robJackson

Radio silence since the Olympics could mean the loss of hundreds of potential volunteers

It was recently reported that the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games Locog customer database has been handed over to Sport England. This means that, almost six months after the games finished and for the first time in the modern Olympic history, the complete list of Games Makers and people who expressed an interest in volunteering – among many others, 5.3 million in total – will be used to continue communication with people who choose to remain opted in to email newsletters and the like.

This is rightly being hailed as an achievement that will help secure the Games’ legacy, providing an unparalleled opportunity for Sport England and its partners to keep people informed about future sporting events, cultural activities and volunteering. However, on the volunteering front, I think some significant hurdles will have to be overcome.

Firstly, the Games Makers. Many were already volunteering before they got involved in the Games and have surely returned to that volunteer work subsequently. For those that caught the volunteering bug for the first time, they’ve been waiting a long time for a follow-up. With all the recent snow we couldn’t be further from last summer and I do worry that the moment to capitalise on their enthusiasm has passed. Yes, some will have gone and found volunteering opportunities in their communities for themselves, and I hope those have been as enjoyable and rewarding as those few weeks in 2012. For the rest, as any volunteer manager will tell you, going back to people six months after they first got involved is not the best way to try and keep volunteers engaged.

Secondly, what about those who wanted to volunteer but weren’t selected? These people may have applied to be volunteers in 2009 or 2010. They may have expressed an interest in volunteering at the Games as long ago as 2005. From what I have heard, some never heard back after their application was submitted – not even a “thanks but no thanks”. For others it may be years since they heard anything. Their experience of trying to volunteer for the Games has at best been rejection; at worst they feel ignored. Trying to enthuse and inspire that group could be a huge challenge.

Thirdly, integration with other databases of volunteers. Already work is under way to recruit volunteers for next year’s Commonwealth Games, Rugby World Cup,  the forthcoming Tour De France and, more immediately, the World Police and Fire Games in Northern Ireland this year. To what extent can the Locog database ‘talk’ to the systems these other events are using? Can the communication and recruitment efforts be integrated? Is there a risk of people ending up on multiple databases with risk of resulting frustration at communication overload? Do we risk putting people off by the very efforts to try and keep them engaged?

As anyone with even the smallest amount of volunteer management experience knows, keeping people interested and engaged over time is not an easy job. It requires consistent effort, not an occasional communications blitz followed by months of silence. This is what Volunteering England and others have been telling Locog for years. I’m sure Sport England will make the most of this great opportunity but wonder how many potential volunteers will have been lost and legacy opportunities missed because of the radio silence of recent months, a lack of joined-up thinking and a perception of poor customer care.

  • Chris Hornet

    How many potential volunteers have been lost? Most of them I reckon. There were two key time-frames which needed to be capitalised upon: the buzz around the opening up of volunteering opportunities and the games-time (and its immediate aftermath) itself. Both of those have been lost.

    Looking on from the outside it would be easy to say that the volunteering sector failed to get its act together. But there were many, including VE, telling LOCOG and Govt what needed to happen. The simple reason for why it didn’t happen I guess is a very practical one. The priority was to make sure the Olympics happened and to make sure that 70,000 volunteers were recruited, trained and managed to perform their roles (no mean feat). I think a little more honesty would have been nice about what was achievable so that expectations could have been managed better.

    I hope we’re not going to get thousands of people being bombarded with messages about their ‘interest’ in volunteering, when they’ve probably forgotten they’d registered to volunteer at the Olympics

  • John Barnes

    I agree its the chief exec / Finance director/ senior staff who should take the blame/. pay the costs – it is their management of the organisation that has failed through their failure to get funds and keep the board of trustees informed of the financial issues.

    It the senior management that get the rewards/glory when things go well so they should get the blame/pay the costs when through their actions things go badly

  • S B

    As a senior manager running an organization it would be nice to think I get the rewards and glory when things go well but that is not my experience. I am expected to ensure things go well, that is what I am paid for. There is no additional reward or even most often, acknowledgement, when it does. However I do agree that it is imperative that senior managers keep their boards informed, that is their responsibility. By the same token it is the boards responsibility to understands their duties as trustees and take those seriously, asking the right questions, managing the lead manager properly so that they fully understand what is happening within the organization and demanding relevant information if it is not forthcoming. If they have not done this then it is right that they accept the consequences of not having fulfilled their obligations. Taking things on trust is not part of a trustees job description. It is a difficult job for a trustee and does throw up yet again the question of whether unpaid boards are capable of really providing a strong and relevant governance structure for charities.

  • Jon NORTH

    Sounds a good plan John. Good to see a glimpse again of your common sense, which always made my working life more sane! Say all you want about the legal responsibilities of Trustees, but the dice are always loaded against them if they are not well-informed by the people they amploy and … trust to keep them in the picture.

  • Lauren Scott

    Interesting article John. But there seems to be the suggestion that the senior management were at fault for not informing the board of the issues. But I suppose it could equally be the case that the information was provided but that the trustees did not take proper notice of it, or deal with the issues appropriately. Either way, it looks messy and is one of the reasons why we usually always advise clients intending to set up new charities to use an incorporated vehicle (and to make sure that the trustees fully understand their duties and responsibilities). Incidentally, I’m not convinced that the trustees who have resigned will necessarily be off the hook in terms of liability, so it might be worth the organisation/its trustees seeking legal advice on this and their position more generally.

  • Michael Levitt

    If a charity employs staff or has other significant risks, then it is well advised to incorporate and take advantage of limited liability. This has been the advice for years. It is hard to understand what type of trustee cannot know about the financial collapse of a charity until it happens. Does he not ask for regular management accounts? Does he (or she) not do anything to find out what are his duties? Does he not realise he and his fellow trustees are running the show, not his employees? Come on, these types of trustee should take responsibility and not just view their position as some sort of gong.

  • Paul Griffiths

    There is a lesson here for anyone who signs up to be a Trustee of a charity. I would highly recommend reading ‘The Essential Trustee’ ( http://www.charitycommission.gov.uk/publications/cc3.aspx#i1 ) .

    As I understand it, it would be the Trustees who would be liable in the first instance for the debts of the charity and they would be well advised to contact the Charity Commission for advice on their position.

    If it transpires that senior staff of the charity acted in an inappropriate and illegal manner the Trustees in turn might be in a position to recover their losses from those former staff.
    And, certainly if it was the case that staff acted illegally, by not providing Trustees with full and proper disclosure of the financial situation of the charity, this should be in the public domain so that these people are not put into position of trust again, where they might repeat their behaviour.