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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Launching CHAS Connect – volunteer alumni

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Managing Volunteers: Free and Easy?


Screenshot of BBC Radio 4 In Business: Managing Volunteers episode

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

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

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

— Sally Seddon (@sallyseddonSI) August 30, 2019

Overall however this was a welcome overview.

Here are the programme highlights:

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

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

    — NCVO Volunteering (@NCVOvolunteers) August 29, 2019

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

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

    — Shaun Delaney (@shaundelaney) August 29, 2019

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

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

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


Listen again

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

Announcing Be More Pirate’s Alex Barker as our conference keynote speaker

AVM is pleased to announce Alex Barker, Right Hand Pirate to Pirate Captain Sam Conniff Allende, author of the book ‘Be More Pirate‘, as our keynote speaker for this year’s conference! 

Alex will be launching our conference with an interactive session, to get us thinking about how we, as leaders of volunteering, can take on the world – or at the very least, our organisations – and win! Alex will also be staying the whole day, as she will be joining the panel for the afternoon surgery session, so get thinking about what you want to ask Alex on the day. 

We will also have Karl Wilding, early into his tenure as the new Chief Executive of NCVO, in conversation with AVM Chair, Ruth Leonard, in the afternoon. Ruth will be asking Karl about his thoughts on volunteering, volunteer management and the place of civil society within the changing world.

To join Alex, all our brilliant speakers, and over 200 of your peers, book your ticket to THE premier event for volunteer managers, leaders and heads of volunteering today.

If you can’t wait to hear from Alex, join us 19 September, from 7:30pm, for our Twitter bookclub #LoVolsBookClub, where we’ll be discussing ‘Be More Pirate’.

AVM Conference 2019 tickets are live

We might be biased, but the AVM conference is always a – if not THE – highlight of our year. So we’re really pleased to let you know that you can get your early-bird tickets for #AVM2019 now!

We’re really excited to tell you that this year we will have a conversation with Karl Wilding, the new Chief Executive of NCVO. AVM Chair, Ruth Leonard will be asking Karl about his thoughts on volunteering, volunteer management and the place of civil society within the changing world. Karl will start his new role mid-September, and we’re so pleased that he has committed to speaking at our annual conference so soon into his new role.

Our members tell us that AVM conference is the premier event for volunteer managers, leaders and heads of volunteering. Each year conference creates the kind of buzz that will only get with 250 people who are passionate and proactive about volunteer management in the same place.

Each year we select a varied range of speakers, who are at the forefront of volunteer management and thought leadership, to offer you a mix of inspiring keynote speakers, workshops on a variety of themes, and, for the second year running, the Volunteer Managers’ Advice Surgery.

Not to mention, there will be loads of opportunities for you to network and chat to other leaders of volunteering from across a variety of sectors and organisations, and make new connections throughout the day.

Early-bird prices are available for the first 50 members booking, so don’t delay, book your ticket today!

You can see the full agenda, venue details, and book your ticket to #AVM2019 on our website.

Appointment of Head of Business Development

I am pleased to be able to announce the appointment of Jo Gibney to AVM’s first strategic level staff role, Head of Business Development, starting 1st August 2019.

Last year we launched our strategic vision, of connecting leaders of volunteering to make change happen together. In order to do that we realised it was time to develop the fulltime support necessary for ensuring that we can continue to engage with our members and be here to meet the changing needs of the profession.

This means creating a robust business model and effective infrastructure to ensure the essential operational work can continue alongside the strategic future development.

Jo has been a member of the board for nearly two years, where she led on communications and also helped to cement key partnerships. Her background in volunteer management gives her clear understanding in the needs of our members and this is augmented by her knowledge of membership organisations and operational management of events, planning and stakeholder engagement.

I’m looking forward to working with Jo more closely to position AVM for future growth and development, as we enter our teenager years – and to be able to continue to work with our members and partners in order to make our vision a reality.

Ruth
Ruth Leonard
Chair of Association of Volunteer Managers

Notes for Editors

The Association of Volunteer Managers is an independent membership body that supports, represents and champions people in volunteer management in the UK regardless of field, discipline or sector. 

We were launched on 5th June 2007.

Our income comes from membership fees and ticket sales which we invest back into our work directly supporting those in volunteer management.

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

When I first saw the email advertising the ‘Risk Factor’ event, the subject line, ‘⚠ Can you manage risk and flexible volunteering at the same time? ⚠’, asked a question that I had been grappling with for months. I didn’t hesitate in booking, despite the minor consideration of an 800 mile round trip!

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

We’re not alone in this balancing act

Like many organisations, we are investigating how best to respond to volunteers’ increasing demand for more flexible or episodic volunteering. I suspect Shelter Scotland are not alone in finding it difficult to balance our formalised risk and safeguarding procedures with more informal volunteering. We’re reviewing our flexible role to make it more inclusive and volunteer led, but it’s proving difficult to ensure that such a flexible commitment is sustainable when we need to invest so much time in recruitment and training. It’s a bit of a catch 22!

As such, I was really looking forward to the event on the 21st May. I didn’t flinch when my alarm went off at 5.45am for my 7.30 train from Edinburgh to London, and even the 1.5 hour delay to my train didn’t dampen my spirits!


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

A sustainable flow of volunteers

I rushed in the door with two minutes to spare, having gulped down a bag of roasted peanuts and an apple for my lunch, and immediately got into the networking with other lovely volunteer managers. The event started soon afterwards, and we were introduced to Helen Johnston from the Thames Discovery Programme. Her presentation was really interesting, and definitely gave me lots of food for thought. She has about 750 volunteers who support archaeological exploration on the banks of the Thames in a really flexible model for participation.

I was interested to hear how they are able to keep the model sustainable given that it is such a skilled role with no minimum commitment required. This is likely, in part, because they charge for training, but also because they have a very pragmatic approach to risk. Indeed, she told the story of her volunteers who successfully dealt with finding an unexploded World War II bomb, without the need for her involvement.

As well as providing in depth training, they have developed a culture of safety by holding briefings at the start of each session and placing a lot of trust in their volunteers to make sensible judgements about risks they encounter. I think this emphasis on trust in volunteers is perhaps something that all of us large national organisations could learn from.

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

Risk versus objective reward

Secondly, Daniel Ingram from AVM led a discussion about risk appetite. My key takeaway point from this was that risk should not be assessed in isolation, but rather in line with the impact they would make in helping us achieve our objectives. If the activity is likely to be of significant benefit, perhaps it is worth the risk?

Next up, Catherine Bartlett from NCT told us about a volunteer led project with significant risks but also significant positive impact. Yet again, we were hearing about the balance between potential risk and actual benefits. Catherine, as a former barrister, highlighted the need to really take time to evaluate and understand your risks. Building detailed evidence to support your assessments will help to instil trust with colleagues and reassure the most risk averse!

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

Because you’re worth it

My trip to London for the AVM Risk Factor event was definitely worth the risk! It gave me lots of food for thought regarding our approach to risk in Shelter Scotland, and highlighted to me the value of two quite different approaches. I also had a far less eventful journey home too – Netflix, Pinot Grigio, chocolate raisins and six pages of notes to ponder!

Sarah Latto is the Volunteer Development Manager for Shelter Scotland and Co-Chair of the Scottish Volunteering Forum

Learn more. Our upcoming events can help your professional development and boost your volunteer management career 📈

I didn’t expect to learn this about influencing change

It’s really important to me that the value of volunteers is recognised across
The Brain Tumour Charity, and that both volunteers and the staff who support them have a great experience.

Within my relatively short time in post, I’ve learnt that positive change often requires support for volunteer engagement across teams and at all levels. So when I spotted an email about an upcoming AVM event focusing on ‘successfully influencing change’, it got my attention.

At the event we heard from Charlotte Witteridge, Head of Volunteering at The Myton Hospices and Clare Burgess, CEO of Surrey Coalition of Disabled People. Both shared the way they had wielded influence in order to embed volunteering more deeply in the culture of their organisations.

For them, building a case for support and thinking strategically about the changes that were needed was really important. But even more crucial was their ability to bring people along on that journey. Below I’ve parceled their advice on doing just that into three top tips:

  1. Be reliable and interested
  2. Focus on the things you can change
  3. Know your allies

1. Be reliable and interested

1Doing what you say you’ll do (which includes saying no), and making a point to learn something new outside of your work remit each day, will engender trust among key stakeholders. By building your personal brand, people are more likely to believe in your ideas and in your ability to make those ideas a success.

2. Focus on the things you can change

Don’t spend time focusing on your ‘circle of concern’ – the things which challenge you but you can’t do anything about. Instead, think proactively about your ‘circle of influence’. If you do this you’ll become more effective at making change and increase what you’re able to influence.

3. Know your allies

Work out who it is you need to influence, and how you can get on their radar. This isn’t always about targeting those who hold important job titles. By building strong connections across and outside of your organisation you may identify people who can break down a barrier for you.

To get decision-makers on side, think about how each person needs information delivered to them. Some people are most interested in facts, some finances and some in stories.

I came away from the event with lots to think about, some action points and overall feeling more confident about influencing within my organisation. But having had a bit of time to reflect, my main learning from the day was perhaps a more surprising one.

I didn’t expect to learn this

I know that I’m not alone in finding conferences and events like these a daunting prospect. Part of the reason, I think, is that many of us feel that we have little of value to share. Day-to-day, we’re not doing anything radical or out of the ordinary.

We (volunteer managers) are quick to be self-critical and to focus on the areas that aren’t going right, but I learnt something valuable from everyone I spoke to at the event. During group discussions, people shared lessons learnt through experience – lessons that will undoubtedly save others time and heartache in the future.

My key takeaway

By sharing what your organisation is doing well at events like these, it encourages others to take small steps to improve their practice, which will in turn improve the experience for volunteers in their organisation. And our willingness to speak about these positive things, with colleagues, with other volunteer managers, or with potential volunteers, will make us better influencers too.

Most of the positive, proactive changes that you’ll make during your time as a volunteer manager will not be brand new concepts, but that doesn’t make them uninteresting, or less valid. What you see as your bread and butter, the areas where your organisation is succeeding, are probably the very same areas that others are struggling to crack.

We should shout about these positive things more. I know I certainly will.


Amie is the Volunteer Development Manager for The Brain Tumour Charity.

Learn more. Our upcoming events can help your professional development and boost your volunteer management career 📈

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

At AVM’s Risk factor event Helen Johnston will be sharing how she established a flexible volunteering model while successfully managing the risks that archaeological fieldwork can dig up.

It’s Crimbo Limbo, the gap between Christmas and New Year, I’m on the sofa under a blanket, contemplating another rummage through the Quality Street tin to see if there’s any of the good ones left, idly scrolling through Facebook. And then, there it is, one of my worst-case scenarios: a photo of one of our volunteers flanked by two police officers (all smiling thankfully!), and the next one, a close-up of what looks like a rusty bit of scaffolding pole. I know immediately what it is and why the police are involved; it’s unexploded ordnance, left over from one of the World War bombing campaigns. Chocolate forgotten, I shake off my sofa-haze to find out what’s happened and make sure everyone’s safe.


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

At Thames Discovery Programme, we run a flexible volunteering programme to monitor and record vulnerable archaeology on the Thames’ foreshore, the area which is revealed at low tide. As well as running fieldwork coordinated centrally, we have groups of volunteers who organise themselves to regularly monitor particular sites on the river. But the foreshore is not a safe environment, and there are many risks that need to be considered when working there.

On that lazy Saturday afternoon, a couple of our volunteers decides to make a last-minute visit to Fulham, the site of an ancient river crossing, to check on the interesting prehistoric archaeology there which is under threat from erosion. It’s matchday, and fans are streaming through the nearby park for a Fulham Palace home game. As the tide begins to come in, the volunteers are making their way back to the steps when they notice something that, thanks to their training, they immediately recognise as potentially an unexploded bomb.

Unexploded ordnance is not an uncommon find on the Thames; London was heavily bombed in World War 1 and World War 2, and the river wall was deliberately targeted to try to flood the city. At Thames Discovery Programme we come across possible ordnance every year or two, and so our volunteer training includes what to do if you find a bomb.


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

In this case our volunteers do all the right things, they leave it where they found it, call the Police and move away from the area. When the Police arrive, there’s a bit of discussion about whether it’s a rusty aerosol can before they make the decision to call in the bomb squad. The river is cordoned off, the last of the football fans are kept out of the area, and the device, which is identified as a WW1 incendiary bomb, is safely removed to be disposed of somewhere a long way away. By the time I find out about the incident on Facebook that evening, it’s all over, and everyone involved is back home. I check in with the volunteers over email to make sure they’re all ok, finding things like this can be unnerving. They were fine and they’d already sent us a full account of what happened, including pictures!

Even if your risk assessment doesn’t need to consider possible explosions, managing volunteers remotely and flexibly is not without risks. On 21 May in London, I’m going to discuss how we’ve developed our flexible volunteering model at Thames Discovery Programme when there’s a risk we’ll dig up bombs. Join me at AVM’s Risk factor: flexible volunteering and risk management event and join the discussion at #AVMRisk.

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

Gaining buy-in for your volunteering programme by working with your CEO

Charlotte Witteridge will be sharing the lessons she’s learnt on influencing change at AVM’s In 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.

Charlotte leads The Myton Hospices’ volunteering programme with over 10 years’ experience in public services and end of life care.

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.

My Story…

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.

The Reality

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.”

Our Outcomes

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.”

The Future

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.”

Join the discussion at #AVMChange and come along and learn more at our In volunteers we trust event.

This blog first appeared on https://robjacksonconsulting.wordpress.com/