Moving to action – addressing inclusion and diversity in volunteering

In our latest AVM Bitesize, we chat with Dr Helen Timbrell and Hadji Singh about Helen’s recent research: “What the bloody hell are you doing here?” A comparative study of the experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic and White volunteers in four organisations

Improving the diversity of our volunteers and creating more inclusive, welcoming environments is top of the wish list for many volunteer managers. But how do we actually do this? How do we move from knowing there’s an issue around the lack of diversity in volunteering, as established frequently and most recently in NCVO’s Time Well Spent Report, to moving to purposeful action?

Focusing on experiences 

“Some White volunteers were simply unable to conceive that the experience of a volunteer could be impacted by ethnicity or that their own experience would not be shared by others of a different ethnicity.” (report extract, page 16)

To move to a place of sustained, purposeful action we need to understand more about the actual experiences of volunteers within organisations. What is actually going on for people? Knowing this helps us to clarify where things are going well, so we can do more of that, and where things are tricky, so we can invest in targeted improvements. ‘What the bloody hell are you doing here?’, Dr Helen Timbrell’s recent research, which compares the experiences of BAME volunteers and White volunteers in four organisations, does exactly that.

In our latest AVM BiteSize, which we’re making available to all, we chat with Helen, and Hadji Singh, about the research. Hadji is a volunteer with the Witness Service at Citizens Advice, one of the organisations who participated in the research. To get a copy of the report, do email Helen at [email protected].

Where next?

“Organisations need clear strategies for their work on equality, diversity and inclusion….those strategies must specifically focus on the role volunteering, volunteer managers and volunteers play in creating inclusive organisations”  (report extract, page 35)

Have a listen or read the BiteSize transcript, and/or read the report and then let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

This is important work helping all those involving volunteers to better understand where we could make a difference to developing an inclusive environment for BAME volunteers to feel they have a place and a voice.

At AVM we are acutely aware of the lack of visible diversity at our events and from those on behalf of our members and would value the opportunity to address this. From a practising volunteer manager’s point of view, we do try to ask what we are doing that’s adding to the problem, and this is an important question for the profession to grapple with – where is volunteer management itself getting in the way?

This is a scary question but with an open mind and an assumption of positive intent (if sometimes unintentionally clumsy practise), we believe we could begin to work in a more inclusive way where those who are seldom heard from can have a voice. This is, after all, the power and strength of volunteering.

There is an obvious role for organisational leaders to create the environment for honest dialogue and reflection, and to introduce measures that drive results. As Helen talks about in the BiteSize, there is also a clear need for us, as volunteer managers, to build our own knowledge and skills around diversity and inclusion, in order to then support volunteers.

At the same time, as Hadji says, there is also a real fear of getting it wrong. Learning through doing is crucial here, and feeling a bit scared is usually a positive sign that you’re learning something new, but if people are too scared, and lack support, that’s not going to help.  So how might we, as a community of volunteer managers, support each other on our journey to develop purposeful inclusive practices that make a meaningful difference? As the report highlights, to be successful this will need to be focused on action, not just more discussion!  If you’re interested in joining in this important work please do get in touch [email protected].

BiteSize with Helen Timbrell and Hadji Singh

The Diversity and Inclusion Groundhog Day…

There has been much talk about diversity and inclusion in the third sector and recently a lot of conferences and workshops and yet it seems we are still way behind the corporate world in both investment and results. A brilliant, honest observation and challenge made by Dr Helen Timbrell at the recent AVM ‘Walk this way: diversity in volunteering’ conference.

The thing that made this conference different was the invite list. AVM and AVECO worked together with their sponsors (Jump, Sport England, National Trust and Cancer Research UK) to invite both CEOs and Heads of Volunteering from charities, to come along together to think and talk about the way forwards. Matt Hyde our CEO at The Scouts and I attended, along with one of our Senior Volunteers Kester Sharpe (Deputy UK Chief Commissioner), knowing that although we were already planning on investing in this area there was still much to discuss and learn… and we certainly weren’t disappointed.

A packed agenda covering recent research, the opportunities and challenges from different organisations perspectives around the importance of leadership and investment meant there really was something of value for all shapes and sizes of charity.

As well as an inspiring start to the day led by Gus O’Donnell who highlighted the importance of the impact of wellbeing in communities as a measure there were many other ‘takeaways’ … A few of mine…

The socio economic bias

This is an area particularly important to us at The Scouts, as we embark on work to extend our reach and attract volunteers and young people from under-represented communities, was the research presented by Will Watt, from Jump Projects. Will gave a passionate and pragmatic summary of their research on in this area ‘A Bit Rich’. This really made the audience consider how volunteering is biased towards higher socio economic groups and the different motivations and barriers for different minority ethnic groups. If we are serious about attracting volunteers from different backgrounds and new communities to those we are currently serving then we need to challenge our own ‘ask’ of our volunteers and how our recruitment and appointment systems operate to be truly attractive and inclusive.

Who asks is important

I have also gone away considering…Who is doing the ‘ask’? Are we investing time and effort in bringing our existing teams along this journey to ensure that those who are our front facing team are advocates for diversity and inclusion….and are we even present in the areas we are hoping to attract volunteers from? Salma Perveen, Youth & Volunteering Development Officer at St John Ambulance, gave a genuine and touching account of her experience of becoming a volunteer ,and she told us that the most important part for her was not being made to feel different but being made to feel a part of the team: ‘volunteering felt like home’. We need to make sure that is the experience for all new volunteers.

Inclusion starts at the top

Finally but probably the most powerful messages for me came from Hilary McGrady, Director General of the National Trust, in her compelling and heartfelt address. Her key message was that you have to start at the top: leadership is key as is investment, believing and being bold. Hilary shared the Trust’s story of the last few years where they have strived to change the perception that their places are only for a certain demographic and are in fact somewhere everybody should feel welcome. Hilary shared the leadership journey that goes with such a bold drive for change including the investment required, the commitment needed from the very top of the organisation and the disruption that is sometimes needed to change mind-sets but the most important part is the belief that Diversity & Inclusion is simply about being an organisation that everyone wants to be a part of and where everyone is welcome to be.

An inspiring day that will hopefully lead to many conversations and a step change in an area that has become somewhat of a ‘Groundhog Day’.

Putting this into action

At The Scouts we are committed to being bold, we plan to invest in more staff resource and external expertise to build on and drive our work further in this area. We will strive to achieve our goals to increase the diversity of our teams, recruit volunteer’s, staff and young people from more diverse backgrounds and remove barriers to participation.
So in short, if we want to stop the ‘D&I Groundhog Day’ it’s up to us to take the lead, use the research to make the case and ask our organisation’s to be bold, invest and start ‘walking the talk on diversity’.


Donna Bennett is Head of Volunteering for The Scouts with responsibility for Volunteer Journey Transformation, Growth and Volunteer Line Manager Support. The Scouts have over 160,000 volunteers that support the delivery of Skills for Life for nearly 500,000 young people, Scouts is in its 13th year of consecutive growth and has 50,000 young people waiting to join. The team Donna leads has 60 development officers in the field opening new Scouting provisions across England to meet demand and support new provision in new communities. Donna is also building a new team to design and deliver the change programme that will transform the volunteer journey to recruit more volunteers from more diverse backgrounds so even more young people can gain skills for life.

Previously Donna was the Director of Youth and Volunteering for St. John Ambulance where she led the transformation of the organisations volunteer recruitment and induction programmes.