‘What’s Next’ is this year’s International Volunteer Managers (IVM) Day theme, and it is the hot topic on the lips of those volunteer managers (VMs) who have been furloughed, as much as it is on those that haven’t been.

How they answer this question at this current time initially depends on how they feel they have been treated by their organisation as an employee. how they have been communicated with and supported during this time, and how many people in their organisation have been furloughed. This is about their organisation’s culture. No one has been taken by surprise by how their organisation has behaved towards them (and it wasn’t all negative for some! ????).

The reality is, VMs can’t picture their return. They don’t know what has, is or will happen, and therefore can’t really plan. Very few feel like they will be able to shape how or what the organisation does next in relation to the volunteering experience, engagement, delivery and output on their return.  Many fear that leaving it until their return will be too late.

Our biggest challenge is that we work in organisations that generally don’t see themselves as organisations that ‘do’ volunteering – they involve volunteers to deliver their purpose. Unfortunately this does mean that volunteers are seen as a resource and commodity to utilise, rather than a driving force for decision making. This isn’t to say those same organisations don’t recognise the importance and uniqueness volunteers bring to their role, enhancing their success; it’s just felt that this isn’t at the forefront of senior management’s decision making.

VMs who aren’t on senior leadership teams* do a great job of influencing from where they are (although they don’t think they do and as a profession we are frequently told that we need to do better), and when they get back, they will continue to do so. They hope that they haven’t lost too much ground, that the relationships with their volunteers (on behalf of themselves and their organisations) aren’t too damaged by their absence, they will get the support and resource they need, they will be shown empathy for their enforced absence, and they will be able to reciprocate this back to those that have stayed working who might feel resentful towards them.

This is hard for everyone and it’s going to be a while before organisations are back whole again, most likely in a slightly new configuration. In the meantime, we will continue to be there for furloughed VMs and if you are reading this and want to connect with us, do please get in touch to find out how you can join our community.

*(I should add,  it’s not to say those that are on the senior leadership team don’t, it’s just that they aren’t part of my network calls.)

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.