Developing your career beyond volunteering

FeaturedDeveloping 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.


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.

Five important questions to answer if you want to effectively engage volunteers after the pandemic

Five important questions to answer if you want to effectively engage volunteers after the pandemic

Volunteering is recovering as we continue to emerge from the global Covid-19 pandemic. Like so much else, volunteering will not be unchanged from the experiences of the last two years. So, in this article, I want to pose five questions every Volunteer Involving Organisation should answer if they intend to be successful at engaging volunteers in the future.

1/ Does everyone know why you involve volunteers?

Successful engagement of volunteers requires more than just a great leader of volunteer engagement. Everyone must be committed to giving volunteers a great experience that allows them to make a meaningful difference.

Just like the proverb that it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a whole organisation to effectively involve volunteers. It’s no good having a brilliant recruitment campaign if the person who handles calls from prospective volunteers hates dealing with them.

Does everyone at your organisation understand why volunteers are important to your work? Do they know what volunteers bring that is different from paid staff? Do you have a clear vision for volunteer involvement that is widely shared and understood among staff, volunteers, senior leadership, the board etc.?

If the answer to any of those questions is ‘no’ then you have work to do to gear everyone up to giving a great experience to volunteers so that they can positively impact your mission.

2/ Are you using, involving or engaging volunteers?

Language matters. The words we choose and how we use them conveys much more than the simple assemblage of letters. That’s why for many years I have had an issue with organisations who say they ‘use’ volunteers.

As I put it in a blog post in 2011:

”I feel very strongly that we should never talk about using volunteers but involving them. Volunteers are people, they take an active role in fulfilling our missions. They are…not used. I think the language we use around volunteers and volunteering speaks volumes about the way they are viewed, regarded and respected in our organisations. If we talk of using volunteers, putting them on a par with the office photocopier, then we should not be surprised if volunteers are seen as providing a far from meaningful contribution to our work. If, however, we talk about involving them then there is implied within that a much more constructive, positive and meaningful attitude to the contribution volunteers provide.”

Do you use volunteers, with all the negative connotations I outlined back in 2011?

Or, do you involve volunteers, giving them a stake in what you do, but perhaps not fully embracing their potential?

Or, do you engage volunteers as active and equal participants with a valuable contribution to make in realising the future your organisation exists to create?

How you think and talk about volunteers conveys a lot about how your culture really values them.

What words do you use? What words do others in your organisation use? How can you shift the language in a more positive direction?

3/ Do you really need all that bureaucracy?

During the pandemic, and especially in those early lockdowns, it became surprisingly easy to volunteer. All we had to do was say ‘yes’ on a WhatsApp group, or join a Facebook or Nextdoor page. Even for big programmes like the NHS Volunteer responders scheme, application, and approval processes were smooth and speedy. I call it frictionless volunteering.

Now aspects of pre-Covid normality are returning, so too is the so-called Velcro volunteering of the before-times. Long application forms, Extensive references. Criminal record checks on anything that moves and breathes. Supervision and appraisals. You know the kind of thing.

Sometimes this is absolutely right and correct. We have a legal, moral and ethical duty to protect our clients, colleagues, and volunteers. Good screening is a vital part of that. We want to actively deter the ‘wrong’ people from volunteering.

Often, however, our organisations erect these barriers to volunteering not because they fear for the safety of others, but because they seem to think that volunteers are, by nature of being unpaid, high risk. I frequently see this thinking: volunteers are unreliable, untrustworthy, unpredictable and so need to be managed and contained lest they rock the boat or cause any trouble. When we take this approach, we can deter the ‘right’ people as well as the ‘wrong’ ones, harming our work.

Or perhaps the inconvenient truth is that we have all that bureaucracy because it’s a nice comfort blanket for us in our work. We are familiar with those systems and processes, they give us a feeling of security when being innovative or changing our approach down feels scary and uncertain? I’ve been there myself in the past.

As whatever normality returns in whatever way it looks in your setting, ask if the bureaucracy of old is really needed. With it gone during the pandemic, were people put at greater risk? If not, why bring it back?

Like it or not, volunteers have enjoyed the frictionless volunteering experience and are going to want volunteering to be more like that in future. Your challenge is matching that expectation with what’s really needed, and that means asking some challenging questions about whether all those barriers are really necessary.

4/ What is the appropriate balance of online and in-person activity for volunteers?

We’ve all lived and worked online so much since March 2020 it’s almost impossible to remember what working life was like when e could all get in a room together. Despite many a pre-Covid protestation, volunteers have embraced technology and online volunteering has boomed.

What we keep online and what returns to In Real Life (IRL) will be a juggling act every Volunteer Involving Organisation and every Volunteer Engagement Professional needs to embrace. There are pros and cons to both approaches, and a blend of the two will inevitably be the way forward for many.

But what’s the correct balance for volunteers?

We might see online activity as being something young people will continue to embrace. But NCVO’s Time Well Spent research (published in 2019) found that 18-34 year olds were more likely than any other age group to say volunteering was important to them as a way of combatting social isolation. In light of that, is giving young people volunteer roles to be done online really the best thing to do?

If you don’t know what mix of IRL and online works for your volunteers, now and in the future, then you have some work to do to understand build the kinds of volunteer experiences people will be attracted to.

5/ Are volunteers making a contribution or a difference?

We’ve already seen the importance of language, and I want to end on another linguistic reflection.

For as long as I can recall, the phrase ‘make a difference’ has been synonymous with volunteering. We used to have Make A Difference Day. Many organisations will advertise for volunteers with a promise that the public will get to make a difference in their spare time. The phrase crops up a lot when you look for it.

Do we really let volunteers make a difference, though? Do we actually show them the impact of what they do? Are volunteers truly engaged in activity that tackles fundamental change and addresses inequality? Or are we really letting volunteers make a contribution? Are they only allowed to help with the nice but non-essential tasks?

Where does your organisation stand? Are your volunteers allowed on the pitch, scoring goals and moving you towards mission fulfilment success? Or are they on the sidelines, cheering on the real stars of the show?

What would be your answers to these questions? If you’re not certain, or need some help thinking them through, then maybe Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd can help? Drop me an email and let’s have a conversation.


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Bored? Join a Board!

Bored? Join a Board!

For this blog post I am pleased to welcome guest writer, Claire Haggarty. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Claire for a few years and serve with her on the Executive Board of the Heritage Volunteering Group. Claire share her personal reflections as a volunteer engagement professional taking on a new role as a trustee. Enjoy.


After working in a range of volunteer management roles across many heritage sites, I wondered if my experience of working across teams with different specialisms and (sometimes) competing interests put me in a unique position to support an organisation as a trustee. I’m pleased to report it did, and here’s why.

How I came to Trusteeship

In 2020, my job was made redundant. My employer, a museum, and national visitor attraction, suffered huge financial losses from being closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, a period that would have been their peak visitor season. Unfortunately, they had to make the hard decision to re-structure to ensure long-term survival.

My personal circumstances, and impending motherhood, didn’t make it possible for me to return to the workplace immediately, but I wanted to do something valuable with my time (beyond being a mother) as many friends had advised me to retain something adult or professional for myself during that period at home. I already volunteered for our local Good Neighbour scheme, so wanted to find something that allowed a deeper level of engagement than ad hoc volunteering allowed. So, the idea of trusteeship, began to evolve.

I did some research by looking at role descriptions and responsibilities of a trustee, particularly thinking about the daily activities of a trustee. I wanted to know what it would look like if I chose to do it, the sorts of activities I might be involved in, and what to expect in terms of commitment. Likewise, I researched some activities and legal responsibilities involved with trusteeship (see links and resources at the end) and read up on experiences of those who had been trustees. Fortunately, I had some in my circle who were trustees, so I was able to reach out to them for a conversation. Soon enough, I saw an advertisement for a trustee at a small museum about forty minutes away from my home. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to lend my skills and knowledge to a growing organisation, so I applied, was interviewed, and accepted. I am now a proud trustee of Lowewood Museum in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire.

Surprises and Expectations

To my surprise, my experience of trusteeship hasn’t been that different to my experiences in the workplace. I work with Trustees who have different specialist skills sets and champion their professional skill area in the same way that I worked across varying teams in the organisation. I still use the same negotiating and influencing skills that I developed in my paid role to champion best practice volunteer management at a board level.

A museum of local history, Lowewood Museum recently had its application to National Lottery Heritage Fund for “Your Museum, Your Heritage” approved. The project will involve updating our museum interpretation with volunteers from under-represented communities in the parts of the borough experiencing inequality. Volunteering will be a large part of this project, and my involvement will likely increase as the projects unfolds. I am part of a working group planning our first Annual General Meeting, and I’m gaining experience with budgets and financial planning that I could have never hoped to gain in a junior or middle management role.

I was concerned by the financial responsibility of being a trustee before I started, but this has turned out to be less of a concern, partly because we have another highly skilled and excellent trustee on the board who knows his stuff, but not everyone can be so lucky. It is imperative that you read up on these responsibilities and understand the different business structures that exist and how they affect your individual financial commitment should something go wrong.

What Makes Volunteer Managers Ideal Trustees

In my experience of volunteer management, I have found the job “Volunteer Manager” is conceptualised differently across organisations. For a start, the job title differs. We are everything from volunteer co-ordinators to community engagement or duty managers, but there has been one commonality across all these professional experiences; my work has involved me working across departments supporting various teams with different specialisms. In my view, this is what makes us ideal candidates for trusteeship: there are very few people that have worked across an organisation the way we do. Critically, we already have a developed understanding of the way different parts of the business work and how these departments interact. Many of us have been involved in strategic or business planning and have some understanding of financial planning (which is a joint responsibility of all trustees, so not something you would have to do alone). We have written policy documents, volunteer handbooks and likely at some pint been involved in a problem resolution process. We are policymakers, peacemakers, strategists, negotiators, and accountants!

In short, as Volunteer Managers we are multi-skilled professionals with a high-level overview of the complex organisations we work for, and this makes us ideal candidates for a leadership role like trusteeship.

Why You Should Do It

So often volunteer management is not respected as a professional skill set in and of itself, but a part of a job, or an admin/recruitment role that sits within another department. Many of our colleagues fail to realise the broad range of skills a good volunteer manager can develop and the varied strands of work we are able to deliver. If, as volunteer managers, we want to be heard, and we want to not have to fight every time we need to achieve something strategic or something meaningful, then we need to have a seat at the table. This means more of us applying for trustee positions and gaining a voice at the board level. Without this, we will continue to struggle to influence change.


Resources

Directory for Social Change and OSCR (the Scottish Charity Regulator) have excellent video content on YouTube and are good places to start your research as they will give you references to other resources to look up or ways to structure your research. NB. If using OSCR, please be aware that of different laws and regulations in Scotland that mean not all the information will be relevant to charities elsewhere in the UK.

Charity trustee: what’s involved (CC3a) — Perhaps the most useful resource is the gov.uk website. Be sure to download and read The Essential Trustee and Being a Trustee documents.

Getting on Board have great information for aspiring Trustees and a community for young trustees or those from diverse backgrounds


About Claire

Taking time out from her career to raise a young family, Claire Haggarty is involved in several volunteer management projects, from being Membership Officer for the Heritage Volunteering Group, a specialist support network supporting volunteering in the UK, to being an active volunteer in her local community, often co-ordinating the local good neighbour scheme in her hometown.

In 2016 Claire received a highly commended in the London Volunteers in Museums Awards in the Supporting, Managing and Encouraging Others category for her work with volunteers on the award-winning Painted Hall Project at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.

For Claire, volunteering was a way to build confidence back and return to the workplace after a long-term illness, giving her an understanding of the varied reasons why people get involved and choose to volunteer.


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Co-creating racial equity in volunteer engagement

Co-creating racial equity in volunteer engagement

Our friends at the Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement (MAVA) have recently published the latest report from their inclusive volunteering project. Whilst the report has it’s origin in the ongoing racial tensions in the USA, the findings have lessons for all of us engaging volunteers, and so we are pleased to share the following update from MAVA on our blog.


The Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement (MAVA) has been conducting research and education on race equity in volunteerism for the past five years. Through our research we’ve learned that making small tweaks to problematic systems will not solve the issue of structural racism in volunteerism; instead we need to work with Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities to co-create new systems that are rooted in equity.

MAVA was able to convene the necessary voices – community members and volunteers who identify as BIPOC – to learn more about systemic inequities in volunteer engagement and imagine new systems of volunteerism. We asked listening session participants about the barriers they perceived or experienced with regard to formal volunteer opportunities. Below are the barriers most frequently discussed throughout the listening sessions:

  • Formal systems, including forms, logging hours, background checks, and lengthy processes.
  • Time commitment and schedule.
  • A lack of compensation and incentives.
  • An unwelcoming environment.
  • Lack of trust in the organisation.
  • Not being invited to participate.
  • Prioritising the organisation over people.

MAVA was fortunate in that listening session participants not only shared with us their experiences, but also their ideas for advancing equity in volunteerism. Here is what we heard:

  • Create different ways of volunteering, which may include different pathways for different people, removing barriers, and/or compensating volunteers.
  • Prioritise leadership of people of colour at organisations engaging volunteers.
  • Build trust between nonprofit organisations and communities of colour.
  • Foster a welcoming environment and culture within the organisation and volunteer program.
  • Value people over organisation – put the community’s needs first.
  • Understand systemic barriers – tear down and re-build when necessary.

MAVA analysed the information provided through these listening sessions, reflected on our racial equity work in volunteerism over the past five years, and developed ideas for next steps to help you take action on the ideas communicated through these listening sessions.


At the organisational level

Advocate for equitable hiring practices at your organisation: Inform leadership of the importance of representation at both the staff and volunteer levels.

Promote an inclusive organisational culture by making equity, diversity and inclusion education a priority for you and your volunteers; speak up when you encounter biased or racist practices.


At the volunteer program level

Listen to voices from people of colour: Convene listening sessions of people of colour volunteers at your organisation and potential volunteers within new communities you would like to engage; compensate participants and let them know how you use the information they provide.

Review policies and systems with an equity lens, including your volunteer application, handbook, background check policies, onboarding system, training practices, and recognition.

Educate volunteers on race equity topics. Build antiracism into your new volunteer orientation and present additional trainings on a variety of race equity topics.

Build relationships in communities of colour: Reach out to culturally-led organisations in your area, be present at community and cultural events, and do the long-term work to build authentic partnerships based on mutual trust.


At the individual level

Prioritise your own equity education: If you have a budget for professional development, devote a significant portion to equity; spend time educating yourself through articles, books, movies, podcasts, and other resources.

Network with others doing work on race equity in volunteerism. Reach out to volunteer engagement colleagues at other organisations to help and support one another. Influence other groups or organisations you’re involved with.

Consider equity when encountering any volunteer systems, whether as a staff, volunteer, or community member, and challenge groups to prioritise equity in volunteerism.


These potential action steps are not designed to be prescriptive, but rather to offer volunteer engagement leaders ideas for how to use the information in this report to begin making change toward racial equity in volunteerism.

Find more information and download the full report here.

For further information contact DEI Program Manager Brittany Clausen.


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The question every volunteer engagement professional dreads (and how to answer it)

The question every volunteer engagement professional dreads (and how to answer it)

On the 4th July this year I racked up 27 years working in volunteer engagement. Whilst I love being a part of this wonderful profession I dislike still having to answer the question we all dread, the one that comes when you meet someone for the first time, and they ask…

“So, what do you do for a living?”.

You just know that an awkward conversation lies ahead.

If you take the direct approach and respond by saying “I’m a Volunteer Manager” (or any of the other multitude of titles you could have) you might get one or more of the following responses (all of which I’ve experienced!):

  • “Is that a real job?”
  • “Do you get paid to do that?” A particular doozy when I was applying for my first mortgage application!
  • “No, what do you do for a living, not what do you do as a volunteer.”
  • “Oh, I was once a volunteer…,” usually followed by a long story about their volunteering. I once had someone blether on about how they volunteered once a few years ago as if that one experience made them an expert in a subject I’ve dedicated my whole professional life to!
  • A blank stare.
  • The person asking looks at you quizzically and then moves on to someone who they suspect might do that they might actually understand.

The other approach to answering the dreaded question is to fudge it and just say, “I’m in HR”. After all, if we can’t even agree between us what we should be called (read that article and reflect on why it’s still so relevant 15 years later!) then why spend the energy trying to explain that to someone outside the profession?

A few years ago I read a blog post about social media marketing and how those who do that job can explain it to others. What struck me was this line:

“It’s tempting to come up with one “silver bullet” explanation and use it with every person who says, “So, tell me what you do.” But you’ll be more successful if you account for each person’s background and reasons for asking.”

I like this approach. Instead of trying to get someone to grasp what we do by sharing our vague and confusing job titles or explaining the detail of our day-to-day working lives, why not ask them a question instead, “Have you ever volunteered?”.

The chances are good that they have been a volunteer at some point and it’s very possible that they were engaged and supported by a Volunteer Manager. This gives us an excellent opportunity to relate what we do to that unknown peer who helped this person give time to a good cause.

Of course, you could be the Volunteer Manager who supported the person asking another Volunteer Manager what they do for a living. This highlights one reason behind our collective responsibility to give everyone a great volunteering experience — helping volunteers understand the importance of what our profession does to enable people to change the world for the better. Remember, you never know who your volunteers are talking to.

So, next time someone asks you what you do for a living, give this approach a try. Then come back here and let me know how it went.


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My top six apps for helping with wellbeing

My top six apps for helping with wellbeing

Regular readers of my blog will know that I occasionally stray from volunteer engagement and write about another interest of mine, productivity. For example, take a look at “My top five productivity tips for leaders of volunteer engagement” and “Working from home: how I do it”. I have, however, only once written about an equally important topic, wellbeing. And that’s surprising.

Because, for the last few years I have worked with my good friend Adrain Murtagh of Just Smart Thinking. You may recall a solitary article I wrote back in 2018 in the early stages of this work. Well, since then, Adrian and I have delivered five courses on wellbeing for leaders of volunteer engagement to colleagues in England, Scotland, N Ireland and Éire ( and we’d love to do more so please get in touch if you are interested). All have been well-attended and received, highlighting the importance of those working with volunteers to look after themselves in order to be effective in their work looking after others.

In this article, I want to get personal and share with you how I manage my own wellbeing.

I love my technology, so I find apps a helpful tool in how I look after myself. I’m also an avowed Apple fan, fully immersed in their world, so the following list consists of tools I know exist for fellow Apple users, but I am less sure about whether they work on other mobile operating systems.

It’s my hope that this insight into my approach will help to inspire you to take more control of your wellbeing.


1 – Streaks

Streaks is designed to help you build good habits. It’s one of several apps with this goal but the best one I’ve come across so far.

Set up is easy. You can choose up to six habits you want to build and track. The app contains some templates to get you started, or you can customise your own. Whether it’s a habit you want to build or one you want to break, you choose the frequency for the habit (daily, weekly, x times a week etc.) and off you go.

Streaks syncs across my Watch, iPhone, iPad, and Mac and pings me reminders at the times I typically do a habit based on previous days. It also allows me to skip days or even pause habits, for example during holidays, and lets me look back at my history with a calendar as well as giving insights into past statistics like completion rate.

Currently, Streaks helps me ensure that I work out regularly, take time to meditate, limit eating food that isn’t good for me and walk the dog. Which gives me an excuse for a picture of Ruby.

2 – Calm

Along with Headspace, Calm is one of the most popular apps for meditating. I’ve tried both and prefer Calm for its variety of content, the daily ten-minute meditations and extra content like music to help you focus or relax. For those who struggle to sleep, Calm also offers sleep stories designed to help you nod off to the dulcet tones of Stephen Fry, Matthew McConaughey and others.

Calm also provides a facility to do a daily check in on how you’re feeling and to do deeper reflection through small-scale journalling. All of which can be looked back on. And if you are regularly on the move (which hopefully we will be agains soon) you can download meditations, music and sleep stories to access offline too.

Calm offers an initial free trial before its subscription rates kick in so is well worth a try if you want to give meditation a go.

3 – Waterminder

I’ve been using Waterminder for four years now. It’s a simple app that does just one thing well — monitoring your liquid intake to ensure you remain properly hydrated during the day.

When you first install the app, you’re asked for your weight, gender, and activity level. Waterminder then calculates what your daily recommended intake is. For me, it’s 2,277ml. Then, every time you have a drink, you add it to the app.

Drinks can be customised into presets. So, I know my coffee cups at home are 350ml and my water bottle holds 550ml. My favourite beer comes in 330ml bottles and a typical glass of orange juice for me is about 200ml. That takes seconds to set up and then as soon as I have a drink I enter it to the app. I can, of course, go beyond the presets and add whatever I want across a range of drink categories.

Waterminder lets you look back at your history too, daily and on a rolling week, month and annual basis. As I write I can tell you that in the last week, I’ve drunk 8.52 litres of water and 4.08 litres of coffee.

Given that consuming enough liquid to keep your body hydrated is vital for general health and a productive focus, I find this app valuable to keep me on track as well as provide useful insights to check how much I am consuming of different drinks.

4 – Countdown

There are loads of countdown apps available on different app stores, and they all do the same thing — countdown to an event / date, or count up from an event / date in the past. Simple.

I find these helpful for my wellbeing. For example, when I’ve done long work trips in the past (nine weeks in Australia and New Zealand is the record) having a daily countdown to when I will be back with my family has helped me through low points, like weekends alone in hotels in small towns thousands of miles from home.

5 – Day One

This is a journalling app, probably the pre-eminent one on Apple’s app stores. It has lots of bells and whistles, many of which I don’t use. For example, it can be linked to social media accounts, showing a daily record of your Instagram posts. You can upload photos you take each day, so you have a visual record of your life. If those things are what you want then great.

Day One’s main function for me, however, is to keep a ‘What I’ve Done’ list. This is just like a to-do list, except that it record everything I have done at work each day. At the end of each week I look back over the entries in Day One, and it gives a great sense of fulfilment to see what I’ve achieved in the last few days, geeing me up for the next week at work and helping me stay positive.

6 – Apple Fitness+

I am not a fitness fanatic. I had the stereotypical gym membership a few years ago that lapsed almost as quickly as it began. I used to run two miles a few times a week, but that was twenty years ago. I’m a forty-something man, slightly overweight and — thanks to the pandemic — I’ve spent more time sat a desk in the last eighteen months than I have for a decade.

So, in December 2020 I started doing yoga. To my total surprise, I loved it. Then Apple launched their Fitness+ service to Apple Watch users, so I gave it a go. I’m still working out with it five times a week, six months later.

There is a wide range of workouts across different styles (strength, core, high-impact intervals training, yoga, rowing, running, dance etc.) which vary in length from ten to forty-five minutes. Some need a specific piece of kit (a rowing machine or treadmill, for example) but many can be done without any equipment at all.

I do a strength workout three times a week (using an inexpensive home dumbbell kit) and yoga twice a week. Add this to my daily two-mile dog walks, and it means I stay active. When travel becomes possible again workouts can be downloaded to my iPad or iPhone to do in hotels without having to sue the gym.

For a few quid every month, Apple Fitness+ is cheaper than a gym membership, significantly cheaper than something like Peloton, suitable for our homebound times, and flexible enough to work around my routine.


So, there you have it, six of my favourite apps for helping with my personal wellbeing. What apps do you use to help manage your wellbeing? Share your thoughts, ideas, and inspirations in the comments below.


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Photo by K Fraser on Unsplash