AVM’s Thoughts On NCVO’s 2017 Letter To The Sector

NCVO has started the year by with an open letter to the voluntary sector which poses many questions around the role of volunteer management. Here AVM Chair Debbie Usiskin responds and offers our thoughts.

Sir Stuart Etherington, CEO of NCVO, has started the year by publishing an open letter highlighting the part that volunteers can play in building a shared society. More importantly, he makes it clear that we need well supported volunteer managers to help make this happen.

I urge you to read Sir Stuart’s letter and share it within your organisation. He makes the valuable point, very well, that for volunteering to be successful it needs to be adequately resourced; it could spark off a discussion within your organisation about expectations and impacts.

We are attending the NCVO Members’ Assembly in February where we will be contributing to the development of their public policy work. We want to hear from members and make sure that we represent you so let us know what you think following Sir Stuart’s letter.

Of course, we agree with Sir Stuart that this means greater investment in the support that volunteering needs, acknowledging that managing volunteers is harder than managing staff. We look forward to continuing to work closely with NCVO to ensure that volunteering is managed well, and that those who do it are valued.

Reasons to be cheerful… 1, 2, 3!

With the dust settling after a whirlwind conference – our biggest event ever – we wanted to make sure everyone had caught up on the big three changes AVM’s announced in the last couple of days.

Part 1 – new Twitter handle
We’ve had a lot of feedback over the past year about our social media presence. In response to one of the recurring issues raised we’ve adopted a new easier to remember and shorter twitter handle. You can now catch us at @AVMtweets.

Part 2 – refreshed visual identity
Yesterday’s conference saw the first outing of our refreshed visual identity.

Taking the work done since AVM’s inception, we’ve retained the essence of our identity and developed a fresh new look. As the way we communicate and work changes, we’re bringing everything we do together to prepare the ground for the way AVM will evolve over the coming years.

Part 3 – new package for organisations
The third and biggest change announced at conference is that AVM is taking its first steps into engaging organisations as well as individuals. Our popular and relevant membership offering, available to individuals for the last nine years, has been overhauled and is now complemented by new Organisational Learning and Development Package.

We’re working to ensure that volunteer engagement skills are valued and nurtured across the whole of the volunteer involving sector. The new Organisational Learning and Development Package will allow organisations to place themselves at the forefront of volunteering development, and ensure that managers are inspired, engaged and supported by an engaged and knowledgeable network of volunteer management professionals across the country.

More details about the organisational package will be shared in the coming days, but right now you can get in contact with Anne-Marie for an informal chat about what’s involved and the next steps.

AVM Network Day – Retail Volunteer Management

Our latest networking day on getting the best from retail volunteers was held in London on Thursday 19 May and brought together 35 participants from all over the UK, from retail heavyweights to those considering retail as a new revenue stream, small local charities to big national organisations it was a great day for networking and sharing new ideas and best practice.

Diane Eyre and Lily Caswell from Save the Children opened the day with their talk on the charities predominantly volunteer managed network of shops, the opportunities this model presents as well as the possible pit-falls and creating the right foundations to manage both. The key message being that if you empower your volunteers to do more and to take more responsibility then your organisation will reap the rewards.

They were followed by Karen Allsop and Liz Reed who joined us from Blue Cross who’s retail offering has increased significantly over recent years. Rapid expansion has forced them to take a closer look at their recruiting process and how they can attract volunteers more effectively by streamlining the application process and making volunteering for them more accessible.

And finally Alex South and Darryl Neville from Sense rounded of the day with their approach to volunteer recruitment and managing their individual shops needs with their Four Group Plan as well as demonstrating how they have implemented clear strategy to boost sales.

Many thanks for those of you who attended and to Nightingale Hammerson who very kindly provided the meeting space. For those of you who couldn’t make it we hope you will join us at our next event but in the meantime follow the below links to access the presentations

Managing the Rising Costs of Retail Staff by Diane Eyre & Lily Caswell, Save the Children

Keeping Pace with Retail by Karen Allsop & Liz Reed, Blue Cross

Empty Nests to Social Hubs – Alex South, Sense

The “Orange Shop” an Ongoing Journey – Darryl Neville, Sense

Guardian job site cuts

Today, we got official public confirmation from Guardian Jobs that it intends to cease its service of allowing organisations to post volunteering opportunities on Guardian Jobs from 1st July 2014.

Back at the end of March, there were reports that people were being told a decision had been taken. When challenged at the beginning of April, Guardian Jobs said the decision was still under review:

At the end of last week, Third Sector published an article and managed to get an informal briefing from a member of the Guardian’s press office who said:

some job-seekers looking for paid work were complaining that there were too many volunteering roles compared with paid positions, “which was affecting their experience in looking for paid work on the site”.

Guardian Jobs twitter feed was still silent on this today, and in ‘good cop’ ‘bad cop’ style left it to sister stream Guardian Voluntary to deliver the bad news:

This confirmed the line that the change is “in response to significant jobseeker feedback” that flagged up dissatisfaction with the mix of volunteering opportunities alongside paid jobs. They went further:

recent feedback from jobseekers searching for paid work has indicated that they were seeing too many volunteering roles compared to paid positions. We tried to address this with a filter to enable users to exclude ‘volunteering’ positions, but the feedback remained the same and users stated that it was affecting their experience in looking for paid work on Guardian Jobs.

The technicalities of this issue don’t really seem to fully explain the move. In terms of a filter – there already is a filter.

When a user searches you can restrict the search to paid jobs only simply by clicking “Job Vacancy” in Listing Type.

The solution, therefore, would be to switch this on by default and demand the user explicitly opts in to viewing volunteering opportunities. Incidently, the Guardian also posts internships which are expenses only, so it’ll be interesting to see what they do about these.

But I suspect this decision has not been made purely on the technicalities. This is about the issue of perception and how the Guardian Jobs service is perceived by users.

The thinking may have gone something like the following: a job site to compete and be effective needs to look and feel like a job site. Too many volunteering roles (and describing them as volunteering jobs probably didn’t help) popping up in a user’s searches runs contrary to expectations of what a job site is and should be.

And this is where it gets interesting.

Are job sites and volunteering opportunities incompatible?

Charity Job has listings for both paid and voluntary work. So it’s not like it’s unheard of – but Charity Job have clearly worked harder to distinguish between paid and voluntary roles. LinkedIn certainly sees potential to run the two together with its launch of the Volunteer Marketplace.

Moreover, don’t hibrid sites complement volunteering opportunity-only sites like Do-it, vInspired or Reach? To go to a volunteering only site – the user is already actively searching for volunteering. Whereas job sites with volunteering opportunities, like Guardian Jobs, are uniquely placed to engage jobseekers who may never have considered volunteering.

It provides that precious opportunity to reach people when they are jobseeking, at a time when they are both particularly responsive to volunteering and potentially have so much to gain from volunteering. Whether they are out of work or considering a career change, there’s a synergy between jobseeking and volunteer opportunity seeking. It feels like a huge shame that the needs of one segment of the jobseekers trump the needs of another segment of jobseekers.

And it’s not for lack of evidence – the Guardian will know better than anyone in the sector how many organisations have used their service to post volunteering opportunities, how many volunteering opportunities it has posted and how much interest each volunteering opportunity generates. You’d suspect with volunteering opportunities currently representing roughly 10% of the jobs on Guardian Jobs and volunteer recruiters reporting such a high level of satisfaction, that the figures would be in rude health. According to what the Guardian themselves say: “Volunteer roles advertised on guardianjobs.co.uk receive on average 564 page views and 37 applications.”

It’s hard to ignore the obvious difference: that one segment is much easier to monetize than the other. And so charities are reminded, if one was needed, that services offered for free cannot be sustained indefinitely (read the small print), when commercial imperatives sooner or later can no longer be held in check.

All in all, the significance for those in volunteer management of the Guardian’s decision is that it signals the withdrawal from the UK’s volunteer recruiter’s ecosystem of a platform with unparalleled mainstream profile. In the UK, those in volunteer management are fortunate to have such a vibrant volunteering opportunity infrastructure, particularly with ivo.org announcing a revamp for Do-it later this year.

However, with the Guardian’s profile and positioning, it’s not surprising many organisations have reported Guardian Jobs as a particularly important way of reaching a different type of volunteer.

According to Quantcast, the Guardian is their UK number one site with over 12 million people visiting a month (over 1 million visiting Jobs Guardian monthly in the UK). In other measures the Guardian is in the top 15 sites in the UK (only after the tech multinationals and the Daily Mail).

According to Guardian itself: 109,000 monthly unique users of Guardian Jobs, work in the charity or voluntary sector and Guardian Jobs carries more charity roles than any other publication or job board.

This is a story about the UK’s self proclaimed number one job board for charities turning its back on listing volunteering opportunities.

So may be we should not ignore how the statement today by Guardian Jobs appeared to leave the door ajar:

We appreciate that volunteering listings are important and we are therefore investigating how we can adopt a different approach for this in the future, and we will keep jobseekers and the sector updated on these plans.

If you haven’t already, write and tell those at the Guardian considering the new approach why the service has been important to your organisation and the volunteers who found your opportunities through them (contact them: jobs.help@theguardian.com).

Discussion

Interesting comment thread on the Third Sector article

A Storify timeline of the wider discussion mainly on Twitter

Background Info

Top reasons to use Guardian Jobs

Guardian Jobs list ads for volunteer roles free of charge: As of November 2010 any volunteer role advertised on guardianjobs.co.uk is completely free (excludes Trustees, Chairs, Honorary Board Members, Internships and Non-Executive Directors)

Volunteer roles highly sought after: Volunteer roles advertised on guardianjobs.co.uk receive on average 564 page views and 37 applications.

A huge reach online: 207,000 voluntary/charity sector professionals use guardianjobs.co.uk a month

A strong reach in print: 89,000 voluntary/charity sector professionals use the Guardian’s print recruitment supplements every week

Quality response: 82% of voluntary/charity or public sector roles advertised with Guardian Jobs result in a Guardian candidate filling the role

Source: The Guardian

Guardian Jobs – no longer to post volunteering opportunities

Below is the statement made by the Guardian on its decision regarding the removal of volunteering opportunities from its jobs website.

Changes to Guardian Jobs volunteering advertisements

The Guardian has always been a great supporter of volunteering and we are committed to writing intelligently about the voluntary sector. However, in response to significant jobseeker feedback, we have decided that we will no longer be including volunteering listings on Guardian Jobs from 1 July 2014.

Whilst this will not affect advertisements for paid positions in the Voluntary sector – for which we will continue to be the number one source of quality candidates – recent feedback from jobseekers searching for paid work has indicated that they were seeing too many volunteering roles compared to paid positions. We tried to address this with a filter to enable users to exclude ‘volunteering’ positions, but the feedback remained the same and users stated that it was affecting their experience in looking for paid work on Guardian Jobs.

We appreciate that volunteering listings are important and we are therefore investigating how we can adopt a different approach for this in the future, and we will keep jobseekers and the sector updated on these plans.

We continue to offer charities a discount on job ads placed with Guardian Jobs.

If you have any questions about these changes please email jobs.help@theguardian.com

For background

Post on ivo.org by Addam Merali-Hosiene

Post on Third Sector by Sam Burne James

Letter to 3rd Sector regarding OrangeCorps

I wanted to share with you a letter I sent to Third Sector in response to the interview in last Weds (20th Aug) issue in case it doesn’t get published. I’d welcome your thoughts!:

Sir,

I read with interest your interview with Stephen Green, Chief Executive of RockCorps.

While thinking the RockCorps concept is an interesting and innovative idea in introducing young people to volunteering I am left feeling a little troubled about incentivising volunteering in this way. If young people are more willing to give than ever as Mr Greene states, why then to they need to be offered concert tickets to volunteer? Volunteering shouldn’t be about personal material gain.

It would be interesting to find out how many of the 35% who went on to volunteer elsewhere did so without being offered something material in return. While I understand that the idea is to introduce young people to volunteering, can 4 hours really give them a proper idea of what it is really like to be an active citizen?

Offering concert tickets in this way would also seem to be a payment in kind and of sufficient value to be a “consideration”. Is this not an overt contract as the work is in exchange for the tickets which is clearly expressed and acknowledged by RockCorps? Legislation and good practice is different in the US and wonder if this model needs adapting for the UK.

Kind regards,

Sean Cobley
Director, AVM

Commission on the Future of Volunteering

The Commission on the Future of Volunteering is calling for evidence. AVM has put together an initial draft response to the Commission which is attached. If members wish to feed into the AVM response with their own thoughts and views please respond by Thursday 26th July.

The deadlines for submissions is Tuesday 31st July. For further information about the Commission go to www.volcomm.org.uk

Geeks volunteering: unseen and unheard

Technical enthusiasts, aka ‘geeks’ as they are affectionately known, have for many many years led the way in volunteering. As with many other examples of volunteering- these voluntary workers are very often unseen and unheard by most of us.

Who am I referring to? If you’ve ever used open-source software you’ve been the direct beneficiary of geeks volunteering- may be you use Firefox to browse the internet, may be you use Linux as your operating system. OK, then may be you don’t.

But hey, volunteer geeks’ work is all pervasive thanks to the web. Take it from me, if you don’t use either of these pieces of software, it’s more than likely a website you use uses servers that run on Apache (serverside software) or use open-source code like php, perl or python. But it goes wider than that, today the big players like Google and Yahoo use open-source software for more and more of their work.

In other words, when we’re looking for volunteering success stories – the growth and influence of open-source software has got to be up there with the best of them.

Without evangelising about open-source software here, yada yada yada that’s too boring. From a volunteer perspective, I’d argue it is really worth looking at the open-source model and why it’s so successful. I think it can tell us a lot about what makes a volunteering project successful and what makes a volunteer manager successful too.

Open-source software defined by that open-source online encyclopedia better known as Wikipedia, is software that’s freely available and free of charge. The fact that open-source stuff is free cost-wise often grabs the headlines, while the important ingredient is really that open-source stuff comes with freedom built in. Because you can see you code, you can see how it works, you can learn about it inner workings, ultimately you are free to change and adapt it in the way you need. This is the liberating point- you take the resource and use it in a way that makes sense to you, and not in a way dictated by a centralised power far away. Is this starting to sound familiar and relevant to volunteering?

Here we come to the first point to note- this freedom to adapt comes with a condition attached. You are free to change the code, but only as long as others are free to change your code. In otherwords, no-one can take and copyright the work of others as their own- and this way the work of volunteers is never abused and exploited. See more on GNU and Creative Commons licenses for a more in depth explanation of this stuff.

Lesson One: Share and Share Alike

The first lesson is that volunteering thrives in environments were we share and share alike. The moment a volunteer feels their hard work is being exploited is more than likely the moment they leave.

Drupal volunteersThe second point is that all open-source projects have one thing in common- without their community of voluntary programmers they are nothing. The community is all important. With no one person owning all the rights to the code- everybody has a stake in the resource. It’s a common asset. The door to getting a sense of ownership in the project is wide open.

What’s more it’s a virtuous circle- the more you’re helped by others in the community with problems and understanding the computer code (the software), the more you want to help others. It’s a phenomenon you’ll see repeated in countless online forums and communities where the more experienced give up their time to support others.

These online communities have grown rapidly because they’ve built all sorts of collaborative tools that scale, i.e. the more people you involve as users, the more people you have who can one day become the supporters of the users of tomorrow. Wikipedia is a perfect example of this. The reason it can manage the ever increasing number of users adding entries is because there’s also an increasing number of volunteers helping to moderate the content on the site. This link between users and volunteers is vital and it’s something to ponder: how many volunteering projects really try to recruit volunteers from their user base?

Lesson Two: Opening Up Ownership To Volunteers

There’s a second lesson in there for voluntary projects generally. How often do we find it hard to let go of a project we’ve developed ourselves? How often do we wonder why volunteers never progress beyond a certain level in their involvement with the project? The open-source experience would suggest a lot has to do with how much ownership we’re happy to delegate and how ‘open-source’ the heart of project really is. Is it really all up for grabs to our most dedicated and commited volunteers?

The third and final point to make is about what motivates any of us to volunteer. There’s many things- but for me personally it keeps coming back to one. Developers and programmers in the open-source world often talk about ‘scratching their own itch’.

Talk to a geek volunteer and more than likely you’ll discover their volunteering all started because one day they saw the answer to a problem. They didn’t know whether it would work, but curiosity and necessity conspired to get them to try. Needless to say it worked and, hey presto, they became hooked on volunteering.

Lesson Three: Volunteering Is About Making A Difference

Doing something, however hard and challenging it is, is worth it when you can see the benefit, or when others let you know it’s making a difference. From there on in, there are many routes it can take. It can become a burning passion, it can become a source of pride, it can even get the volunteer a certain amount of rewarding social recognition. But that intial hook is the belief that somehow, despite the odds, as a volunteer you are making a difference.

The final lesson then is that as volunteer managers one of the most important questions we can ask is: are our volunteers making a difference? The most important response we can give to this is not just to say “yes”- it’s being able to add: “And our volunteers know it”.