Is this the hardest question to answer in volunteer management?

FeaturedIs this the hardest question to answer in volunteer management?

What makes someone a good leader of volunteer engagement?

It’s a question I’ve asked many times over the years, and I don’t think I’ve ever had consistent answers from people. This includes the answers from those familiar with professional credentialing programmes, such as the Certificate in Volunteer Administration (CVA) or the National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) we used to have in England.

But it’s a question we should be able to answer, right? We should be able to articulate what makes us good at what we do, especially if we want to influence others around volunteering and the importance of good volunteer management?

I was, therefore, pleased to recently discover this article from the UK’s Canal and River Trust which set out “Seven qualities of a great volunteer manager”. There is little to disagree with in the article, but that also means there is little to distinguish a Volunteer Engagement Professional from any other role.

Which begs a further question: Is what makes someone a good leader of volunteer engagement the same as what makes someone a good leader of paid staff, or of anything else?

In trying to answer that, I turned to the Volunteer Management Progress Report(VMPR), a piece of research specifically looking at Volunteer Engagement Professionals, which is conducted annually by Tobi Johnson. The VMPR has been running for seven years now and is perhaps the best source of up-to-date data on the profession.

The 2021 VMPR was the last one to contain comprehensive information on the characteristics of respondent volunteer mangers. Assuming those who respond to the survey are typical of the field, we can determine that good leaders of volunteer engagement are:

  • White (83.8% of respondents)
  • Female (88.1% of respondents)
  • Aged between 45 and 65 years old (mean and median average of respondents)
  • Work full time (80% of respondents)
  • Paid (93% of respondents)
  • Have more than ten years of experience in the field (56% of respondents)

Readers will hopefully realise that I am being facetious by suggesting these characteristics are what makes someone a good volunteer manager. There is, however, no getting away from the fact that they describe the typical Volunteer Engagement Professional. As Tobi put it in her analysis of the 2021 VMPR data (using her native USA for context):

“Research show that 66% of US nonprofit employees are women. While people of color are roughly 40% of the population, 32% of nonprofit employees are people of color, which is double the number of those who work in volunteerism (16%).

“Volunteering data in the US shows that volunteers also look like those who engage them – White (26.4% versus 19.3% of Blacks, 17.9% of Asians, and 5.5% of Latinos/as), educated (65.3% with at least some college education), and women (27.8% versus 21.8% men).”

“Our big questions continue to be – Does a lack of diversity affect who becomes a volunteer? Does this impact which volunteers discover opportunities, and which volunteers invite their friends, thus reinforcing a cycle of sameness?”

Let’s pause for a moment, then.

Does any of this bring us any closer to answering the question, what makes someone a good leader of volunteer engagement?

Not definitely, no. But that’s why I titled this article,“Is this the hardest question to answer in volunteer management?” In almost thirty years, I’ve struggled with this question. So have others. And if you’ve ever though about the question, perhaps you can see why.

My aim in writing this article is to challenge all of us to find some sort of coherent and consistent answer. To that end, I want to propose some questions to engage what Hercule Poirot would have called the little grey cells:

  • What exactly do we mean by good in the context of leading volunteer engagement?
    • Is it truly about leadership (doing the right things) or management (doing things well)?
    • Put another way, is it about our ability to engage with people, or manage systems and processes, or both and, if both, what is the correct balance?
    • Do our professional credentials (CVA etc.) adequately reflect this?
    • Does our learning and development activity, sector conferences and events etc. adequately reflect this?
    • Is it about something else altogether?
    • If so, what?
  • Is being a good leader of volunteer engagement context specific? In other words, is ‘good’ in sports volunteering different from ‘good’ in health and social care volunteering, or ‘good’ in fundraising?
  • Is being a good leader of volunteer engagement different for formal volunteering compared to, say, informal volunteering, community engagement, movement building, mutual aid etc.?
  • Is being a good leader of volunteer engagement about serving and reflecting an existing audience of volunteers, or about actively implementing change to address inclusion, diversity, equality, and access issues?
  • Is being a good leader of volunteer engagement related to being different from the typical profile of our profession? If it is, then why? Is that because we can be more relevant and engaging to a wider range of potential volunteers?
  • Is being a good leader of volunteer engagement about delivering or innovating? Or both? And what is the correct balance if it is both?
  • Is being a good leader of volunteer engagement about being steeped in the traditions and knowledge of our field (as laid out in the tried and trusted texts of the profession)? Or is it about being inductive learners, embracing and adapting the practices of others and applying them to our work (e.g. learning from the experts in marketing and customer service to enhance volunteer recruitment)?

What do you think?

What are your reflections on these questions?

What other questions would you ask to help answer this challenging question?

If you had to say it in one sentence, what do you think makes someone a good leader of volunteer engagement?

Leave a comment below and let’s get the conversation going.


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Why might volunteers feel differently about your organisation than paid staff?

Why might volunteers feel differently about your organisation than paid staff?

Earlier this year, Catherine Wearden at Agenda Consulting wrote an interesting piece on their website entitled, “What are the differences between how employees and volunteers feel about your organisation?”. Great question!

In this article, I want to reflect on Agenda’s findings and what they might be telling us about volunteer engagement and Volunteer Involving Organisations.

So, before you go any further, I highly recommend reading Catherine’s Agenda Consulting piece here.

Employees are more positive than volunteers on whistleblowing

Catherine highlights that employees are 26% more positive than volunteers when asked if they know how to report poor practice.

I agree with her that this is worrying. Volunteers should know how to report issues, to whom, and they should feel supported in this.

Volunteers can sometimes be more objective than paid staff, and perhaps feel more free to raise concerns, not least because they may not be putting their main source of income at risk by raising an issue as a volunteer.

If volunteers aren’t able to raise concerns, organisations may be missing out on valuable learning opportunities, as well as key information to support effective safeguarding.

Employees are more positive than volunteers on manager action on poor performance

It doesn’t surprise me that employees feel more confident than volunteers that managers take prompt action if people’s performance falls below acceptable standards.

If an employee is performing or behaving poorly, we know something needs to be done. Nobody like doing it, but action will inevitably be taken.

Whilst most Volunteer Engagement Professionals would be clear that they need to act if volunteers are behaving or performing poorly, it is often other paid staff (or volunteers) who do the day-to-day management of volunteers

These people may feel they can’t challenge poor performance or behaviour by volunteers. Perhaps they lack the confidence to do this. Perhaps they lack the emotional literacy to deal with people who aren’t being paid. Perhaps they fear that volunteers will get angry and leave, not ideal if you are already short of volunteers. Perhaps they think that because volunteers are unpaid they cannot be held to standards of behaviour and performance — they are doing it for ‘free’, and out of the goodness of their heart, after all.

We need to be equipping those who work directly with volunteers with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to act where it is needed. This is a good place to start.

Effective volunteer engagement is everyone’s job, not just the responsibility of the Volunteer Engagement Professional.

Employees are more positive than volunteers on receiving feedback

As Agenda Consulting put it:

“Volunteers are less likely to receive feedback from their managers, which they could find valuable in their development.”

To my mind, this is closely tied to the previous point. If we avoid having difficult conversations with volunteers, then perhaps we are also not giving volunteers timely and effective positive feedback. Given how important this is to retention and recognition of volunteers, we may be missing a big trick because of our fear about talking to volunteers when things aren’t going so well.

In saying this, I am aware that the opposite may be true — we may be happy to give good feedback to volunteers, it’s just the bad stuff we avoid — as we’ll see shortly.

Employees are more positive than volunteers on manager support with problem-solving

This is how Catherine puts it:

”Employees are also 18% more positive than volunteers on the question “My manager helps me find solutions to problems”. This indicates that volunteers are receiving less support from their managers than employees. Is this because line managers of volunteers typically have less time to devote to them? Or is it seen as less important to help a volunteer solve a problem than a paid employee?”

I’d say both of the questions Catherine asks are valid. I’d add another question too — is the work we are giving volunteers so basic and easy that they don’t need to solve problems along the way?

When a volunteer is tasked with envelope stuffing, tea making and filling, problem-solving isn’t really an issue.

When a volunteer is tasked with developing a new project, service or way of working, then problem-solving is far more likely.

But how often are volunteers given that kind of responsibility?

Volunteers are more positive than employees on feeling valued

This is great news. 87% of volunteers gave a positive response to this question. It suggests that we are doing a great job of recognising the contribution volunteers make.

It is sad, however, that paid staff don’t feel as valued, and suggests that those managing paid staff in the sector might have a lot to learn from those of us who get the best out of people without paying them for their time.

Volunteers are more positive than employees on information sharing

As Agenda Consulting state:

“Volunteers are 16% more positive than employees on the question “This organisation is open, honest and shares information effectively”.”

This is interesting as anyone, whether employee or volunteers, needs accurate, timely and honest information to do their job.

Perhaps what the data is revealing is that organisations and managers are working harder to communicate with volunteers than paid staff. Perhaps they assume staff will pick things up from the endless stream of emails and Teams messages (because we all studiously read those, don’t we?), whereas they know they need to work harder to get information to volunteers who don’t have access to these forms of communication.

As with the previous point, whatever organisations are getting right with volunteers might be worth focusing on, so we do a better job for paid staff as well.

Volunteers are more positive than employees on feeling cared for

It’s great that volunteers are reporting a positive experience here. Feeling valued, cared for and communicated with creates a strong bond with an organisation, so it’s good to see such efforts paying off with volunteers.

Once again, it seems more effort needs to be placed on doing the same things with employees, especially when remote and hybrid working has replaced the bonding that can come from working in an office together.

If volunteer managers are getting so much right, why aren’t HR colleagues learning from us?

Volunteers are more positive than employees on organisational values and ethics

I’ve nothing to add to this beyond what Catherine wrote:

”Volunteers are 15% more positive than employees on the question “This organisation has strong values and operates to high ethical standards”, with 91% positive on this question. It is difficult to say why this may be, although it is encouraging that volunteers tend to believe this. Perhaps volunteers have lower levels of access to “insider information” that could lead employees to be more sceptical on this.”


Those are my thoughts and reflections. Why do you think?

Leave a comment below to continue the conversation.


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A Break in Berlin – what I learnt from my volunteering sabbatical

A Break in Berlin – what I learnt from my volunteering sabbatical

In this guest post from Laura White, you have a fantastic opportunity learn first had about volunteering in Berlin and gains ’em insights that you can apply in your own organisations wherever you are in the world.

Over to Laura…


It’s rare that someone gets to drop out of their normal life for twelve weeks, but thanks to Sustrans’ career break policy, that’s exactly what I was able to do between April and July this year. I put cover in place for my job for three months, packed my bags and travelled to Germany with literally zero plans, apart from to try to volunteer.

I wasn’t sure how easy it would be – I can speak a bit of German, but I wondered if volunteering opportunities might be limited by the fact that I couldn’t commit long-term. In my job looking after volunteering on Scotland’s National Cycle Network, I’ve seen a huge growth of interest in episodic and short-term, flexible volunteering – would the same be true abroad?

To skip to the happy ending…YES, it was. Incredibly true. I was able to volunteer for many different projects in Berlin, for different lengths of time. It was easy, fun, fulfilling and, quite frankly, a real eye-opener.

Most of this was thanks to a volunteering platform called Vostel – after a simple registration I could search for opportunities based on my level of German language (“basic”) and my preference of activity (“hands-on”) and was immediately given nearly fifty opportunities in the Berlin area. For many, you simply read through the task outline and signed up for a shift, after which you receive exact details of where to be and who to ask for.

My first choice was to try to give time to a project supporting the huge number of Ukrainian people escaping the war and arriving into Berlin. I signed up for a three-hour shift with Berlin Caterers for Good at the main train station, where they distributed food and drink donated by local companies – I was welcomed, given a short briefing and put on the sweets and drinks stand, where I quickly learnt the Ukrainian words for juice and water, found out that people of all ages like a lollipop, and was reminded how much a smile can bridge a language barrier. I returned again a couple of weeks later.

Through the same shift sign-up process, I started volunteering with Bikeygees – a project supporting women from across the world to learn to cycle. For the twelve weeks I was in Berlin, I joined them nearly every week, and made new friends, helping women from Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria progress from not being able to ride at all, to cycling solo around the park and repairing a puncture. Each week I simply registered for a shift and turned up. I had chosen to commit, but the admin was no greater.

With a slightly different start, I volunteered regularly for Berliner Stadt Mission at their Haus der Materialisierung – a collaborative zero-waste project based in an old multistorey carpark. They had advertised on Vostel for people to help upcycle old textiles into bags, and invited me along for an initial chat where I was shown the Haus and the task, and then we worked out what time commitment I could give and for how long – I chose four hours every Wednesday for ten weeks, and filled in their volunteer registration form (with a bit of translation help from Google Lens). They were the only project to ask me to report my hours and how much I had done, but also the project where I gained the most skills, thanks to one-on-one support from the project officer.

A commitment of a different kind came in June when I applied to be a volunteer with the Special Olympics National Games – a week-long competitive event for 4,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities, supported by 2,000 volunteers. I had a role in Volunteer Management, which required training, a uniform and a commitment to a number of shifts that week, but which also gave me the opportunity to volunteer alongside people from all over the world, practise my German, and dance at the Athletes Disco under the Brandenburg Gate.

Between these commitments, I also joined Clean River Project for a litterpick on the Landwehrkanal where I was put in a double kayak with a pharmacist named Nina, who gave me an informal tour of Berlin neighbourhoods as we paddled along and pulled bottles, plastic and an Oktoberfest Mickey Mouse from the water. (The latter won the Best Piece of Litter competition, judged by a volunteer clapometer…).

And I took on a stint volunteering to give out finish tokens at parkrun at Hasenheide Park. As I take part in the runs, I already knew the task and that these events rely on parkrunners volunteering themselves – a mutual-aid community.

What did I learn from all of this?

Taking part in every single one of these opportunities felt frictionless. There were no barriers. When I was asked to do more admin in order to volunteer, it was after I had a clear idea of what I would be doing and it was in return for support, skills-development or feeling part of a team; sometimes all three.

Almost every opportunity was based around the activity, rather than a volunteer role. In most cases I wasn’t asked to ‘become a volunteer’ for any organisation; I was supported and welcomed to undertake a task, at that moment, for the duration that I had committed to. I felt free to try new things and to step away from those that weren’t for me. But I could also commit to those that felt right. My time in Berlin was limited, and therefore precious. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on interviews, inductions, and getting started on something I didn’t know if I would enjoy and want to continue.

But this is always true for a lot of us. Time is a scarce resource for those of us who fit volunteering around other commitments and we need to maximise our use of it. Since I’ve been back in Edinburgh I’ve decided to step down from a voluntary Committee role I’ve been doing for thirteen years, and try some new voluntary activities, inspired by the things I did in Berlin. Many projects I contacted asked me to go through time-swallowing admin, including reference checking, lengthy handbooks and in-person inductions before I had a chance to try out the activity and decide if it’s something I want to do. It has taken ten weeks from starting to look, to be actively volunteering anywhere new – almost the length of my whole career break.

All of this is fuelling the fire of things I’ve been thinking about recently, as we’ve been implementing the Sustrans’ Five-Year Volunteering Strategy. How do we move to a more person-centred human approach for volunteering that removes friction and makes the most of people’s time? One that recognises a person’s unique strengths, interests and needs, and gives them choice and flexibility from the start? And how do we do that in a way that continues to take account of important volunteer processes, such as safeguarding and data collection, but that feels appropriate to an individual’s involvement?

I’ve been really pleased to see all of this referenced in the Systems map in the Scottish Government’s new Volunteering Action Plan – ‘fit’, ‘less bureaucracy’ and ‘accessible opportunities’ all feature in the system. Martin J Cowling talks about the same in his recent Engage article, suggesting we may need to “repackage elements of our volunteering to give people ‘taster’ experiences of volunteering in more supervised environments with fewer checks”. I’m excited to bring this all together in my own work with volunteers, and aim to give more people the same fulfilling volunteering experience that I had in Berlin.


Laura White is the Network Engagement Coordinator (Volunteering) for Sustrans, and has been volunteering since she was 18. Laura can be contacted through Twitter, through LinkedIn or via email.


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I’m sorry, what did you say?

I’m sorry, what did you say?

I enjoyed writing this article because, after what seems like ages, I once again get to question Government plans for volunteering.

I’m not being party political. All the parties get plenty wrong on volunteering. Some even get some things right, sometimes. It’s just that I used to enjoy writing articles highlighting the apparent default ignorance of politicians about what makes for successful volunteer engagement.

So, I was eager to put finger to keyboard last week when reports started coming through in The Huffington Post that the new UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (and deputy Prime Minister), Therese Coffey, had announced a “Call For One Million NHS Volunteers This Winter” (NB. This only applies to the NHS in England). The story then even got a mention on Have I Got News For You!

I went to the UK Government website to verify the announcement and found that it is indeed correct:

”As part of the plan, Dr Coffey will also call on the public to take part in a ‘national endeavour’ to support the health and social care system, calling on the one million volunteers who stepped up during the pandemic to support the NHS to come forward again. This will include a push for more volunteering across the NHS and social care.”

I have four immediate questions.


1—Why a million?

Seriously?!

That’s a lot of people.

Where did the figure come from?

Is it just there because it sounds big and so make for a good press release, or has there been a proper consultation and engagement across the NHS that has led to one million volunteer vacancies being identified?

I’m guessing the former.


2—What will a million volunteers do?

Assuming some thought has gone into this, what exactly are these volunteers going to do to help? Answer telephones? Triage patients? Make cups of tea? Take blood samples? Give injections? Drive ambulances?

I mean, volunteers can do all those things (if the right people are recruited, screened, trained and placed), but should they be doing them?

When public sector pay is lagging far behind inflation, when strikes are commonplace and more threatened, is this really a good time to be recruiting a million volunteers into the health & social care sectors? Don’t we risk accusations of volunteers undermining paid roles and strike-breaking?

That’s not a good look for volunteering and could damage us all.


3—Is there time to get them all recruited, screened, trained and placed?

To quote Game of Thrones, winter is coming.

How are a million people going to be found, their paperwork processed, interviews conducted, references taken up, criminal record checks done, training delivered and placement secured, all in the next few weeks?

And we are talking weeks, not months. It took RVS months to mobilise 400,000 NHS Volunteer Responders during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Government seems to want a million volunteers up and running by the new year! That’s a tall order, even if some of them have been active before.

Volunteer Managers in the NHS do a brilliant job, but they are often under-resourced, like the rest of us.

Is there a massive investment in volunteer management capacity coming to meet this million volunteer ambition, and soon?

I think we all know the answer to that one.


4—Are there enough people able and willing to help?

To quote the Huffington Post article I referenced earlier:

“The government hopes that the one million volunteers who stepped up during the pandemic to support the NHS will come forward again.”

Do they now? Let’s look at some data.

Six million fewer people volunteered in the second lockdown in late 2020 than in the first lockdown that spring. The numbers dropped again in the third lockdown in early 2021. Oh, and of the 750,000 NHS Volunteer Responders recruited, over 300,000 were never given anything to do — not a particularly positive experience, as I can personally attest.

This suggests that it’s highly unlikely that there are a million people just sitting around with time to give to the NHS when the government wants them to.


It appears that the days of poorly thought through announcements about volunteering are back, announcements that completely fail to consider the practicalities and realities of effective volunteering engagement.

Politicians and officials really must do better. If they are going to come up with such ideas, however well-intentioned, they really ought to talk to the experts first — for example, Volunteer Engagement Professionals and Volunteer Centres.

They also need to invest for the long term too, so short-term ambitions like this are a little more manageable. As I said, back in 2020:

“Since 2010, local governments across England have made devastating cuts too funding and support for local volunteering infrastructure. Our network of local Volunteer Centres is smaller and weaker than it was in 2010. They do great work, many on bare-bones resources that diminish year-on-year. Then C19 comes along. Volunteers need mobilising and supporting in ways we never imagined. And, just when we need them most, the volunteering infrastructure to enable this isn’t fit for purpose. Struggling in ‘normal’ times, it simply can’t cope with the challenges it now faces. People are doing their best, but capacity is much reduced.”

I made similar points at the start of this year too, when I argued why volunteering infrastructure needs to be supported by all of us, not just those working in it.

But it isn’t just government that have to buck up their ideas.

I’m going to say it — our sector must also do better. So much of the post-lockdown narrative about volunteering has built this myth that there are millions of people who loved helping so much in the spring of 2020 that they are desperate to come forward and volunteer again. This narrative was being peddled just this week at the Labour Party Conference.

As if nothing has changed in the last two years to affect their availability and interests.

As if we were all still sat at home, furloughed on 80% pay, bored with Netflix and looking for something to fill our time.

As if, in a cost-of-living crisis, people can just find the time to volunteers and forget about making enough money to pay the bills.

In England, we have a Vision for Volunteering through to 2032. We need to use this to have a sensible, well-informed and realistic conversation that helps ministers and officials to understand how volunteers can help, and what is actually needed to make this happen.

It’s time for a reality check, and for sensible heads in government to prevail.

One can only hope.


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Developing your career beyond volunteering

Developing your career beyond volunteering

I am pleased to welcome Morven MacLean as guest writer of our latest blog post.

I have know Morven for many years and am very grateful for her taking the time to share her recent experience of moving into a senior role in the People / Organisational Development arena, along with some advice and tips if this is a career path you would interested in following.

So thank you Morven, over to you…


Are you pondering your next career move and considering taking on a senior leadership position? Maybe you’re thinking about a role in the People / Organisational Development arena? Perhaps you’re lacking confidence and feel your skills won’t be recognised next to candidates with an HR background? I’m here to challenge that thinking and encourage you to go for it!

That’s exactly what I did when I returned to work from maternity leave in January 2022. A year of away had given me the space to reflect on my career. I loved my job as Head of Volunteering at Children’s Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS) but I was craving the stretch of a broader portfolio and the opportunity to influence more widely in the organisation.

When my maternity leave ended, I was delighted to see the role of Director of People and Strategy advertised. Excited by the scope of this role and the opportunities it presented, I applied, went through a rigorous selection process and I am happy to say, was offered the job, which I started in April 2022.

I was so pleased to see in the recruitment pack for the Director of People and Strategy role that CHAS was open to applications from candidates from a range of professional backgrounds. In my experience, most People Director roles stipulate an HR background. Another plus point was that it specifically mentioned volunteering development as an area of interest to the panel. CHAS is an organisation that values volunteering and understands the unique skills and contribution of staff in the volunteering function, so I was unsurprised to see this open-minded approach in the recruitment of the People and Strategy Director role.

How did I get here?

Having been a Head of Volunteering for seven years in a fantastic Scottish charity the options for my next move if I were to stay in volunteering were limited. Another Head of Volunteering role elsewhere – few and far between in Scotland – or moving to London, an option that was not on the cards for me! I loved my role but for some time had been considering taking on a new challenge that would broaden my experience and allow me to use the skills I had honed in relationship management, motivation, people engagement and strategy development.

During the pandemic, before I went on maternity leave, I seized the opportunity to take on some new challenges, leading pieces of work that I might not otherwise have had the opportunity to do, such as the establishment of the UK’s first virtual children’s hospice service. This allowed me to test my skills beyond volunteering and develop my confidence leading programmes of work in areas that were new to me.

My advice to you

If you’re thinking of moving beyond volunteering to a wider People role, I’d really encourage you to look for internal opportunities to develop your experience. Change doesn’t have to be a big step. You can start to broaden your experience incrementally through initiating and leading new and different projects across your organisation. Volunteering to take on a project outside of your usual area of focus will help you to broaden your knowledge and experience, as will joining a Board of Trustees outside of work. The experience of being a trustee at two charities over the years enabled me to develop my experience of governance which has really helped me in my transition to a senior leadership role.

The move from functional leadership to systems leadership is without doubt a big one. However, the advantage of coming from a volunteering background, is that I was used to operating across the system, bringing together volunteers and staff to deliver results. There are so many skills that volunteering professionals can bring to the wider People agenda. Moreover, there is critical experience that can be obtained from working in volunteering that can’t be gained readily elsewhere. This is directly transferable to People/ Organisational Development Director roles.

As a volunteering professional you:

  • Need to have amazing relationship management skills to work with volunteers and manage emotional labour
  • Understand that volunteers are an integral delivery partner and you are experienced at influencing others to understand that
  • Are used to developing flexible opportunities that fit around peoples’ lives and still deliver results for the organisation. Most organisations work in a more agile way with volunteers than paid staff.
  • Are used to juggling a large workload and overseeing risk, health and safety, strategy development, L&D, the volunteer life cycle from planning and recruitment through to exit. This is something that is often shared by multiple teams when it comes to paid staff.
  • Are adept at influencing across, up and down the organisation.
  • Are innovative and creative, working efficiently (most volunteering teams don’t have vast budgets) to deliver results.

We know that talented people don’t work in our sector for the money. Connecting people with impact and building connection with the cause is what volunteering professionals do daily. This is as important for paid staff as it is for volunteers, especially in the charity sector where money is not generally the primary motivation.

At CHAS, we know from our last three engagement surveys that staff are hugely motivated by our mission – ensuring that no family in Scotland faces the death of their child alone. I’m keen to apply some volunteer engagement approaches to the employee experience in CHAS. Given that our staff are so motivated by our cause, it’s a no-brainer to ensure that a connection with the mission is explicit and embedded in all stages of the employee life cycle.

I would love to see more organisations being open-minded about the skills and backgrounds required for a People Director role. The volunteering development sector is full of innovative, inspiring, and creative people who could have a transformational impact on the people experience in so many organisations.

My top tips

In conclusion, having made the change of role recently, my top tips for anyone considering a step up from Head of Volunteering to People Director are:

  • You don’t need technical HR knowledge – you need to know how to lead and draw that out in others. The Head of HR has that technical expertise and a strong relationship between you and that person is key.
  • Grow your network – attend conferences, tap in to CIPD courses, events, and networking groups.
  • Find a mentor who has taken a similar path. I’m fortunate to have three people in my network who have moved from volunteering into broader People/Organisational Development roles and their experience and insight has been invaluable to me.
  • Surround yourself in specialist volunteers (the bread and butter of a volunteering professional!) to help develop your knowledge and skills in areas where you have less experience.
  • Seek opportunities in your organisation to lead projects outside of your team. Identify opportunities for secondments and demonstrate your skills beyond volunteering.
  • Join a Board and use your experience as a trustee to fill knowledge gaps and develop experience in areas you haven’t yet been exposed to.

If anyone is considering moving beyond volunteering to a broader role in People, Strategy and Organisational Development and would like some advice, I’d be happy to chat further. You can connect with me on Twitter — @MorvenMacLean — or LinkedIn.


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Three possible implications of the cost of living crisis on volunteering

Three possible implications of the cost of living crisis on volunteering

We all know that inflation is rising and the cost of living is escalating. But what might this mean for volunteering?

In late July, I hosted the monthly Voluntary Voice Live Chat for the Association of Volunteer Managers (NB. You need to be a member of Voluntary Voice to access this link – membership is, however, free). Our theme was the implications of the cost of living crisis on volunteering. Those present shared their views and experiences in an open discussion about what it all might mean and what volunteer engagement professionals need to be thinking about.

In this article I want to summarise three particular areas we discussed on the live chat and invite you to contribute your own thoughts by adding a comment at the end.


Rates of volunteering

We all know that volunteering rates took a dive during the first eighteen months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Successive lockdowns stopped many people from doing the volunteering they once did and, sadly, not everyone who stopped giving time has got back involved again.

As I write this, we are still waiting on publication of the 2021-22 Community Life Survey data for England which will give us the best indication yet of whether volunteering rates have shown any significant recovery since the lockdowns ended.

What I am aware of, however, is colleagues reporting that some people are scaling back their volunteering, or stopping altogether, as the cost of living rises.

This might be because, for example: they can’t afford to be out of pocket when volunteering and their organisations don’t pay expenses; or the rate of reimbursements is too low to cover the actual costs incurred; or there is a culture of not claiming that shames anyone who asks for financial support (I’ll come back to this later); or it takes too long to get their expenses reimbursed.

Alternatively, people may be having to reduce or stop their volunteering in order to prioritise paid work so they can pay the rising bills. Maybe they are taking on more hours at work, or a second, third or fourth job just to make ends meet, and so volunteering gets squeezed out.

Add this to the aforementioned potential for volunteering rates to be slow to recover post-lockdowns, and we might be facing a perfect storm of fewer volunteers just as demand may be rising sharply for the support our organisations provide.

The cost of volunteering from home

One of the interesting aspects of the Voluntary Voice live chat was a potential reluctance from some volunteers to work from home.

The lockdowns saw more and more volunteering take place remotely due to social distancing and shielding requirements, so it’s not uncommon these days for volunteers to be giving their time from the comfort of where they live. But, as winter approaches (at leat for those of us in the northern hemisphere), many are getting anxious about the cost of heating and lighting their homes as energy bills go up and up and up.

The Voluntary Voice Live Chat discussion speculated that either volunteers are going to want to claim some reimbursement for the cost of volunteering from home, or could instead insist on volunteering in an office where they can stay warm at the Volunteer Involving Organisation’s expense.

This raises a few questions:

  • Do / should we help cover these costs for home based volunteers?
  • How will our finance teams respond if, in these challenging times, we request additional funds to enable volunteering to happen?
  • How might we make that argument in a way that sees volunteering as an investment, not an additional (rising) cost?
  • Is there a recruitment opportunity for us to engage volunteers by providing somewhere warm for people to come, as per the current conversations happening about warm banks this winter? (And yes, it is ridiculous in 21st Century Britain that we even have to think that?
  • Will some of us miss this opportunity because our organisation got rid of it’s offices after the lockdowns because it thought it didn’t need them anymore?

Reimbursing expenses is more important than ever

At a time when costs are going up and organisations facing growing pressure on their budgets, not least because demand for service may well be increasing too, asking for more money for volunteer expenses in the annual budgeting process may seem foolhardy.

Which is why it is vital to remember that reimbursing volunteers for the costs they incur through volunteering isn’t just a financial issue, it is an Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access issue as well. Put simply, we can’t claim that EDI is a priority if at the same time exclude volunteers who can’t afford to be out of pocket when they give their time.

That’s why organisations and finance teams need to be properly budgeting for volunteer expenses when costs are going up across the board, not cutting budgets, as they may be tempted to do. This means it is vital that Volunteer Engagement Professionals work hard to lobby for proper investment and support in volunteering in these challenging times.

Not only that but, as participants in the Voluntary Voice live chat pointed out, we need to do all we can to make sure volunteer expenses are reimbursed quickly, so people aren’t waiting weeks to get their money back. And we need to guard against any existing or developing culture of volunteers not claiming expenses.

To me, a culture of not claiming is worse than an organisation not offering expenses in the first place. It carries a real risk of two-tier volunteering, of excluding those who can’t afford not claim and being shamed or looked down on by those who can be out of pocket. I’ve seen it happen and it created a poisonous atmosphere that helped nobody.

Whatever the issues you face in your setting, I suspect volunteer expenses is going to be as defining topic of volunteer management in the months ahead.


So there you have it, three possible implications of the cost of living crisis on volunteering. Now it’s over to you.

What do you think might happen to volunteering as the cost of living challenges grow in the coming months?

How are you preparing?

What conversations are you having with colleagues and volunteers to plan ahead?

Let’s get the conversation going by leaving comments below.


Find out more about Rob and Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd on the website.

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Why it’s important to take a break (and four tips for doing so regularly)

Why it’s important to take a break (and four tips for doing so regularly)

I don’t know about you, but the last couple of years have simultaneously felt like the longest years of my life, and the fastest to flypast. So, now, more than ever, it is important to take a break now and again, to switch focus away from work, from the volunteers we support and the cane we strive to make, and look after ourselves for a short while.

Since Covid-19 came along, we’ve lived through lockdowns that seemed to drag on forever as we put so much of what we took for granted on hold. Then, in our vaccinated and lockdown free society, life resumed at a frenetic pace as we all started to find our feet again, resuming a new-normal life.

But life is never normal, new or otherwise. We may not be masked-up and socially distancing like we did last year, but things have changed. They always do. Even without Covid-19, 2022 would have been different from 2020. And 2024 will be different from today.

We may still be working from home, but just when we think we’ve adapted to a new way of working, something else comes along to throw in another change. Perhaps now we are juggling time during the week, working at home whilst also resuming some travel as we start to visit offices and events again.

For some, the end of lockdowns has meant dealing with an influx of returning volunteers, champing at the bit to get going again. For others, it has meant stress and worry as the volunteers of the before-times stay away. We are then faced with the mammoth task of replacing them, recruiting from a public who are perhaps not as keen or committed as those ‘traditional’ pre-Covid volunteers.

In my own work as a consultant, I think I’m someone who thrives on change. In general, I like it and welcome it. I mean, I spend my professional life helping people to make it! But I acknowledge that change can be exhausting. Despite switching to a four-day week and ensuring I book some longer stretches of time off throughout the year, I still feel drained after a few months of hard work. I’m sure you do too.

That’s why it was nice last week to get away. Properly away. Out of the country away. Beside a pool in hot weather with no work or domestic chores to do away. It was the first break I’ve had like that in four years, and boy did I need it.

I know I’m very lucky and privileged to be able to take such a break, especially in the challenging financial climate we all live in right now. Not everyone can afford the time or cost of a week overseas, especially when the cost of just surviving day-to-day grows and grows.

The good news is we don’t always need a big recharge holiday away, in fact, it’s just as important to make sure we get a break on a regular basis, week to week, rather than saving all our rest up until a big annual break.

Whatever our circumstances are, there are things we can do to try to make the most of some time off to recharge our batteries. Here are four that I try and do regularly:

Get a change of scene. Even if only for a day or even a few hours. Take a trip to somewhere new or different. Don’t stay at home the whole time, especially if that’s also where you work. If you are a homeworker like me, the temptation to just deal with a couple of emails could be too great. Put some distance between you and your laptop. Go for a walk in a park, visit a nearby city or heritage site, have a coffee at the cafe down the road. As the cliché says, sometimes a change is a good as a rest.

Turn off your devices. Disconnect work email. Divert calls to voicemail. Be brave, and turn off your phone. No social media, no alerts pinging at you. Even if you can’t physically get away, mentally take a break from all that occupies you in daily life. Juts a couple of hours of this can help.

Read a book. Grab a novel and let yourself be transported to a different time, place, circumstance, or even universe. If reading isn’t your thing, try an audiobook. No visual stimulation, just immersion in something different.

Meditate. This can help you relax, especially if it involves visualisation where you can visit a beach or park or other relaxing setting in your mind’s eye. If you’ve never tried meditation before, I recommend Balance, not least as you get a year for free!

As this article goes live, I have been back at work for four days already. I’ve got some more time booked off in October. I’m full of good intentions to actually take that time off work, because in previous years I’ve just carried on through to Christmas. I’m also intending to try to manage my workload a bit better, so I’m not so exhausted when the next break comes along.

If you want, I’ll let you know how I get on.


How have you taken a break this year? Did it make a difference to you? Why?

What can you plan to do now that will give you a break in those long months between summer and Christmas?

What top tips for taking a break would you share?

Whatever your thoughts, please leave a comment below and share them with me and others.


Find out more about Rob and Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd on the website.

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Why is mindfulness great for Volunteer Managers?

Why is mindfulness great for Volunteer Managers?

I am pleased to welcome Karen Janes as a gust author for the blog today. I have had the privilege of working with Karen over the years and and pleased she has chosen to share her thinking on the importance of mindfulness for those of us who lead volunteer engagement.

So, without further ado, over to Karen.


I’ve been a volunteer for many years and for many different organisations. For the most part of my career I worked in volunteering – I’ve been a Volunteer Coordinator, a Volunteer Manager and a Head Of Volunteering. The common theme for me, is that whichever part you play in it, the role of the volunteering team is very complex and demanding. How are we supposed to cope?

Unlike other teams, the volunteering team has to balance and meet the needs not just of the volunteers, but also the needs of the organisation, its employees and often its beneficiaries too. They need a wide understanding of how diverse departments across the organisation work, in order to understand how volunteers can fit in and contribute. And they have to influence paid teams both upwards, downwards and across the organisation

It’s not uncommon for the volunteering team to have to provide the full range of HR type services to their volunteers – marketing, recruitment, coordination, training, management, advice, motivation, communication, problem solving – as well as being responsible for strategies, policies, risk management and reporting. In my experience, there’s often whole teams and departments of people focussing on each of these things for the paid employee teams.

Rarely is this the case for volunteering.

The volunteering team has to juggle all of these needs and activities, often with limited people and limited time; whilst often working with very large teams of volunteers. In one organisation I worked for, a part-time Volunteer Coordinator working twenty-one hours a week could expect to have to coordinate a team of maybe 180 volunteers – giving their time across the whole working week, as well as during evenings and weekends. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

Whilst this is all going on, the role of the volunteering team is often misunderstood, undervalued or an unappreciated. They may not have the seniority, visibility, credibility, budget or support to do what they’d really like to do and achieve the transformative magic we all know is possible when you get a team of motivated and engaged volunteers, in the right roles, with the right training and support, behind a cause they are passionate about.

It’s unsurprising then that Volunteer Coordinators and Managers are always striving to meet everybody else’s needs without a moment to think about their own – overworked, working long and irregular hours, having to positively support everyone, resolving conflict and relationship difficulties between employees and volunteers, dealing with mountains of processes and admin. As well the simple task of engaging and inspiring people to give up their free time to join them!

At the end of my twenty years in the sector I was stressed, overwhelmed, burnt out, exhausted and, quite frankly, I‘d just ran out of steam with it all. Unfortunately, I know my story isn’t unique. Many experienced volunteer managers are moving on to different roles, different sectors or, like me, different ways of making a living entirely. And many others are exhausted, on the brink of burning out or feeling overwhelmed, disengaged and losing their passion for the role. It’s such an important distinctive, inspiring, fun, engaging and rewarding role that we can’t let this continue to happen.

This is just one of the many reasons I launched my business, The KJ Way. I teach brain-based mindfulness tools and practices that Volunteer Coordinators and Managers, and other charity managers, can use when they really need them to help manage stress, avoid burnout and overwhelm; and build their own resilience, effectiveness and wellbeing.

Mindfulness, like volunteering, is something I am very passionate about, and that’s because, like volunteering, I’ve seen and felt its impact. Mindfulness has transformed my life: it’s helped me to overcome stress, anxiety and depression. It’s helped me to be more resilient, effective, and focussed and to remain calm and composed during a crisis. It’s taught me to respond intentionally rather than reacting emotionally to situations (for the most part!) and it’s helped me to experience more balance, equanimity and joy in my life.

So, what is mindfulness?

I like this definition from Jon Kabat Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme. Mindfulness is “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”.

For me, mindfulness is about paying attention to the moment you’re living while you’re living it, bringing all of your mental energy and focus into the moment – not being distracted by ruminating on the past or worrying about the future. It’s also about being curious and open to what people and experiences and situations are really like, rather than judging them through the lens of your pre-conceived expectations. It’s the practice of paying attention to the moment you’re living, whilst you’re living it and a willingness to accept and be with what is. It’s a way of being, that allows you to experience much more of life’s wonders in every moment.

Why is it so good?

Mindfulness isn’t hard to do, and it doesn’t take long to do either. But it is a practice, it does require some commitment to using the techniques and bringing a more mindful approach into your day to day life. The benefits are impressive, I’ve felt them, I’ve seen them in others, and neuroscientists and researchers have proved them too (Mindful.org have a fab summary of some of this research). Over time, mindfulness has been proven to change the neural pathways and networks in our brains and improve our resilience, attention and focus, compassion and empathy and our awareness of our sense of self.

Mindfulness is becoming more and more popular and widespread with organisations around the world turning to it to support their people with a wide range of organisational, HR and Wellbeing challenges and priorities.

I’m committed to sharing these benefits of mindfulness in workplaces to help people to bring their true selves to work, with more energy and resilience, and to continue to feel passionate about what they’re doing with their working lives.

If any of this resonates with you, and you’d like to:

  • manage your stress and avoid burnout
  • learn how to respond rather than react to situations
  • maintain your focus in face of constant distractions
  • learn how to be aware of and manage your emotions and thoughts
  • improve your focus and effectiveness
  • have more energy at work
  • embrace change more easily and help others to adapt to change too
  • deal with difficult relationship issues

Mindfulness might be just what you need too!

How to do it

There are many ways to practise mindfulness and bring a more mindful approach to your life. There’s lots of formal foundational meditation practises like the awareness of breath, the body scan, and meditations for attention, and for cultivating compassion. These can take as little as five minutes to complete, but most people do something between 10-20 minutes several times a week.

With our busy workloads and stressful lives, it’s not always easy to fit in a full meditation, so for workplaces, I really love to share a range of micro practices. These literally just take a few moments to do and you can reach for them in any moments of need, pressure, stress and challenge throughout your day.

Why not give it a go!

“STOP” is one of my favourite micro practices that you can try on your own.

STOP is an acronym standing for Stop, Take, Observe and Proceed. You can use this simple and fast practice any time you need a moment of mindfulness. For example, when you are triggered by something stressful, you’re struggling with a change or difficult situation, or when someone has said something, and you think you’re about to respond in a way you might later regret!

STOP allows you to pause in the face of a stimulating event. It creates a space for observing your feelings and thoughts and allows you to access deeper resources within you before you respond from a place of wisdom, strength and presence. STOP helps you to learn how to respond rather than react to situations.

Each step just takes a few moments to complete, and the more you practise STOP when life is calm, the more accessible it is to you, and the more you can rely on it, when you really need it in those moments of challenge, change or stress. Once you know the practice, it can take just take a minute or so to go through it all.

So, let’s go through the steps:

Stop – literally stop or pause what you’re doing, give yourself a moment to come to rest and collect yourself.

Take – take a few slow, long, deep breaths. Try to notice the sensations of the breath in the body – you may feel a rise of your belly or chest with every inhale, and a fall back of your belly and chest on the exhale. Or maybe you feel the breath at the tip of your nostrils – cool air coming in, warm air going out.

Observe – observe your experience right now in this moment. Become aware of the position of your body, feeling the support of the floor under your feet, noticing any sensations that are here – is there tightness, stiffness, aches? Sensing any emotions that are here in this moment – is there anger, irritation, boredom or perhaps restlessness or joy? Noticing thoughts too – is your mind focused on this moment, or is it distracted by the past or the future? Is it calm or busy, cloudy or clear? Not judging what you find as good or bad, or right or wrong, just being aware of what’s here and letting it all be.

Proceed – as you start to calm down, break out of autopilot mode, and start to feel a sense of being grounded in the present moment – try to be open to the choices you have right in front of you. Ask yourself, what’s the best way to move forward from here? What’s most important to you right now? How would you like to show up in the next moment? Then proceed taking the next steps in your day from this place of greater wisdom, strength, presence and choice.

Come along to a free group session!

The STOP practice is just one of many practices that can help you to achieve more balance, calm and control in your day. If you’d like to try out some more, why not come along to one of my weekly group mindfulness sessions?

We meet over Zoom, on Friday lunchtimes at 12.30p.m. for half an hour. We explore one practice together and have chance to chat about it too. I’m opening these sessions up to guests, for free, every Friday in September 2022. Don’t worry if you can’t make every week – just come along when you can. Click here to register and receive the Zoom details.

If you’d like to find out more about how Mindfulness can help you and your colleagues, please do get in touch for an informal chat (email me or call me on 07919 561446) or check out my website. You can also register to receive regular tips, practices and invites straight into your inbox or find me on LinkedIn or Facebook.


Find out more about Rob and Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd on the website.

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Five tips for recruiting volunteers

Five tips for recruiting volunteers

Regular readers of this blog will know that I mainly write thought leadership articles on important and timely issues for volunteer engagement professionals. Every now and again, however, I like to throw in a more practical, how-to, post.

Buried away on my old blog site, I found an article from 2015 exploring five top tips for recruiting volunteers. When I re-read it, I felt it needed editing to improve it (everything can be improved!) and it deserved a new lease of life on the current blog. So, here it is, and I hope you find it helpful.

1. Target

A common mistake people make when recruiting volunteers is implying that anyone could do the role you require filled.

It’s a technique that can work, but is only really appropriate for roles where the only criteria for being a good volunteer is you have a pulse, here why it is often called warm body recruitment!

For any other roles, I always recommend you target, target, target.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • What do you want the volunteer to do? It’s a question that’s frequently ignored, or very little time gets spent on it. Make sure you give proper attention to the things you want volunteers to do so you can answer the next question.
  • Who would be the ideal volunteer for this role? If you need a driver, then you want people who can drive and who probably have a clean licence. Maybe they also require access to a car. If the driving is to collect furniture for a charity shop, then the person likely needs to be fit and healthy to cope with the lifting. Get as a specific as possible. Avoid saying anyone can do it. That may be the case for some roles, but if you segment that broad audience into categories, you will be better placed to answer the final question.
  • Where are you likely to find them? Avoid the clichés like advertising in doctors’ surgeries and libraries unless you think the ideal volunteer is likely to be found there. To continue our driver example, why would you want a driver who’s at the doctors? What leads you to think you’ll find drivers hanging out at the library? Where might you find fit and healthy drivers? If you need them during the day, where might they be?

2. Ask

Once you’ve got your target group identified, do not forget to actually ask them to volunteer. Sounds stupid, I know, but research consistently shows that people who don’t volunteer feel like they haven’t been asked to give time.

Ask, ask, ask.

Keeping asking.

And when you’re done, ask some more.

Don’t just recruit a couple of times a year. A potential volunteer may see that recruitment ask but not be available when it’s made. Three months later, that person can give you some time, but you’re not asking any more, and they’ve forgotten you ever did.

3. Sell

Please, no adverts for volunteers that say, “Help! We need volunteers”, or “Help! We urgently need volunteers”. That approach stands out (in the wrong way!) from all other forms of advertising by selling what you need, not by explain how a product (in this case, volunteering) will make the buyer fitter, happier, healthier, more attractive etc.

Sell your volunteer opportunities like a business would sell its products. Focus on the benefits of someone volunteering, not the features. When we buy something, we don’t just look at what it can do, but how it will help us. Same with volunteering — show people how volunteering will meet their needs, don’t simply tell them what they will do or how desperate you are for help.

Oh, and please don’t generically say ‘make a difference’ when recruiting. Everyone says that. Why would I make more of a difference with your organisation than another one? If you want to say your volunteers will make a difference, then say what difference they will make, and how it will be of benefit to them.

4. Respond

At this point, nobody has actually become a volunteer. All you’ve done is clarify what requires doing, who would be the ideal person to do that, and then communicated your offer to them. Hopefully, people will respond. Hopefully, the ‘right’ people will respond, saving you countless hours wading through unsuitable applications.

What happens when they do?

Do they get a speedy response (including outside usual working hours) thanking them for their interest in volunteering, explaining the next steps and being clear about timeframes? Or do they hear nothing as their enquiry vanishes into an over-full inbox until someone get rounds to responding, maybe a week or two down the line? Do they get a friendly voice on the phone or a disinterested, over-worked colleague who doesn’t even know about the organisation’s need for volunteers?

Far too many times potential volunteers get the disinterested colleague, or they wait for days for an email reply. Volunteer Managers then claim nobody wants to volunteer, or it’s getting harder to recruit.

Put simply, if you are going to ask for some of people’s precious spare time, make sure you have the capacity to provide great customer service to them when they do get in touch. Make use of simple tools like out-of-office email and voicemail messages, so people instantly know when you’ll reply, and when that might be. Check out volunteer management software that can automatically email people who apply with a welcome message.

5. Scale of engagement

The days of people signing up for regular, long-term volunteering on day one are pretty much gone. That was true before the pandemic and is even more true now. People don’t thrill to that kind of commitment any more. This is often misinterpreted as the days of long-term, committed volunteering being over.

I disagree.

We can get people to make the kind of regular commitments we want, but we have to be patient and plan for it. We need to offer a scale of engagement, with regular, committed, long-term volunteering at one end, and shorter term, flexible, bite-sized, easy to access opportunities at the other. Then we then start them at the easy end and, as we get to know them, we try to encourage them to move up the scale. It may take weeks, months, or even years, but some volunteers will climb the scale to give you the committed service you desire.

By the way, this approach can also be great if your volunteers have to be criminal record checked before they start volunteering. If you have some quick, easy, time-limited opportunities available then they can get stuck into those whilst the result of the check is pending.

So, there you have it, five quick tips on recruiting volunteers. 

If you’d like to get better at volunteer recruitment, then Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd can help. Get in touch today for more information.

Now it’s over to you. What are your top tips? Please share them below.


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Twenty one-sentence thoughts on dealing with volunteer problem behaviour

Twenty one-sentence thoughts on dealing with volunteer problem behaviour

I’m trying something a bit different with this blog. Inspired by Josh Spector, I am sharing twenty quick one-sentence thoughts on dealing with problem behaviour by volunteers.

Ready? Let’s dive in.


  1. Let’s address the elephant in the room first: if the worst comes to the worst, you can fire a volunteer.
  2. Just because you can fire a volunteer, however, doesn’t mean that you should.
  3. Unless you are dealing with gross misconduct, firing a volunteer is rarely the first option you should explore.
  4. Your organisation probably doesn’t exist to give people an opportunity to volunteer — standards and impact matter more than one person.
  5. If you allow poor behaviour to go unchallenged, you are effectively saying you don’t care how volunteers behave.
  6. If you allow volunteers who are making no impact on the mission to go unchallenged, you are effectively saying you aren’t concerned about the contribution volunteers make.
  7. Showing you aren’t concerned about how volunteers behave, or the impact they make, fundamentally undermines the work of all volunteers, and makes it harder for you to influence others about the value of volunteering.
  8. You are dealing with problem behaviour, not a problem person.
  9. As soon as you think there is an issue, make sure you document everything relevant, so you have a clear record of the facts.
  10. Are the role and associated boundaries clear to the volunteer?
  11. Walk a mile in their shoes — what sits behind their actions and behaviours?
  12. Check and challenge your assumptions with a colleague or peer to ensure you aren’t being biased or discriminatory.
  13. Can the difficulties be solved by letting the volunteer take a break, change role, or choose to leave of their accord?
  14. Make sure you have a consistently applied policy and procedure for dealing with problem behaviour.
  15. When trying to resolve issues, always send a record of decisions and agreed actions in writing, so everyone knows what they will do next.
  16. When you do a fire a volunteer, be clear on why and make sure they understand the decision and what it means.
  17. When you do fire a volunteer, make sure senior management understand why so the volunteer can’t do an end-run around you to get reinstated.
  18. When you do have to fire a volunteer, use the situation as an opportunity to learn lessons, so you can improve your volunteer engagement work for the future.
  19. Don’t let the small but vocal minority of people who cause you concerns dominate your work, most of your volunteers are happy and doing good work.
  20. Always be willing to ask for help.

There is, of course, much more to be said on this topic than just twenty short sentences.

A good place to start is The Complete Volunteer Management Handbook.

You can also read this article I wrote for Third Sector magazine and read this guest post Martin J Cowling wrote for my blog.

Oh, and this BBC radio show from 2019 might be of interest too.

What would your advice be? Please share your tips for dealing with volunteer problem behaviour in the comments below.


Find out more about Rob and Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd on the website.

Sign up here for the free Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd newsletter, published every two months.