An Updated Open Letter to Senior Managers and Boards of Volunteer Involving and Deploying Organisations in all Sectors

Last year a coalition of infrastructure bodies, including AVM, wrote an open letter to senior leaders which we launched at our event on the future of volunteer management during volunteers week. To reflect some of the activity which has happened over the pandemic we have refreshed this letter and are issuing it today as Volunteers Week 2021 comes to an end.

The contribution of people giving their time and sharing their assets within their communities has been a source of positivity and optimism through the pandemic; and we want to ensure that this can be enabled and highlighted as we move forward. Taking the learning from some of the great initiatives – including how to recognise when infrastructure needs to be kept at a minimum – is something which Volunteer Managers are well placed to do, and AVM supports the call to ensure that Leaders of Volunteering have a place at the decision making table within their organisations, to help them become sustainable for the future,  through thinking in new ways

Please lets keep this conversation going and use this as an opportunity to genuinely and meaningfully recognise and celebrate what can be achieved through volunteering.

Ruth

Download the letter


Ruth Leonard is Chair of AVM, and Head of Volunteering Development at Macmillan Cancer Support.

Connecting leaders of volunteering to make change happen together

Ruth Leonard, Chair of AVM, explain’s AVM’s new vision and strategy.

Empowering people to make a difference in their local communities and bring about change using their skills and assets – this is why I have always been passionate about volunteer management. To effectively facilitate and support initiatives and enable people to contribute effectively we must develop and provide the right structure. This includes well-trained and well-supported volunteer managers .

We are all familiar with the well-deserved accolade of volunteers to our organisation and the wider sector. We know that volunteers can only offer the greatest value and to ensure equity is offered to everyone who wants to give time to us when volunteer managers are working most effectively. Volunteer Managers matter as well. This sums up the ultimate aim of AVM.

Your board has prioritised developing AVM’s new strategy. I was immensely proud to launch it at our recent Annual General Meeting.

Our work began in October 2017 with an away day facilitated by Martin Farrell. Together we explored AVM’s beginnings, the experience of board members and the history of volunteer management as a profession. This demonstrated both the breadth of experience in the room and the powerful recognition that as a board we needed to do more for our members.

We identified three key themes requiring our concentration and focus:

1. Offer
  • Holding events outside London. This echoed our International Volunteer Managers Day 2017 survey. We achieved this in 2018, holding events in Bristol, Manchester and Stirling
  • Mentoring – this scheme is due to be launched early 2019, and will fulfil a very longstanding ambition of AVM
  • Extending our online outreach. Our L&D events are filmed and available to members on our website. We want to further extend our online presence
2. Members:
  • Our members must feel that AVM is their association. We are therefore developing opportunities to allow members to shape AVM
  • We need to better understand what our members require from us. The International Volunteer Managers Day 2017 was just the start of this feedback exercise. The 2018 survey will build on this.
  • We also need to know why some volunteer managers have not become members and address any gaps or barriers.
3. External
  • We will develop partnerships and networks across the sectors so that members are better supported and we can ensure the voice of volunteering is heard.

Our next step was introspective. We examined the context we were operating in. We reviewed our business model, our governance and organisational structure. We considered our achievements and the products and services we offer.

We recognised the need to create sub committees to support the operational elements of AVM. We already had successful conference and events committees but needed more. We’ve created a Business Development Committee and task and finish groups for specific projects including the mentoring scheme.

Our thoughts then turned to the future. We needed to articulate AVM’s core elements and ensure we continued to be relevant for our members over the coming years.

We spent time describing our vision of where AVM should be in 5 and 10 years. This was deliberately aspirational. Responses were both concrete and tangible, and also anarchic and controversial. The picture illustrates one board member’s wish that volunteer management had been something offered as a career when she was at school – and our desire that one day it will be.

We created several options describing our desired future which we then asked our membership to comment on and shape. The 120 responses received clearly demonstrated the interest people had in this conversation – and showed us gaps in the general understanding of AVM’s purpose.

A further and crucial project was to agree the activities necessary for AVM to achieve its vision. We created a MOSCoW grid – activities we Must, Should, Could and Wouldn’t be doing. This has proven invaluable in prioritising our work plan and provided a focus for our energy. I have been laughed at for whipping it out at every opportunity– but am incredibly proud of what we have created together!

The vision launched at our 2018 conference is: Connecting leaders of volunteering to make change happen together

And our accompanying mission statement:
Our mission is to inspire and empower leaders of volunteering.
We are a recognised community of leaders of volunteers, sharing expertise and support. 
We build this through the provision of engagement, resources and advocacy.

The key goals to achieve AVM’s vision and mission are:

  • Developing and growing our offer
  • Building participation and increased relevance to members
  • Developing as a profession
  • Representation and advocacy

It was also important to us that we identified the strategic enablers to complement our goals,

Communicating – We shall develop an effective 2 way communication mechanism for our members including updating our website and digital platforms

Partnerships – We recognise that AVM doesn’t exist in a vacuum and are keen to develop collaborative partnerships and networks across the sectors

Supporting decision making – Developing influencing up tools as advocacy support for volunteer managers advancing their cause in their workplaces

Collaborating with our members – Ensure increased opportunities to become further involved and also volunteer

Evidence based – Develop measurement tools and key performance indicators including for management information purposes

Future-focussed – Develop thought leadership around the future of volunteer management in order to future proof the profession

AVM is developing into a dynamic organisation with its members at its heart. I’d like to take this opportunity to encourage you to become more involved.

Volunteer managers, which for us means anyone who works with volunteers, need to develop their skills and confidence; and AVM exists to support this . We owe it to our volunteers – giving their time, energy and experience – to make this gift as effective as possible. Volunteer management is the platform that enables people giving their time to be engaged, supported and motivated. Ensuring that volunteer management is recognised as a skill and a valued profession is essential for volunteers to continue to flourish and indeed volunteering.

Ruth Leonard is Chair of AVM, and Head of Volunteering Development at Macmillan Cancer Support.

Volunteer Management In The Next Decade

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

Ten Ten Ten: How Does The Next Decade Look For Volunteering

Continuing our series of blogs celebrating AVM’s tenth anniversary, Joe Saxton offers his ‘top ten’ of how volunteering will change in the next decade.
AVM is ten years old. It’s a huge achievement for any start-up organisation to get this far. Much has changed in the world of volunteering in the last ten years, but the need for AVM is greater than ever. The world of volunteering will go on changing over the next 10 years. So here are my 10 predictions for how volunteering will change, what the best volunteer managers will be doing, and how AVM will need to react.
1. The potential for volunteering will go on growing. Whether its volunteers in schools, welcoming refugees, campaigning against government cuts, or helping neighbours, we haven’t begun to reach saturation in the ways that volunteering can change society.
2. Baby boomers are going to hit peak volunteering potential. The generation born in the years 1946-1964 are just hitting retirement in volume and the potential for them to volunteer is huge. But they need to be treated right.
3. With a little help from charities, youth volunteering will mature to help young people move seamlessly into volunteering during their working lives. Volunteers are for life, not just for young people.
4. Volunteer managers will have specialisms just like fundraisers do. There are over 15 types of fundraising expertise. Expect volunteering management to become more and more specialist as it matures, just as fundraising has.
5. Supporter-centred management will be where the best volunteer managers steal a march on competitors. We already see fundraising and communications and marketing working much more closely together. The best organisations will look at how supporters want to engage and manage their needs holistically whether they want to give, volunteer, campaign or use services.
6. We still don’t know how to encourage neighbourliness or manage it or see it as part of volunteering nearly enough. As much as we want people to volunteer in charity shops and more formal ways, we want people to give time to neighbourhood. This is an example of the specialisms that are needed (see point 4).
7. The most far-sighted charities will invest in volunteer recruitment the way they do donor recruitment. Typically they may invest several hundred pounds in donor recruitment and the total budget may amount to millions of pounds in the biggest charities. I wonder how many volunteer managers even have a recruitment budget.
8. Intertwining specific audiences by demographics (eg working parents) and product (eg micro-volunteering) will be the breakfast of volunteering champions. In other words, the best organisations will understand exactly who their volunteers are, or could be, and create the volunteering products to encourage, entice and engage them ever more into giving their time.
9. AVM needs to gear up to change to make the most of volunteering. A decade after launch it still has just one member of staff (while CharityComms launched at the same time has nearly 10 staff). AVM needs to grasp the potential of the years ahead with passion, energy and enthusiasm.
10. And one of the ways that AVM can make the most of its potential is a name change. Its current name is like a millstone round its neck, partly because the name is usually shortened, and partly because it isn’t just ‘volunteer managers’ who do volunteer management. It can be people with a bundle of responsibilities. AVM as a name ghettoises the organisation and holds it back.
This guest blog is by Joe Saxton, Driver of Ideas at nfpSynergy and its founder. Joe co-founded and chaired CharityComms, and has been chair of the Institute of Fundraising and People & Planet. Joe blogs in a personal capacity.

Ten Years of Championing Volunteer Management

Ten years ago today, a group of volunteer managers launched a body that aimed to champion the role of the volunteer manager in building a thriving volunteer involving organisation. Inspired by the desire to bring people together to network and share best practice, as well as demonstrate the impact of volunteer management, AVM was born.
I was one of those people.

My personal starting point in this journey was being at a meeting of the National Volunteer Managers Forum and thinking ‘what’s so special about managing volunteers – they’re just people?’
I’ve now come full circle and have realised how complex managing volunteers is. I’ve realised that people bring themselves to volunteering in a way that’s very different from their job. When ‘just doing a job’ a person will offer one side of themselves, but when volunteering they bring their full self.
What this means is that people managing volunteers need to learn how to read people and go through that process. When bringing their full selves to the party, people will bring an emotional history which makes a real difference in the way they can behave. Volunteer managers can sometimes find that a challenge. We need to be able to demonstrate respect for a volunteer’s experience, whilst also ensuring volunteers recognise the boundaries in their role – it’s a real juggling act.
For organisations providing services it may be difficult to remember that colleagues and volunteers may also be – or have been – service users. In fact this is very likely for volunteers.
Volunteers can help bridge the gap between service users and the wider organisation, helping overcome the feeling of ‘us and them’. Volunteers bring in the experience and emotional history, which may be too painful for staff to deal with.
Having been there at the beginning, I wanted to bring these perspectives and learnings to a wider audience, to find peers to share them with and talk about them.
I am proud that we have developed and grown this voice, and this space to share it, and have a mature, dedicated organisation a decade later.
These ten years have represented a great deal of effort, but I hope you’ll agree that, today, AVM provides the information, support and sharing that ensures volunteer managers can effectively enable volunteers to share their skills in a way that gives the most impact.
To all of you that have come with us on this journey, for however long, thank you for bringing out the magic of volunteering.

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Debbie Usiskin is Chair of the Association of Volunteer Managers .

AVM Hires First Employee To Grow Events Programme

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