My experience of the AVM Back to School Event

Having worked with volunteers for the past four years, I was long overdue attending an AVM event! Although I have been to various other volunteer manager meetings, I was very excited to attend the AVM Back to School event in September.

I had been in my new role at NCT for just three weeks, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn, feel inspired, and come away with plenty of new ideas. It was also quite an intimidating prospect; but my fears were quickly assuaged by the group of friendly people that I met on arriving at the London School of Economics meeting space.

One of the main reasons I love working with volunteers is personal relationships. This is something emphasised by Mariana Rocha and David Coles (Volunteering & Civic Engagement Manager at the University of West London and Volunteer Centre Manager at LSE respectively). They spoke about how the key to volunteer motivation and retention is spending time on the ground with volunteers, recognition of their achievement, and personalising communication – talking to volunteers about themselves and their interests, not just their volunteering! As someone who loves a natter over a cup of tea and biscuits, general chit-chat is something I often try to incorporate into my communications with volunteers.

Our next speaker, Lauren Hogan, Volunteering Projects Officer at Turn2us, gave me lots of food for thought about using the wealth of ‘lived experience’ that our volunteers at NCT have. Celebrating lived experience and knowledge means you are able to offer consumers a more authentic and relatable service, which is invaluable!

Next up was Sarah Latto, Volunteer Development Manager at Shelter Scotland. I found her talk absolutely inspiring. The way Shelter involves volunteers in their decision making is such an incredible demonstration of inclusivity and valuing volunteer input. A really interesting idea that I took away for the day was removing as many barriers as possible to volunteering with your organisation. Are reference checks essential? Do volunteers have to complete an application form, or could a phone call do the job? Making small changes could open up your volunteering opportunities to a whole new community that you weren’t previously able to reach.

At NCT, we meet a similar challenge to many other organisations, which is building up these personal relationships when you’re working with a team of thousands of volunteers! Melanie Merrill, Volunteering Programme Manager for Quality at Macmillan Cancer Support, stressed the importance of creating a high quality volunteering experience, which comes from having meaningful interaction and support from the organisation. I felt inspired to continue making sure that every interaction I have with a volunteer has a personal touch, and doesn’t feel like a corporate or formal interaction. Knowing that you’ve helped a volunteer to feel supported or to carry out their role more confidently makes it all worthwhile!

One final thing I took away that I’d like to share is this quote – “feeling connected lies at the core of the volunteer journey”, ‘Time Well Spent’, NCVO, 2019

Emily Poulter is Volunteer Support Officer at National Childbirth Trust, working in Bristol to support the large team of volunteers at NCT, who support parents across the UK.  Previous to her role with NCT, Emily supervised the Visitor Experience Volunteers at the SS Great Britain, as well as helping to oversee the volunteering programme.  Like many volunteer managers, Emily stumbled upon a job which involved working with volunteers, whilst searching for jobs within the heritage sector following her History degree. She soon realised that volunteer management was where she wanted to be.

Love thy neighbour…

Carol Carbine, Trainer / Facilitator / Consultant at Carol Carbine Consulting , shared a range of resources at AVM’s Ways to wellbeing and productivity for volunteer managers in 2019, to help you better look after yourself so you can better look after others.

Passion led us here

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?

*Bible – Mark 12:29-31 | Torah – Leviticus 19:18 | Qur’an – Surah 24:22


Food for thought, discussion and debate by Carol Carbine
www.carolcarbine.consulting
[email protected]
@carolcarbine

The end of the committee? Volunteering structures in a changing world

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.

conference table and chairs with three large question marks on the table

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.

‘The end of the committee? Volunteering structures in a changing world’ is an intentionally worded title. Not because we definitely think it is the end, but because we want to prompt a debate and find people who do things differently who we can learn from.

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.

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.


Recordings and presentations from previous AVM events are available in the members’ area of the AVM website.