AVM Director, Rachel Ball, shares her thoughts on what it’s like to be a volunteer manager on furlough during the annual Volunteers’ Week

It’s Volunteers’ Week and it’s a strange time. During this week volunteer managers around the country usually take the opportunity to say thank you through holding parties and events, share the stories of impact and difference their volunteers are making to their organisation and beneficiaries and take the opportunity to influence and advocate within their organisation for further investment in volunteering. 

This charge for celebration in England is usually led by our friends at NCVO, but they have had to withdraw their vocal championing, collation and sharing of information of organisation’s outputs so they can support charities with their most pressing and urgent needs. By some this was interpreted as they were cancelling the week… it wasn’t as it’s not something they can cancel. The week only exists because we as volunteer managers (VMs) champion, utilise and deliver it. 

It has been fantastic to see VMs across the country come together to create a national response to thanking volunteers. A richly deserved thanks. We’ve seen how people getting involved, giving their time and helping causes close to their hearts has been making a difference. This call out to VMs to get involved has helped them to think about what they could do this year and given them something to gather around, and feel a little less adrift from the norm.

However, for furloughed VMs this has brought mixed feelings about the week and what should and shouldn’t be happening. They can’t participate, no matter how much they want to. Some VMs may say they still could, but those I have been talking with don’t want to risk their own employment or their employers ability to claim back their salary and for their time being furloughed to be wasted. The chances of being accused of working by taking part is very slim but who wants to be the one that broke everything. Like everyone in this country, no one wants to be the one that makes things worse. 

Now some furloughed VMs know their organisation will be doing something because not all of their team has been furloughed (most likely not as grand or comprehensive as they had planned), for others, nothing will be happening. No one wants to miss out on an opportunity; they also don’t want to be seen as not caring or that their organisation doesn’t care; that isn’t the case but it is about priorities and it has made some of them question about how truly important volunteers are to the organisation and raised concerns about the impact this will have on the relationship with their volunteers.

As volunteer managers we fear Volunteers’ Week will be our only opportunity to thank our volunteers and celebrate their achievements. We fight for ways to squeeze in recognition on a daily, weekly and monthly basis throughout the year. So during our network calls we have been reminding ourselves that we may be missing out now, but we will have opportunities to do something when we return. If you need a formal hook to galvanise around, there is always International Volunteer’s Day on 5 December.

This year’s Volunteers’ Week message has changed from ‘celebrate’ to ‘thank you’ and at AVM we have decided to take the time to do a thank you on behalf of all our furloughed members because they cannot at this time. We also want to thank all those that coordinate volunteer contributions as volunteers themselves. To quote a commonly said phrase, we are all in it together! 

Happy Volunteers’ Week Everyone!

About Rachel

Rachel Ball is a Director of AVM, and a volunteer manager. At time of writing, Rachel is on furlough due to impact of the coronavirus pandemic.