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Top tips for influencing around volunteering

Last month I explored the issue of ‘onboarding‘ which one commentator defined as “the conscious process of bringing someone ‘on board’ through orientation, introductions, a bit of training, a few simple inaugural tasks to get started to help figure out how things work around here and assess how people work together.” My key point was that processes for getting volunteers onboard are of little value of the organisation isn’t fully committed to engaging volunteers.

I concluded by saying that this month I would suggest some tips for influencing within our organisations to help others ‘get it’ when it comes to volunteering. So here we are, three top tips for influencing around volunteering.

Processes don’t work, people do

A new piece of jargon is slowly creeping into the language of volunteer management – onboarding. Thankfully it has nothing to do with water sports like wakeboarding or boogie boarding or water related torture method, waterboarding.

Is a change in leadership what we need?

This month’s blog post was prompted when I read an article about a recent report from fundraising think tank Rogare, part of Plymouth University’s Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy. The headline finding of the report was that fundraisers should be rewarded not for performance against short-term metrics such as income targets but longer term measures such as donor satisfaction. As the report’s authors put it:

“If you can focus on donor satisfaction, the money will surely follow.”

Cost, value and austerity – the challenge for volunteer managers

As we start 2016 so we start a new year in the ‘age of austerity’. That inevitably means further cuts to public spending, cuts within volunteer involving organisations and reduced investment in volunteer management.

Volunteers in public services are needed whatever unions may believe

With the recent Autumn Statement from the government and a renewed focus on funding cuts and the consequences of austerity, the spotlight is inevitably going to shift towards the future of public services. Within this will surely be a debate about the role of volunteers in delivering public services.

Five lessons from volunteering

On 1st November I had the privilege of volunteering at the Adelaide Mini Maker Faire. The event showcased local maker culture and was the largest so far in Australia, with an estimated 5,100 visitors exploring the work of over 100 makers, from wood-turners to tinsmiths to 3D-printers to movie prop makers.

Beware of the robot volunteer managers

Last month the BBC spent some time focusing on the development of robots and artificial intelligence because, according to a study by researchers at Oxford University and Deloitte, about 35 per cent of jobs in the UK are at high risk of computerisation over the next 20 years.

When celebrities volunteer

August is silly season for news, both in the mainstream and our own sector. So it was perhaps no surprise to hear gossip column reports last month that singer Ed Sheeran is intending to take time out to volunteer in his local Sue Ryder charity shop.

One volunteering body in Australia was quick to respond, raising questions about Sheeran’s motivation if he did indeed announce his plans in advance and questioning whether the shop really wants to be under siege from his fanatical fans.

Rather than get into specifics I want to look at the wider issue of celebrities as volunteers.

In my blog back in 2012 I responded to a Guardian blog that celebrity supporters are more than just volunteers – they’re donors. I argued that the perspective expressed by the anonymous Guardian blogger suggests: “…volunteers do the menial work, the things that have no real significance while ‘donors in-kind’ get on and do the important stuff. Paid staff in the sector often feel comfortable recognising tin rattlers as volunteers but would rarely apply the v-word to other activities that are more comfortably labelled as donor in-kind or pro bono. This kind of attitude reveals a massively low opinion of volunteers. It is nothing short of institutional marginalisation of the biggest workforce in the sector. It reveals an elitism and snobbery that many would argue doesn’t exist in our values driven sector.”

This is an issue Susan J Ellis and I tackle head on in our new book, From The Top Down – UK Edition: “Another group of high-profile supporters who are almost always volunteers are an organisation’s patrons, public figures such as politicians, and well-known celebrities such as sports or film stars. These people commonly meet the definition of a volunteer but are rarely seen or treated as such because their status seems so much more important. For example, the work of celebrity supporters is often coordinated by a dedicated post in the fundraising or marketing team. We have had plenty of experience dealing with such staff members, who absolutely do not see themselves as managing volunteers (as if such a role were beneath them!) and therefore do not employ position descriptions, induction and training, or the other helpful tools that work with ordinary folks. Organisations therefore do not always receive the kind of results they want from celebrity endorsement; they hope for goodwill but can instead suffer through notoriety.”

Whether Sheeran volunteers or not the time has surely come for charities to start taking the volunteer management aspect of celebrity engagement more seriously. No more side-stepping good practice because a fundraiser doesn’t want to be thought of as doing volunteer management or because a celebrity has some ‘special’ status. Look where that got us with Jimmy Savile.

PS – For some insightful and intelligent thinking on the issues of celebrities as volunteers, I can recommend Eileen Hammond’s excellent book Patrons, Presidents and Personalities, published by the Directory of Social Change.

Rob Jackson is a volunteering consultant

Volunteers can help to plug the £4.6bn funding hole

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations recetly announced the findings of its review of the financial sustainability of the voluntary sector’s finances. The headline findings from the review is that the sector faces a £4.6bn projected shortfall in income by 2018/19.

The wrong metrics can harm your volunteer programme

Last month I wrote about ways you can tell if a chief executive really gets volunteering. One of the issues I highlighted was what leadership asks for by way of reporting data on a volunteer programme. I want to expand on this point.

A while ago I heard a volunteer manager speak proudly that they had finally managed to get their senior management team to accept a key performance indicator on volunteering on their management scorecard. The KPI in questions looked at how many volunteers the organisation had in total.

To me, that measure is probably worse than no measure at all. Measuring the total number of volunteers risks management falling into two significant traps when considering volunteering:

  • It encourages a focus on numbers and that inevitably results in a mindset that more volunteers is automatically a good thing. If an organisation can achieve the same or a better outcome without having to take on more volunteers (and the associated time and cost involved) isn’t that an efficient thing to do? Similarly, a focus on volunteer numbers means a focus on always getting more volunteers, with recruitment becoming the overall priority. Attention on other aspects of volunteer management can then wain, resulting in a revolving door where people leave in greater volume than they start.
  • Just as it risks more volunteers being seen as the goal, such a KPI risks fewer volunteers being seen as failure. So the volunteer manager ends up never wanting to lose a volunteer. This can result in poor performing volunteers or those who are disruptive being kept on when they should be let go. It can also result in volunteers not being given the flexibility they need to stop volunteering because of other demands on their time, something which can result in those volunteers never coming back again in future.

A much better approach would be to link a volunteering KPI to some kind of strategic goal for the organisation, enabling the senior management team to see how volunteers are contributing to the mission and vision. My current favourite is a KPI that measures what percentage of volunteers would recommend volunteering to their friends and family. It rightly focuses on the experience volunteers have: if it’s good, then they will be more inclined to speak favourably about their volunteering, and, if it’s a bad experience, this is less likely.

It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than a bums-on-seats approach.

What organisation leaders ask for by way of reporting speaks volumes about the importance they place on volunteers and how well they understand volunteering. Similarly, what volunteer managers propose they measure has major implications for their work and how well volunteering is understood within the organisation.

Tread carefully. Any KPI is not necessarily a good KPI.

If you have suggestions or examples for KPIs that your organisation uses on volunteering or that you think organisations should use, please leave a comment below.