’ increasing demand for more flexible or episodic volunteering. I suspect Shelter Scotland are not alone in finding it difficult to balance our formalised risk and safeguarding procedures with more informal volunteering. We’re reviewing our flexible role to make it more inclusive and volunteer led, but it’s proving difficult to ensure that such a flexible commitment is sustainable when we need to invest so much time in recruitment and training. It’s a bit of a catch 22!
As such, I was really looking forward to the event on the 21st May. I didn’t flinch when my alarm went off at 5.45am for my 7.30 train from Edinburgh to London, and even the 1.5 hour delay to my train didn’t dampen my spirits!
A sustainable flow of volunteers
I rushed in the door with two minutes to spare, having gulped down a bag of roasted peanuts and an apple for my lunch, and immediately got into the networking with other lovely volunteer managers. The event started soon afterwards, and we were introduced to Helen Johnston from the Thames Discovery Programme. Her presentation was really interesting, and definitely gave me lots of food for thought. She has about 750 volunteers who support archaeological exploration on the banks of the Thames in a really flexible model for participation.
I was interested to hear how they are able to keep the model sustainable given that it is such a skilled role with no minimum commitment required. This is likely, in part, because they charge for training, but also because they have a very pragmatic approach to risk. Indeed, she told the story of her volunteers who successfully dealt with finding an unexploded World War II bomb, without the need for her involvement.
As well as providing in depth training, they have developed a culture of safety by holding briefings at the start of each session and placing a lot of trust in their volunteers to make sensible judgements about risks they encounter. I think this emphasis on trust in volunteers is perhaps something that all of us large national organisations could learn from.
Risk versus objective reward
Secondly, Daniel Ingram from AVM led a discussion about risk appetite. My key takeaway point from this was that risk should not be assessed in isolation, but rather in line with the impact they would make in helping us achieve our objectives. If the activity is likely to be of significant benefit, perhaps it is worth the risk?
Next up, Catherine Bartlett from NCT told us about a volunteer led project with significant risks but also significant positive impact. Yet again, we were hearing about the balance between potential risk and actual benefits. Catherine, as a former barrister, highlighted the need to really take time to evaluate and understand your risks. Building detailed evidence to support your assessments will help to instil trust with colleagues and reassure the most risk averse!
Because you’re worth it
My trip to London for the AVM Risk Factor event was definitely worth the risk! It gave me lots of food for thought regarding our approach to risk in Shelter Scotland, and highlighted to me the value of two quite different approaches. I also had a far less eventful journey home too – Netflix, Pinot Grigio, chocolate raisins and six pages of notes to ponder!
Sarah Latto is the Volunteer Development Manager for Shelter Scotland and Co-Chair of the Scottish Volunteering Forum
Learn more. Our upcoming events can help your professional development and boost your volunteer management career 📈
It’s really important to me that the value of volunteers is recognised across The Brain Tumour Charity, and that both volunteers and the staff who support them have a great experience.
Within my relatively short time in post, I’ve learnt that positive change often requires support for volunteer engagement across teams and at all levels. So when I spotted an email about an upcoming AVM event focusing on ‘successfully influencing change’, it got my attention.
At the event we heard from Charlotte Witteridge, Head of Volunteering at The Myton Hospices and Clare Burgess, CEO of Surrey Coalition of Disabled People. Both shared the way they had wielded influence in order to embed volunteering more deeply in the culture of their organisations.
For them, building a case for support and thinking strategically about the changes that were needed was really important. But even more crucial was their ability to bring people along on that journey. Below I’ve parceled their advice on doing just that into three top tips:
Be reliable and interested
Focus on the things you can change
Know your allies
1. Be reliable and interested
1Doing what you say you’ll do (which includes saying no), and making a point to learn something new outside of your work remit each day, will engender trust among key stakeholders. By building your personal brand, people are more likely to believe in your ideas and in your ability to make those ideas a success.
2. Focus on the things you can change
Don’t spend time focusing on your ‘circle of concern’ – the things which challenge you but you can’t do anything about. Instead, think proactively about your ‘circle of influence’. If you do this you’ll become more effective at making change and increase what you’re able to influence.
3. Know your allies
Work out who it is you need to influence, and how you can get on their radar. This isn’t always about targeting those who hold important job titles. By building strong connections across and outside of your organisation you may identify people who can break down a barrier for you.
To get decision-makers on side, think about how each person needs information delivered to them. Some people are most interested in facts, some finances and some in stories.
I came away from the event with lots to think about, some action points and overall feeling more confident about influencing within my organisation. But having had a bit of time to reflect, my main learning from the day was perhaps a more surprising one.
I didn’t expect to learn this
I know that I’m not alone in finding conferences and events like these a daunting prospect. Part of the reason, I think, is that many of us feel that we have little of value to share. Day-to-day, we’re not doing anything radical or out of the ordinary.
We (volunteer managers) are quick to be self-critical and to focus on the areas that aren’t going right, but I learnt something valuable from everyone I spoke to at the event. During group discussions, people shared lessons learnt through experience – lessons that will undoubtedly save others time and heartache in the future.
My key takeaway
By sharing what your organisation is doing well at events like these, it encourages others to take small steps to improve their practice, which will in turn improve the experience for volunteers in their organisation. And our willingness to speak about these positive things, with colleagues, with other volunteer managers, or with potential volunteers, will make us better influencers too.
Most of the positive, proactive changes that you’ll make during your time as a volunteer manager will not be brand new concepts, but that doesn’t make them uninteresting, or less valid. What you see as your bread and butter, the areas where your organisation is succeeding, are probably the very same areas that others are struggling to crack.
We should shout about these positive things more. I know I certainly will.
Amie is the Volunteer Development Manager for The Brain Tumour Charity.
Learn more. Our upcoming events can help your professional development and boost your volunteer management career 📈
At AVM’s Risk factor event Helen Johnston will be sharing how she established a flexible volunteering model while successfully managing the risks that archaeological fieldwork can dig up.
It’s Crimbo Limbo, the gap between Christmas and New Year, I’m on the sofa under a blanket, contemplating another rummage through the Quality Street tin to see if there’s any of the good ones left, idly scrolling through Facebook. And then, there it is, one of my worst-case scenarios: a photo of one of our volunteers flanked by two police officers (all smiling thankfully!), and the next one, a close-up of what looks like a rusty bit of scaffolding pole. I know immediately what it is and why the police are involved; it’s unexploded ordnance, left over from one of the World War bombing campaigns. Chocolate forgotten, I shake off my sofa-haze to find out what’s happened and make sure everyone’s safe.
At Thames Discovery Programme, we run a flexible volunteering programme to monitor and record vulnerable archaeology on the Thames’ foreshore, the area which is revealed at low tide. As well as running fieldwork coordinated centrally, we have groups of volunteers who organise themselves to regularly monitor particular sites on the river. But the foreshore is not a safe environment, and there are many risks that need to be considered when working there.
On that lazy Saturday afternoon, a couple of our volunteers decides to make a last-minute visit to Fulham, the site of an ancient river crossing, to check on the interesting prehistoric archaeology there which is under threat from erosion. It’s matchday, and fans are streaming through the nearby park for a Fulham Palace home game. As the tide begins to come in, the volunteers are making their way back to the steps when they notice something that, thanks to their training, they immediately recognise as potentially an unexploded bomb.
Unexploded ordnance is not an uncommon find on the Thames; London was heavily bombed in World War 1 and World War 2, and the river wall was deliberately targeted to try to flood the city. At Thames Discovery Programme we come across possible ordnance every year or two, and so our volunteer training includes what to do if you find a bomb.
In this case our volunteers do all the right things, they leave it where they found it, call the Police and move away from the area. When the Police arrive, there’s a bit of discussion about whether it’s a rusty aerosol can before they make the decision to call in the bomb squad. The river is cordoned off, the last of the football fans are kept out of the area, and the device, which is identified as a WW1 incendiary bomb, is safely removed to be disposed of somewhere a long way away. By the time I find out about the incident on Facebook that evening, it’s all over, and everyone involved is back home. I check in with the volunteers over email to make sure they’re all ok, finding things like this can be unnerving. They were fine and they’d already sent us a full account of what happened, including pictures!
Even if your risk assessment doesn’t need to consider possible explosions, managing volunteers remotely and flexibly is not without risks. On 21 May in London, I’m going to discuss how we’ve developed our flexible volunteering model at Thames Discovery Programme when there’s a risk we’ll dig up bombs. Join me at AVM’s Risk factor: flexible volunteering and risk management event and join the discussion at #AVMRisk.
Charlotte Witteridge will be sharing the lessons she’s learnt on influencing change at AVM’sIn volunteers we trust event on 3 May. She leads The Myton Hospices’ volunteering programme with Ruth Freeman as her CEO.
The Myton Hospices are committed to the delivery of high quality palliative care and enabling those with life limiting illnesses to live well until the end of their life. Supporting us with this is a team of over 1,000 volunteers who work within all areas of Myton, from direct patient contact roles and those that help to support the smooth day-to-day running of our hospices, to roles based within retail and fundraising.
We have recently secured significant investment from our Board of Trustees to develop our volunteering team. This recognises the potential to expand our volunteer team to help strengthen and enhance the work that we do and enable us to reach out to and support more patients and families across Coventry and Warwickshire. This hasn’t always been the case within Myton, however, and this is my story of how I have worked with our new Chief Executive to secure this additional funding to develop our volunteering team.
23rd December 2011… My first visit to the Warwick site of The Myton Hospices… I had been to visit Myton to discuss the Volunteering Development Officer job that I had seen advertised. Being shown around the hospice and having conversations about what this new role would involve, I instantly realised that the full potential of volunteering at Myton was yet to be realised. I drove home full of excitement knowing that I had to work my hardest and do everything possible to secure this role.
After submitting an application and going through the recruitment process, thankfully I was successful in securing the role.
I joined Myton in February 2012 and was full of enthusiasm about my new position, only to realise very quickly that I was responsible for all things “volunteering”, with no administration support, no database and no basic infrastructure to underpin the engagement of approximately 1,000 volunteers.
I love a challenge, and was able to realise the impact that my new role could have on Myton’s volunteering. Slowly, over time, I began to build up our volunteer programme and the policies and processes to underpin volunteering throughout our organisation.
Although I did initially make progress, it was incredibly slow. Slightly more resource had been allocated to the team in the form of part time administration hours – this was making a difference, but we still weren’t in a position to move volunteering forward and still struggled to keep up with the day-to-day tasks. My role had also changed in title to Volunteering Development Manager, but I still didn’t have the authority to make organisation wide changes.
The lack of resources within the team was highlighted following a complaint directly to our Chief Executive Ruth Freeman; I had been so overwhelmed with work (and hadn’t asked for help), that I failed to respond in a timely manner to a gentleman who had enquired about giving his time as a volunteer. Being a conscientious individual, I was mortified at the mistake I had made and worried about the reputational repercussions that this may have (especially when a large part of my role is about protecting our reputation in the way in which I engage with our volunteers!).
Now, I’m not advocating making a mistake or letting things get to the stage that I did, far from it (my biggest learning is that I should have asked for help sooner…) but this did open up an opportunity for me, because Ruth recognised that help was needed and we worked together to carry out a review of our volunteering function. The outcome was the realisation that the volunteer department was severely under resourced. Ruth and I then embarked on building a case for investment in volunteering…
A word from Ruth:
”Charlotte is a great advocate for volunteering within our organisation but for a long time she was a lone voice. In working closely with her it became clear that she was quite understandably frustrated with the fact that Volunteering was the only cross–organisational function at Myton that didn’t have a voice at senior level. This meant that top-line decisions were made without consideration for the value that volunteers could add to every area of our work”.
Building a Business Case for Volunteering
Step 1: Identify how volunteering supports your organisation to meet its strategy
Myton’s vision is to ‘provide high quality, specialist care to people whose condition no longer responds to curative treatment, from diagnosis to death. We aim to meet their physical, psychological, spiritual and social needs and ensure their families are supported both through and after this difficult time. We are also committed to training, supporting and encouraging other care providers to practice good palliative care’.
When developing our business case for investment into the volunteering team, we were clearly able to demonstrate how volunteering supports our organisation to meet its strategic aims and fulfil our mission – this is a clear influencer when getting the Board of Trustees and Senior Leadership Team to buy into your business case. Some examples of this linked to areas of our strategy are as follows:
We want to touch the lives of more people who need us – we will be able to reach out and support more patients and families by recruiting more volunteers for the right roles that enable us to deliver our services to more people…
Strengthening our marketing and communications – volunteers are ambassadors for our organisation, and they have the potential to build awareness of what we do within their local communities. This support of Myton will help to support our fundraising efforts and market our organisation externally to reinforce our brand and to educate people about hospice care. This all contributes towards ensuring that we are a sustainable organisation for the future (another key area of our strategy).
Step 2: Demonstrate the future potential of volunteering within your organisation
For us, this included…
Identifying areas of our organisation where volunteers can really add value to the service that we provide to patients and families. This involved coming up with ideas about how we can make the best use of our current volunteer resource, but also committing to work with areas of our organisation who do not currently involve volunteers.
Understanding our current volunteer profile (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, length of service) and the correlation between this and the changing external volunteering environment (e.g. providing flexibility in how people can give their time, potential changes in volunteering motivations and an ageing population). Having the data on our current volunteers helped us to identify future areas of opportunity but also areas of concern that we will need to address to ensure that we remain relevant and sustainable in the future.
Step 3: Consider and challenge your own views of volunteering
In some organisations, volunteers can be quite protected… “Betty is giving her time to Myton, she is already giving us so much, and we couldn’t possibly ask her to fundraise for us too…” This is an attitude that I have come across during my career – we don’t want to ask volunteers to do more for fear of upsetting them.
When building our business case we flipped our thinking on this to consider the future potential of viewing our volunteers as ‘engaged supporters’ of our organisation. We focused on ensuring that volunteers are well managed, supported and have a great volunteering experience with us. By investing in our volunteering infrastructure, the longer term outcome of this will be that we are able to work with our volunteers to extend their support of our organisation (e.g. getting involved in different volunteering opportunities, being participants in our fundraising events, supporting our shops etc.).
A word from Ruth:
“Whilst volunteers don’t have the same contractual obligations as paid members of staff there are many examples where we have seen the commitment being no less than that of paid staff (and in some cases more). We should be looking for volunteer roles in most departments. We should be looking for specialists and be attracting volunteers to specific roles because of their skills and experience and ensuring they have the scope to use them.”
“Senior Leaders within the organisation need to take a serious approach to encouraging and rewarding their teams for achieving successful outcomes relating to working with volunteers. Each success should be celebrated and communicated across the organisation and training & support for managers and those designated to work with volunteers should be on-going.”
Step 4: Demonstrate the return on investment
With any business proposal, it is important that you are able to demonstrate the return on investment. In order to show this for our volunteering function, we used the Volunteer Investment to Value Audit (VIVA) tool which gave us a calculation of the value that volunteers add to our organisation, and the return on our investment into volunteering. For us, the figures were staggering… using this tool, the estimated total value added by volunteers to Myton is over £1.5million, and for every £1 that we invest in volunteering, there is a return of £10.
A word from Ruth:
“In presenting to the Board it was important to focus on the true added value of volunteers and volunteering. Just like many other charities, Myton waxed lyrical about the difference volunteers make to our work without really understanding what the true difference is or what the potential might be. There was (and still is) a reticence from managers to let unpaid staff undertake those specialist tasks traditionally saved for those that are paid. In the proposal we pointed out that this thinking must be challenged because significant opportunities were being lost. We also pointed out that a culture which treats volunteers as ‘nice to have’ must change, but that this could only be achieved with a great deal of hard work across the organisation supported by a team of volunteer development professionals.”
Ruth presented our business case to the Board of Trustees and was successful in securing the investment – we doubled the paid resource within our Volunteering Development Team, including the addition of a significantly more senior role!
Head of Volunteering post – this was a newly created role (that replaced the previous Volunteering Development Manager post within our establishment) that we felt was vital for us to establish volunteering as a strategic priority to support the sustainability of our organisation moving forward. Volunteering now has representation. around the decision making table, which is a huge step forward for us
Volunteering Development Officers (two new posts) – these roles will focus on ensuring that all departments across the organisation have support with developing their volunteering.
Other Top Tips
To help with the development of our business case and to secure support from the wider Senior Leadership Team, we found the following things useful:
Develop an action plan for volunteering
This was the starting point for building our business case, as it provided a clear plan of work that needing carrying out and the potential resourcing implications that delivering on this action plan would have. This action plan has also helped other members of the Senior Leadership Team to understand the volunteering function in more detail.
Get your Board of Trustees and Senior Leadership Team (SLT) involved with volunteering
Don’t forget that your Board of Trustees are volunteers themselves. We have found it really useful to ensure that members of our Board and SLT are present at all of our volunteering events. This has helped to demonstrate the importance of volunteering and the impact that volunteers have across the whole organisation.
Listening to feedback from volunteers
Volunteers come to us from a variety of different backgrounds and with many different skills and experiences. Once you have worked your way through some of the grumbles, there can be some really useful and ideas and feedback brought to you by volunteers.
A word from Ruth:
“My top tip would be to focus on opportunity, potential and the significant return on any investment in volunteering, which can range from cost savings to significantly increased organisational resilience and sustainability.”
Our new Volunteering Development Department structure was implemented in June 2018, timed perfectly to coincide with the start of Volunteers’ Week, and we are still in the process of building our team. I think it is fair to say that we are at the start of our new journey in relation to volunteering, but the investment that we have made into volunteering will help to support the future sustainability of our hospice and to ensure that we are able to respond to the external influences that will affect volunteering in the future.
My Story Continued…
On the 18th May 2018 I was delighted to have been successful in securing the Head of Volunteering role within our new structure. It has taken me years to get to this point, however, I would encourage you to continue to have belief in your vision for volunteering. These things can take time, patience and tenacity. You have control over the way in which you present information to influence others to demonstrate the true value that volunteering can add to your organisation. Working with Ruth gave me the opportunity to demonstrate my leadership skills, and in doing so, my passion for volunteering shone through.
A word from Ruth:
“Charlotte is totally committed to her vision about raising the profile of volunteering at Myton, she is testament to the saying ‘never give up’ because she never did and that tenacity has paid off for her and our organisation.”
I was recently discussing with a friend the complex demands we volunteering professionals find ourselves under, I am sure you will be familiar with some or all of these.
Juggling the various aspects of our day to day roles whilst trying to keep abreast of changing trends
Attempting to meet the many and diverse needs of the volunteers that we support
Finding new, creative and collaborative ways to engage people in our mission
Trying to secure support and/or funding for our work
Like many people outside the profession she was surprised by these insights and genuinely interested to know how I managed to make time for myself, my family, and look after my own wellbeing in the midst of all of this. I confessed that the latter had somewhat lapsed towards the end of last year and that I was aiming to get back on track. I also admitted it is an ongoing challenge for me and many people I know in our area of work.
She smiled knowingly and said what you need to remember is ‘Love thy neighbour’.
No, not the rather cringe worthy 70s sitcom but the second commandment* ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’. I was rather puzzled as to the relevance of her comment so I asked her to explain how this would help. She said very simply, if I am supposed to love my neighbour the same way I love myself, then I need to do a good job of loving me. I need to take good care of myself – eat well, sleep well, exercise, and rest and recharge my batteries when needed. For me, whether you’re religious or not this makes a whole lot of sense.
If I do a rubbish job of loving myself how I can possibly do a good job of loving and looking after others?
We hear a lot in the media about volunteering being a positive force for mental health and wellbeing but less about the challenges for people supporting and leading volunteers in an increasingly complex environment.
There are some enlightened companies that are now enabling their employees to stay healthy and supporting them to move through challenges when they occur. New initiatives include mental health first aiders, adjustments for women experiencing the menopause and more equitable sharing of parental duties, to name but a few.
So whilst we know that volunteer management has an additional layer of emotional complexity, thanks to the University of Leicester researchers and the National Trust, it still feels like the voluntary sector is lagging behind. We may have great awareness and good intentions but it’s the small simple actions on the ground, which can make a huge difference that seem to be missing.
Are we genuinely encouraging a culture where we talk about not just the practical but the emotional demands of the work we do?
Do we talk with colleagues about good self care, maintaining our resilience and making time for this to happen?
Is it ok to admit you are feeling a bit overwhelmed and ask for support, and if you do what response will you get?
Good self-care starts with the individual but if we are consistently working in an environment where eating on the move, skipping breaks, staying late and where going above and beyond is the norm then the underlying message is that self-care isn’t a priority no matter what the policy statement says.
I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I do want to open up the conversation……
What are you doing this year to take care of yourself? – (I‘m learning to Zentangle)
How are you and your team looking out for each other?
What one small thing could your organisation do to support and empower you to love yourself just a little bit more?
In a role that is predominately about supporting others, it’s easy to forget about your own needs.
Managing volunteers can be extremely rewarding, yet it is a complex role with many challenging aspects. Whether you are brand new to it or have years of experience to draw from, there will be times when your resolve is tested and your capacity to deal with people and respond positively to situations becomes depleted. Our workplaces are potentially one of our main sources of stress, as doing more with less becomes the rule rather than the exception.
Leading and managing volunteers is a role that requires energy, vision and commitment and a sense of determination as you are continuously influencing, organising, creating, delivering and problem solving. When it works well -it’s brilliant.
However, this is the kind of work that tends to be more than just a job. It can be something you care deeply about and become emotionally invested in. For some it is a vocation, a profession or a calling; and while this can build you up, it can also make you vulnerable.
You can’t do your best work if you don’t feel at your best
So, how can you manage an increasing workload and still feel at your best? How do we work through uncertainty and continuous change, and manage the constant demands of others? What we need is to explore ways we can become more resourceful, more resilient and more responsive to what’s happening within and around us. Focusing on our wellbeing can help with this.
One definition describes wellbeing as “the condition of being contented, happy or successful”. This is quite a broad explanation and open to interpretation in terms of individual and personal meaning. But maybe that’s the point? These words need further exploration before we can make use of them and apply them to ourselves, and to our individual needs and circumstances.
We would suggest it’s also about giving consideration to how we feel, how we are thinking and how we evaluate what’s happening for us at any time, and what we choose to do about that. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to this.
At 3B we support people to become more resourceful with their wellbeing and to help them find what works for them. We provide tools and strategies for managing ourselves, focusing on reducing and preventing stress and the feeling of overwhelm, rather than waiting until we are almost at breaking point before taking action. What we see happening in workplaces, and what we hear from our clients, is that there is an increased awareness of the importance of wellbeing, both within their personal and their work lives. However, because there is a challenge in defining it, as a result there is a difficulty in prioritising it, making it hard to build it into our every day routine. What we tend to do is hold on until we are feeling completely frazzled and burnt out before addressing our wellbeing needs, meaning that we are frequently on the back-foot and trying to catch up with replenishing our resources.
You owe it to yourself to feel at your best so you can do your best work
The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to help with this.
In order for you to become more resourceful, more resilient and more responsive to your own wellbeing, you need to understand more about you! To reflect on what makes you tick – what motivates you and what drains you. To discover where and how to replenish your energy and identify what you need. To learn about your pressure points and your negative triggers and how to pick yourself up after a set back. To identify strategies for keeping things going for others while making sure you get what you need at the same time. To learn about yourself so you know exactly what resources you need to draw on, and where and how you can get them.
Historically, we have focused more on health and fitness for our bodies, hoping that this will also impact positively on our minds. And while it definitely can, it’s not always guaranteed to have a long lasting effect, and it may not directly address what’s happening for us emotionally and mentally, which in turn can impact upon us physically. Our mind and bodies are interlinked and it’s just as important to focus on our mental wellbeing as it is to work on our physical health.
Make 2019 the year of your wellbeing
Starting a new calendar year can spur us on to address how we approach our wellbeing. Traditionally, it’s a time for setting goals, trying out new routines or making changes within our lives. The tendency however is to aim too big, often resulting in short-lived changes or non-starts, leaving us feeling demotivated and forcing us back into our default settings.
The reason? Usually, it’s because we are placing our focus in the wrong place – outside of ourselves rather than inside.
So, rather than setting big goals for 2019, why not make it a year for simply focusing on your wellbeing and understanding what that means for you? AVM’s Ways to wellbeing and productivity for volunteer managers event on February 21st is dedicated to this theme and can support you to take some important steps towards your own wellbeing.
Take some time out to reconnect with yourself, enabling you to reconnect with your role and your sense of purpose about your work. Get to know yourself better, so you can do more of what feels right for you.
Sue has worked with individuals and organisations locally, regionally and nationally in the UK and overseas, specialising in volunteer management, coaching and facilitation. Together with 3B Co-founder Claire Ross, she delivers workshops, events and 1-1 coaching focusing on wellbeing and resourcefulness – supporting people to expand their possibilities and transform their thinking, enabling more of those lightbulb moments.
Eddy Hogg, Lecturer at the University of Kent’s Centre for Philanthropy, will be speaking about how organisations can best attract young volunteers from a wide range of social backgrounds at AVM’s Volunteering’s impact on the community on 28 November.
I write this during #iWillWeek. A week which celebrates young people and the impact they have on the communities and causes they care about. But do all young people have the same opportunities to volunteer? To make a difference to things that matter to them?
Young volunteering approaches
We know that there is a relationship between social class and volunteering. What we don’t know is at what age and why the engagement gap emerges. We need to.
Government policies and the activities of volunteer managers on the ground often seek to encourage young people to volunteer. Policy is focused on widening participation to include under-represented groups. In recent years, National Citizen Service, which includes a ‘social action project’, has come to dominate central government’s youth work spending.
Getting policy and practice right is important. Investing resources effectively in encouraging young people to volunteer is likely to have an impact long beyond youth and young adulthood. If we want people from all backgrounds – not just more advantaged groups – to be able to access the benefits of volunteering, we need to understand how best to do this. For volunteer managers, knowing where best to focus their efforts to harness both short- and long-term volunteering commitment is invaluable.
Our research findings
Research by me and Rob de Vries finds a clear relationship between socio-economic advantage and volunteering by young people, but one that is far from straightforward. During Key Stage 3, when the role of school as a route into volunteering is strong for all socio-economic groups, we find little difference in engagement between young people from different backgrounds.
The role that schools play in encouraging children to volunteer gets smaller in Key Stages 4 and 5, as exam and other pressures loom larger. At this stage community groups and organisations become more significant as a pathway to engagement and socio-economic differences reappear. This matters. The patterns established at this time persist throughout adulthood.
The role of schools
This makes the role of schools – and the organisations who work with schools – vital. They are the most egalitarian way for volunteer managers and volunteer involving organisations to access a range of young people and encourage them to take part in volunteering opportunities. When this is left to community groups and organisations, we see clear class differences in who engages. This is regardless of the best intentions of volunteer managers.
We therefore argue those who seek to get more young people volunteering should focus their energies on working with schools to access and attract young people. The encouragement and support which eliminates significant socio-economic differences in Key Stage 3 should continue throughout young people’s school careers through to age 18.
Schools, and the volunteer managers and voluntary organisations who work with them, should also think about how they can encourage and support young people to continue volunteering post-18. This may mean community groups and organisations working in partnership with schools and each other to ensure that young people from all backgrounds – not just the most advantaged socio-economic groups – are aware of and feel comfortable in the kinds of organisations that can support a longer-term commitment to volunteering.
I’m delighted to be sharing my expertise at AVM’s November event, where I’ll be discussing how these recommendations can be put into practice. I hope to see you there, Tweet to @beardyeddy.
Does your success hinge on engaging young people or other communities?
Have you got your ticket for the volunteer management event of the year? If not, don’t delay as tickets are selling out fast, and some of the seminars are fully booked.
If you’re still wondering if it’s for you, here are a few reasons why we think you should come to conference!
We have three fantastic keynote speakers:
Tiger de Souza, Director (Volunteering, Participation & Inclusion), National Trust. Tiger will be gazing into his volunteer management crystal ball to talk about Futurology: The UK trends that may impact Volunteering by 2030
Helen Timbrell, People and Organisational Development Consultant. Helen will be discussing how we can get past Groundhog Day, and why our leadership needs to change the conversations we’re having about volunteering.
Chris Jones, CEO, England Athletics. Chris will share how England Athletics have put volunteering at their heart.
We have wide choice of workshops and seminars from sector experts, to suit a wide variety of interests:
Mindfulness and Resilience
Organisational Values and Volunteering
Research partnerships- volunteering and academia working together
Rethinking the Data We Collect
How to have difficult conversations
So you think you want a volunteer management system?
Building confidence for volunteers with support needs
Your peers recommend conference as a great way to learn, develop and build your networks.
Delegates who attended last year’s conference said:
“Really great keynote speakers, individually and good variety across them. Great to have peers in the sector sharing learning in workshops. Always good to hear what others are up to and have a chance to discuss challenges candidly and support each other”
“Workshop sessions where we could share ideas and experiences. Friendliness of organisers. Interesting final keynote speaker”
“Networking was great, standard of speakers was high, I felt stretched by the discussions”
“Networking, exchanging ideas, free range to think outside the box – not always possible in a work context!”
AVM’s annual conference is the industry leading event, bringing together Heads of Volunteering, Directors of Volunteering and Volunteer Managers from the broadest spectrum of volunteer organisations.
Sarah Merrington is Senior Development Manager for CIPD (the professional body for HR), recruiting HR professionals as volunteers to support job seekers and those who want to develop in their careers, and an AVM Volunteer.
Even though I have worked in volunteer management for some time, and for several organisations, there is always one thing that has both challenged and impressed me. Local groups of volunteers running community activities for local people. It warms my heart and fills me with hope, to see people giving back to others by running activities that their friends, family, colleagues and community can get involved in.
As someone who has always sung in local choirs or played sport I have definitely benefitted from these great local ‘group’ volunteers – the ones who love the activity or the cause so much they organise things so others can feel the same.
I’ve been there, as a treasurer and an events lead for local groups near me. But now as a volunteering professional it is certainly an area which I struggle to get my head round.
Community volunteers in leadership roles for their local group are a key area of volunteering for many charities and organisations. But how people want to volunteer is changing. Modern-day lifestyles can be challenging for people to find time to get more involved. People tend to move in and out of volunteering rather than wanting to volunteer consistently for an extended period.
So it is increasingly difficult to recruit into traditional committee-based volunteering roles, which can be perceived as too time-consuming, dry or old fashioned. It seems as though many people want to be out there “doing the doing” rather than planning the organisation and undertaking governance to make the “doing” possible.
In my experience, the main difficulties appear to be finding people to make the commitment, finding younger people and attracting diverse volunteers who better represent the community. In particular, by being unable to recruit younger members, committees remain heavily reliant on an ageing army of volunteers, hugely committed but with little opportunity for fresh ideas or succession planning.
Of course, I am generalising and there also many young, diverse and committed volunteers out there running activities for their community. But they are not attracted to the roles or organisations that I have been working for. And we need to change ourselves and our structures to encourage them to do so.
I have also found that there are issues relating to group structures where volunteers have been engaged for a long time and doing things in a certain way for often many years. There are challenges with encouraging innovation and change and driving different ways of working such as implementing new processes and systems.
How we do keep them engaged, keep them on message and remain compliant with up to date processes and procedures? How do we do this whilst also ensuring their organisational roles are interesting, simple, rewarding and empowering?
Having battled with this for a while and consistently meeting volunteering colleagues in other organisations who feel the same, it was time to do something about it.
On 2 October, AVM supported by Sport England, will be running a workshop for anyone battling with this topic or with practical ideas and ways of solving some of these issues. This is a new networking session, but it won’t provide you with all the answers. It aims to bring us all together to share ideas, solutions and work out how, as volunteering professionals, we can move forward this common, rewarding but challenging topic.
I am excited about the speakers who bring with them a wealth of knowledge in volunteer governance, new ideas on ways local groups can run themselves and good practice in consulting, managing and communicating with local group volunteers.
But primarily it is a chance to network and share experiences with others in similar positions and help move forward conversation in this area together, rather than tackling it individually.
Please join us to engage in this debate, wearing your optimistic, solution-focused shoes!
Sarah has over 18 years experience in project, event and volunteer management with her main area of expertise is in managing and delivering projects that promote and engage people in positive health and environmental behaviours. The majority of these have been established to increase communities’ physical activity levels and to improve nutritional habits. She has developed programmes across a range of different settings and population groups within local communities, schools and youth groups, workplaces, general practice and higher education. Volunteers have always been at the heart of her programmes, whether student representatives running sports clubs in universities, community volunteers and activists driving forward local change or members of an organisation looking to give back to their sector. Over the last year she supported Cycling UK to write their new 5-year volunteering strategy and ensure that volunteers were central to their organisation. She is now Senior Development Manager leading on mentoring for CIPD (the professional body for HR), recruiting HR professionals as volunteers to support job seekers and those who want to develop in their careers.
Laura Elson is a freelance consultant and a self-confessed volunteering geek. Currently consulting with England Netball and First Tech Challenge UK, Laura has been working in the volunteering sector for 15 years, and is a member of AVM.
I met a brilliant colleague of mine for coffee last week and straight away I could tell something was on her mind. It turned out she was preparing for an incredibly difficult conversation with a volunteer. She’d already taken three or four days to prep, sought advice and still was absolutely dreading it. After 15 years working with volunteers and volunteer managers it’s absolutely still the bit of my job I find the hardest. Lucky for me I’d just been to an AVM event and had some fantastic new tips to share with her!
Volunteers are passionate people determined to make an impact on causes they love. And as volunteer managers we are passionate about volunteers, doing everything we can to support them to feel they are making a difference. As that vital link between organisations and volunteers it often falls to us to have those difficult conversations. And for a group of self-confessed people pleasers it’s really, really tough.
So, it’s no wonder that this event on a hot Tuesday in London was packed with over 50 people looking to learn more. AVM has grown massively since I first joined about ten years ago and it was great to meet and learn from amazing people with one thing in common – we all dread those difficult chats.
Kicking off the day Mandy Rutter gave a fascinating talk and workshop. As a psychologist and consultant specialising in the neuroscience of emotion and conflict Mandy talked us through the science of emotions. When we feel stressed our natural fight or flight response can drag us back into the primitive parts of our brains. She suggests breathing deeply, asking questions, using positive psychology and managing your stress well to boost resilience and stay in the logical parts of our brains.
Next was the ever brilliant Kathryn Palmer-Skillings, London Volunteer Services Manager at Macmillan who shared their approach to volunteer programme design and supporting volunteer managers through challenging situations. Firm boundaries, short volunteer placement periods with a fixed end date, peer support, training and 24 counselling access are built into the project design. This ensures volunteers are supported emotionally from the offset, rather than waiting for a difficult day. Kathryn reminded us being honest and human about what you’re feeling with those around you is powerful and necessary.
Adam Williams from St John Ambulance talked us through their fantastic, bespoke training on handling difficult messages for volunteer managers. The St John approach was simple, well researched and effective. His advice is to prepare, choose the right setting and keep your message ABC (accurate, brief and clear).
Debbie Usiskin and Gilly Fisher from North London Hospice closed the day with a wonderful session and workshop exploring emotional resilience. Increasingly research is exploring the idea that volunteering is a form of emotional labour. One of the most useful takeaways from this session was a kind of self-care bingo asking how frequently we had gone for a walk, taken time for ourselves or made sure we ate regular healthy meals. A quick glance around the room showed that we’re not very good at this. Would these conversations be any easier if we were taking good care of ourselves as well as our volunteers?
Over the years if there’s one thing I’ve picked up it’s s that the best way to handle tricky conversations is to listen to your volunteers when designing projects at the start. At Parkinson’s UK we ensured that all our roles were clear, provided a comprehensive online induction and a brilliant problem-solving policy. At England Netball, we’re about to launch an innovative new strategy that will build a movement to empower women, based on our volunteers’ motivations, preferences and need to achieve not what we need to deploy them to deliver.
Volunteering is emotional and so we can never avoid these conversations altogether but after attending this brilliant #AVMLearn event I feel a lot more confident to manage those tricky conversations with compassion and logic.
I saw my colleague again this week and she was much happier – the learning from the day had been really useful. So the next time you have to have one of those chats do apply some of these ideas and although I’m not promising it won’t still be tough, it might not be as quite as tough as you think.
AVM members can view videos from previous events once logged into their AVM account. Watch event videos.
Laura Elson is a freelance consultant and a self-confessed volunteering geek. Currently consulting with England Netball and First Tech Challenge UK, Laura has been working in the volunteering sector for 15 years. She designed and scaled up prison based volunteer centres with NCVO, Nesta and Volunteer Centre Leeds, and has led on volunteering at Parkinson’s UK, England Netball and a wide range of charities. She gained qualifications in governance, voluntary sector management and an MSc in Non Profit Marketing from the Centre for Charity Effectiveness where her final project focused on revolutionizing volunteer recruitment techniques. Laura is a member of the Association of Volunteer Managers and the Institute of Fundraising and supports organisations with volunteering strategy and infrastructure, good governance and writing successful funding bids. When she’s not working or volunteering you can find her on a netball court.