Volunteer led organisations

In the final part of our “Embedding a Volunteer Culture” blog series, Lynn explores what it means for an organisation to be ‘volunteer led’. 

Is being ‘volunteer led’ essential to a pro volunteering culture? What do we mean by ‘volunteer led’?

Most charities are quite literally volunteer led, since responsibility lies with the Board of Trustees, which is usually unpaid.

But does it mean something more, such as being wholly volunteer run, or acknowledging the low staff/high volunteer ratio, or volunteers being involved in setting vision, strategy, policy and how volunteers are engaged – perhaps as representatives of the charity’s beneficiary group or customer base?

Given the importance of a ‘one team’ approach to a pro volunteering culture, how do staff feel about being part of an organisation that is ‘volunteer’ led? Moreover, how do volunteers feel about that? In the same way that it might not be useful to talk about volunteer ‘programmes’, it marks out volunteers as being different/separate. Lots of grass root community activity is volunteer led and can be a good thing, but in an organisation that employs both paid and unpaid staff, should we be talking about it being volunteer led?

Several volunteers I have worked with have expressed anxiety at the prominence of volunteers in their organisations, concerned that staff will feel disempowered. This is sometimes married with feelings that volunteers shouldn’t have a say about strategic issues – that being outside of their proper domain and, very often, their interest. And staff can feel left out when there is a focus on volunteering development – ‘what about us?’.

I’ve worked in organisations where induction, reward and recognition is better for volunteers than it is for staff. Volunteers can also be treated differently to staff, manifested in double standards – inappropriate volunteer behaviour is not dealt with for fear of upsetting a much needed team – risking the credibility of staff. We do need to make volunteers feel valued – Volunteers’ Week is a great initiative as is giving thanks/feedback regularly – but if volunteers genuinely get value from their involvement and are thanked for that, is there also a need to mark them out as particularly special (more special than staff) because they give their time for free?

Still, given that most charities have more unpaid than paid staff, it of course makes sense that volunteers have a strong voice, or at least the opportunity should be there for those who want it. Having Trustees who understand and champion volunteering is also vital – don’t assume that Trustees, as volunteers themselves, will understand volunteering. In terms of voice, there is often a gap between that senior body of volunteers and those in other roles – very often few opportunities to drive/contribute strategically, or playing key roles.

Senior managers and other staff often pay lip service to volunteering, not understanding it and its power. This ignorance can lead to suspicion of volunteer motivations (often related to job security), and misconceptions around a lack of professionalism and reliability can lead to a lack of trust and reluctance to relinquish control.

Volunteering has never had such a high profile, but some organisations still state that volunteers can’t do the same jobs as paid workers, though in practise this is rarely the case. It is difficult to see how  gardeners, researchers and retail volunteers aren’t doing the same job as their paid counterparts.

Perhaps it’s something to do with paid staff taking overall responsibility for the organisation and quality of the work, but this attitude, coupled with a lack of understanding of why people volunteer, also leads to missed opportunities to ask volunteers to do things that some consider inappropriate in other ways. As Canal & River Trust colleagues will testify, whilst engineers and surveyors are keen to share their skills and time, some of us actually do just want to pick up litter or scrub graffiti off bridges.

People will still volunteer, even if the volunteering culture isn’t great, because they are passionate and committed. But in these changing times of increased competition for people’s free time that probably won’t last for long.

This guest blog is by Lynn Blackadder, a coach and consultant with 22 years’ experience of helping organisations involve volunteers. Lynn blogs in a personal capacity.
lynn@lynnblackadder.com , @lynnblackadder )

 

Investing in volunteering

In contrast to Lynn Blackadder’s last post in our “Embedding a Volunteer Culture” blog series, today she discusses how to best involve and create a framework for volunteers when an organisation (and its culture) is already up and running. 

If you can’t start from scratch and build volunteering in with the bricks, you need to invest time and money to affect culture change.

An organisation that has been thinking differently about volunteering for some time is the National Trust – an organisation set up by volunteers, governed by an elected, unpaid Council and Board of Trustees.

The Trust has a clear volunteering vision that aims to involve volunteers from all walks of life in all roles and at every level – shaping the Trust’s work, not just delivering it. Trust staff and volunteers are working hard to encourage their places to take a ‘one team’ approach, avoiding a culture of ‘us and them’. Two properties I have worked with – Polesden Lacey and Nymans – have achieved this by:

  • Recruiting volunteers to supervisory/coordination roles
  • Staff and volunteers designing and delivering together core induction and other training sessions. New staff and volunteers are inducted together, setting expectations and embodying the culture from the outset
  • Creating a forum or sounding board – representatives from all teams working together to take stock, give feedback and influence what happens
  • Celebrating success and rewarding achievement together
  • Creating policies that apply to all – everyone signs up to the Trust’s values and behaviours and are treated equally.

The Trust invests heavily in volunteering development to ensure that people running its places feel confident and capable of providing an excellent experience. Fully embedding a devolved volunteer management structure has been key to that. With such high numbers of volunteers at many Trust places, responsibility for the volunteering experience has become part of many roles as opposed to one.

This is essential to sustaining a pro-volunteering culture, as is raising awareness through induction and training of why people volunteer and how to get the best out of working relationships – whether or not people are directly supervising volunteers.

In any organisation I might run, I would never put someone in charge of people – paid or unpaid – without people management experience. Yet so many organisations do, and this is often a major factor affecting the volunteer experience and culture. Inexperienced people managers are expected to get results from a very diverse range of people, some of whom have, quite rightly, very high expectations of management – generally, but often based on substantial previous professional experience.

Creating one set of communications for all is also key: newsletters, daily briefings and consultations that everyone receives regardless of role. And people feel valued when we demonstrate that we listen to them: a strong team will accept (indeed seek out) open and honest conversation and feedback. Explanations as to why ideas and suggestions are/are not taken up is also vital.

This guest blog is by Lynn Blackadder, a coach and consultant with 22 years’ experience of helping organisations involve volunteers.
lynn@lynnblackadder.com , @lynnblackadder )

On 8 July, we will be hearing from Kate Adams, Head of Volunteering, and Liz Cyro, Head of Internal Communications, at Royal Mencap Society. They will be talking about Mencap’s volunteer culture, their agreed principles of volunteering, and how internal communications have been an essential partner in developing their people messaging.

To book your space on AVM’s “Embedding Volunteer Culture within an Organisation” Networking Day click here.

Networking Day: Embedding a Volunteer Culture Within your Organisation – 8th July

  • Does your organisation actively support volunteers or could they be doing more?
  • Do you struggle to get buy-in from senior level and the wider team for the importance and need to volunteers?
  • How does your organisational culture impact on a volunteers experience and what does this mean long-term?

This special Network Day has been designed to focus specifically on sharing experiences of how we can better develop a pro volunteering culture within our own organisation.

Book your space HERE

This event is kindly supported and hosted by Jewish Care.

Jewish Care
Amélie House,
Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Campus,
221 Golders Green Road,
London,
NW11 9DQ


NOTE: Please do not bring any food or drinks to the venue other than water as all food on site needs to be kosher. Any other food or drink brought to the event will not be allowed on site. Lunch and refreshments will be provided throughout the day.

10:00am Arrivals, Tea and coffee and Informal networking

10:30am Welcome from AVM

10:35am Structured networking

11:00am Building and Effective Volunteer Programme from the Ground Up.

Rachel Tapp – Volunteer Co-ordinator – London Borough of Havering Council

How do you build a volunteering programme from scratch? What challenges might you meet along the way and how can you overcome them?

We will explore the journey towards an effective, working volunteer strategy woven throughout the aims and objectives of the wider organisation. This talk will touch on identifying the need for volunteers as well as writing and implementing rewarding and valuable roles and formalizing programmes with written policies all whilst getting your most important resource on-board – staff and service users.

12.00pm Developing a volunteering culture at Royal Mencap Society by engaging staff and volunteers through our internal people communications work.

Kate Adams – Head of Volunteering & Liz Cyro Head of Internal Communications – Royal Mencap Society

This presentation will take a look at Mencap’s volunteer culture as well as their agreed principles to volunteering and how internal communications have been an essential partner in developing their people messaging. Kate and Liz will give a practical overview of building the internal relationship whilst sharing internal communication copy and giving practical examples of what they did.

13:00 Lunch – To be provided

13:45pm Creating a Volunteer Culture Within Your Organisation.

Adrienne Thompson – Volunteer Development Manager – Arthritis Care

Arthritis Care has long been referred to as a ‘volunteer led’ organisation. However, until 2015, it had no dedicated volunteering function to ensure they honoured this statement.

While there have been amazing things happening across the UK, which are volunteer led, the culture within the organisation did not always exist to support this.

During this presentation Adrienne will describe the steps they have taken throughout the course of the year, and will share some tips around how to get organisational ‘buy in’.

Of course there have been challenges, but there have been many successes and lessons learnt. They hope to share these with you, and their plans for this ever evolving piece of work.

This has been an exciting journey for the whole organisation, but it isn’t over yet.

14:45pm Open Space (with tea and coffee)

An opportunity for attendees to lead or request discussions on topics relevant to them, drawing on peer support to explore challenges and celebrate successes

15:45pm Final comments and evaluation

16:00pm Close

Book your space HERE

Not a member? Why not join AVM and save on the cost of your ticket?  YOU CAN JOIN HERE
Simply complete the paperwork and send us a cheque and then pop back here and book on as a member – what could be easier? No need to wait for confirmation of membership

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.

 

It’s a Date – 19 October 2016 AVM Conference

Plans are coming together nicely for the AVM Conference in 2016.  We’ve already lined up some exciting keynote speakers and workshop sessions.

Amongst our keynote speakers will be:

  • Sir Stephen Bubb, Chief Executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations – http://www.acevo.org.uk.  Sir Stephen received a knighthood in 2011 for his services to the voluntary sector.
  • Julie Bentley, Chief Executive of Girlguiding.   In April 2014, Julia was named as one of Britain’s most influential women in the BBC Woman’s Hour power list 2014

Workshops will include:

  • Volunteers and the Law delivered by Mark Restall author of the Volunteering England publication Volunteers and the Law.
  • A look at some new research conducted by the National Trust and De Montfort University on the differences between managing paid staff and volunteers

So keep the date free and watch out for more news on the conference in the coming months.

The venue will be the same as last year, the Royal National Hotel, London, close to Euston and Kings Cross stations.

Looking forward to seeing you there.

AVM Conference Team