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.

AVM responds to #bethehelpforce

AVM welcomes the recent announcement of #bethehelpforce, a partnership between Helpforce and the Daily Mail, encouraging more people to volunteer their time in the NHS in 2019. AVM believes in the power of volunteering to make a difference, not only to patients, but also to volunteers themselves, and every day we hear their incredible stories.

However, AVM is clear that volunteering should not be a replacement for fully funded public services. Staff and volunteers offer different support to the NHS due to a different working relationship. Every day volunteers of all ages and backgrounds make a huge contribution by giving their time, skills and experience to support the NHS. The real value of these volunteers is the extra value they bring on top of the care and support provided by hard working nurses, doctors and other NHS staff. Volunteers have the time to provide companionship to patients that clinical staff do not have.

While AVM welcomes this initiative, we want to stress that volunteering is not free, and that resources need to be in place to support increased volunteering. This includes volunteer managers who can provide the training and support to volunteers, rather than adding these responsibilities to already stretched clinical staff.

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.

Please join us to engage in this debate, wearing your optimistic, solution-focused shoes!

Find out more or book your place for our event ‘The end of the committee? Volunteering structures in a changing world‘, 2 October 2018, 11:00 am – 4:00 pm, at Sport England office, London.

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.