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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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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Marketing to Generation Z

Marketing to Generation Z

Earlier this year, I happened across a report from the CM Group entitled, “Marketing to Gen Z: A Fresh Approach to Reach a New Generation of Consumers”. Whilst aimed at the commercial sector, it’s a free and easy read with insights that leaders of volunteer engagement will find useful.

With that in mind, if you want to engage more young people — Pew Research define Generation Z as those born between 1997 and 2012 — then here are my top four takeaways from the report.

Takeaway one – Act now

If we intend to engage Gen Z, then we must act now.

As the report states:

“Marketers who aren’t evolving their strategies to engage this younger generation are already falling behind.”

The body of research into Gen Z is growing fast. We need to learn from, understand and engage with these young people if we want to effectively engage them in our organisations.

Takeaway two – Understand them

We have to understand Gen Z as a distinct group, rather than assuming they are just younger Millennials. According to the CM Group report, Generation Z:

  • are more practical and ambitious than emotional and idealistic
  • are less optimistic than millennials when it comes to issues like climate change, and gender & racial equality
  • are more cautious than Millennials when it comes to embracing new technology
  • are focused on education and success, and they use technology to get what they want
  • are most receptive to value-oriented messages and engagement tactics (a boon for non-profits)
  • more than any other generation, they expect personalised communications and seamless experiences across all online and in-person channels

Is this news to you? Some of it was to me, and I have Gen Z children!

We have to find ways to genuinely understand how Gen Z are different from other generations — what drives them, scares them and inspires them — if we want to have any success at connecting with them.

Takeaway three – Know how to engage with them

The report points out that Gen Z are more likely to use YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and Twitch than Millennials. Unsurprisingly, therefore, video is a key format to reach Gen Z.

Like Millennials, Gen Z prefer engaging via social media and are more likely to trust the information they receive there but, unlike older generations, they are more open to using chatbots.

Unlike Millennials, Gen Z are more likely to seek the recommendations of online influencers they trust. They are, however, turned off by a lack of transparency and authenticity.

Are we embracing the social media Gen Z are using? Are we being truly authentic in how we use social media? Have we started using chatbots as a way to engage with people? If not, we appear to have some work to do if we want to connect with Generation Z online.

Takeaway four – Volunteering gets phygital

Gen Z uses technology to suit their convenience, but they’re comfortable taking what they want and leaving what they don’t need. They like in-person social interaction, and they aren’t afraid to ditch technology for a better experience In Real Life (IRL).

This chimes with the findings of NCVO’s 2019 Time Well Spent reportwhich found that it was young people who most valued volunteering as a way of combating social isolation. In other words, Gen Z might not thrill to doing online volunteering quite as much as we think. They may actually want to volunteer IRL and with others more than on their own through computers and mobile devices.

One word used in the report is phygital, the merger of physical and digital worlds to provide Gen Z with a seamless experience. What would phygital volunteering looking like, allowing Gen Z to get involved online and IRL in a way that suits them (not just us)?


Those are my four top takeaways from the CM Group report. I encourage you to read it and perhaps share your reflections in the comments below.

Similarly, if you’ve done any other reading on Gen Z, or are already working to engage them in your organisation — especially if you have examples of phygital volunteering — then please share your suggested resources, thoughts, experiences, and lessons learnt by leaving a comment below.


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The freedom to never volunteer together

The freedom to never volunteer together

I recently read the brilliant book, “Four Thousand Weeks” by Oliver Burkeman. Combining insights from philosophy and psychology, the book is recommended for anyone interested in productivity and how we spend our time in the modern world. One chapter in particular really made me think about the future of volunteering and I wanted to share those thoughts with you.

If you’re not familiar with his book, Oliver argues against the typical approaches to time and productivity management, pointing out that we cannot possibly get everything done in the average human lifespan of four thousand weeks. He proposes that when we drop the pretence of getting everything done we open up new ways of thinking about how we spend our time, embracing rather than denying our limitations.

Towards the end of the book, there is a chapter called, ‘The Loneliness Of The Digital Nomad’, that challenged my thinking about the future of volunteering.

Oliver starts the chapter by pointing out that so much modern productivity thinking is geared towards helping each of us individually to take control of our time. Being in charge of our own schedule, doing things on our own terms, is often the goal. We can perhaps see that most clearly in the way work is being re-shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic, with many of us wanting more control over when and where we work.

As Oliver explains, this flexibility and emphasis on us (not our teams, colleagues etc.) can lead to increased misalignment of our schedules, not only with those we work with, but potentially with our friends and families as well.

For example, if we know we work best in the evenings then, with our newfound workplace flexibility geared to our needs, we can now more easily do that. But, in the before-times, when we perhaps worked to a organisationally driven schedule, evenings might have been the time we used to socialise or spend time with family. Thus, in our pursuit for more control over our schedule to work when we want to, we may be impeding valuable social connections that the old ways of working made possible.

This could have significant implications, because having free time (away from work) isn’t much good if you can’t experience it with others.

“Having free time but not being able to use it with others isn’t just useless, it’s unpleasant.”

Oliver illustrates this with the way the former Soviet Union allocated shift patterns for workers in factories. For maximum efficiency, people were placed in colour coded shifts of four days on, one day off, often regardless of their connection to each other. So, two friends might be on totally different shift patterns meaning their days off work never aligned. This even happened to husbands and wives, even though it wasn’t supposed to! Needless to say this did not make for happy lives or relationships, even if it made for productive factories. Whist we may not be being forced into shift patterns, we are increasingly choosing the hours and places we work on our individual terms, and not so much in regard to others.

Oliver also highlights Swedish research that showed that when people took time off work they were happier, but when they took time off work with others, happiness increased even more. And this wasn’t just when friends and family took time off together. The effect was also seen when more people in Sweden were off work, regardless of how well they knew each other, people were happier. Even retired people were happier when others took time off work!

Simply put, taking control of our own schedules may result in more freedom to choose when and where we work, but this potentially makes it harder to forge connections, not only at work, but in our wider lives too. And, as volunteering doesn’t exist in a bubble, I think there are some potential implications for volunteering.

As more of us switch to working from home more often, working away from others on schedules that work for us but may be misaligned with others in our lives (colleagues, friends, family, other volunteers), might this not also have negative implications for how and when we volunteer? Could all this freedom about when, where and how we work mean we never get to volunteer together again?

We know that for many, volunteering is a social activity. Studies frequently state that one of the top motivations for people to volunteer is to meet people and make friends. We know this is especially true of 18-34 year olds, the age group most likely to say volunteering was important to them as a means of combatting social isolation in NCVO’s 2019 study, Time Well Spent.

As workplaces move increasingly to allow all of us to organise our time on our own terms, do we make it harder for that social, human connection to be realised in volunteering?

Away from concerns about the spread of Covid-19, is pushing more and more volunteering online, into roles that are increasingly done alone, on individual schedules and remotely, a good thing for volunteering? What about for our communities and wider society overall?

What about those who need the social connection volunteering provides: the young, the lonely, the isolated and many others? If we make it harder and harder to give them the human connection they thrive on because it’s cheaper for our organisations to close offices, work remotely and do more online, is that something we are comfortable with?

If we gain more personal freedom, but at the cost of never coming together to see or make new friends, of never coming together to volunteer, is that a world we want?

Of course there are many perspectives and nuances to these reflections. Changes in how we work might also create opportunities for volunteering, as I outlined in a blog post about employee volunteering earlier this year. Growth in online volunteering might help tackle challenges around inclusion, diversity, equity and access.

What I am asking, based on thinking prompted by Oliver’s book, is whether we are looking at all the angles? Whether, in our rush to re-shape our lives and communities after the pandemic, we are thinking about what we might lose as well as what we might gain, and whether we are happy with that trade off.

That’s why I’m excited to be be hosting the next AVM Book Club meeting at 430pm on 28th June 2022 where we will be discussing the concepts and ideas presented in “Four Thousand Weeks”. There are more details available and you can book your free place (for AVM members only) here.

If you’re not an AVM member, or you can’t join us in June, or you just want to get your thoughts out now, then please leave a comment below.


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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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Three reasons why I’ve gone to a four day week

Three reasons why I’ve gone to a four day week

The four day working week. It seems to the discussion topic of the moment for many organisations as they grapple with what working life will be as we learn to live with Covid-19. And Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd is no exception. I’ve been experimenting with a four day week from the start of September 2021 and I want to share three reasons why with you.

Reason one

It’s easy for me to do.

When it boils down to it, Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd is just me, Rob (hello!). I own and run the business and am it’s sole employee. I can work when I want to work, that’s the upside of being my own boss.

Until last summer I worked a five day week, with weekends protected as much as possible for family. Of course sometimes weekend working is necessary, and when I used to do long overseas work trips, every day ended up being a work day to some extent, sometimes for up to nine weeks straight!

In August 2020 I faced four months of intensive work with no time for a break until Christmas. So I switched to having one working day off every two weeks. That worked well and kept me refreshed and energised so I continued doing it into 2021. In light of that, making a move to a four day work week is not a huge shift in the number of days I already sit at my desk.

Reason two

I’ve gone to a four day week because it matches my workload.

I use an app called Tyme to record the hours I work. It doesn’t capture everything but all client work goes in there as well as most of the effort that goes into running, marketing and maintaining a small business. By analysing the data from Tyme on how many hours I work against the maximum number of hours I set myself to work each week, I can look back over the data for last five years and see that my average productivity is around 80%.

How did I work this out? Well, I set my work week to be five days of seven hours each, so a total of 35 hours a week. Over the last five years since I started using Tyme I have on average worked 28 hours a week. This accounts for some weeks which are much longer (for example when I was travelling overseas) and some where I had less client work booked in or was on holiday (vacation time can now be recorded in Tyme but this feature was only introduced last year).

What does this mean? Simply put, for every five day week I am — on average — getting enough work done to fill four working days. This explains why dropping one work day every ten hasn’t affected the business over the last year or had any negative impact on the quality of my work. (I can provide quotes from numerous happy clients to back that assertion up. If you’d like some, just ask me).

So, I’m going to experiment with dropping every week to a four day working week, matching my productivity with my working hours, and see how it goes.

Reason three

Life is about more than work. As the Four Day Week Campaign puts it on their website:

“We invented the weekend a century ago and it’s time for an update. Since the 1980s working hours have barely reduced at all, despite rising automation and new technology. We’re long overdue a four-day working week which would benefit our society, our economy, our environment and our democracy.”

My mum died in 2019 and I want to spend more time with my Dad. An extra day not at my desk each week can help me do that.

I don’t get the personal and professional development time I might have in a ‘normal job’ because my focus on delivering for clients takes priority. An extra day not at my desk each week can help me do that.

I want to make the most of those things we’ve been deprived of for the last eighteen months during the pandemic, going places and seeing people I love. An extra day not at my desk each week can help me do that.

I want reduce my carbon footprint. One less day a week of business travelling (when that starts to happen again), one less day a week with my computer on, one less day a week doing video calls, all of this will add up to a big change (I hope). An extra day not at my desk each week can help me do that.

I’d quite like more time to do some volunteering. An extra day not at my desk each week can help me do that.

Over to you

So there you have it, three reasons why I have moved to a four day working week. I’m not doing compressed hours but a proper four day week. It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out.

Have you moved to a four day week? What benefits did it bring?

Is a four day week a topic of conversation in your organisation? Why?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.


You can find out more about the campaign for a four day week here.

These two articles may also be of interest:


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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

Three tips to help you develop meaningful volunteer roles

Three tips to help you develop meaningful volunteer roles

Finding truly meaningful things for people to do is one of the most important aspects of working with volunteers, yet is is something that we can spend too little time paying attention to. This is a problem.

Despite the fact that we know we pay with volunteers with meaning (not money), we sometimes skimp on the investment of time needed to craft really meaningful and motivating roles that will deliver a great volunteer experience. Instead, under pressure to get volunteers recruited and placed, we can cut corners, falling back on tired old approaches to constructing and structuring what we want them to do.

These tired old approaches just won’t cut it anymore. People want to fill their precious spare time with activities that are enjoyable and rewarding, so we need to create enjoyable and rewarding volunteer roles that are structured to fit the whatever spare time people are willing to give us. Oh, and we need to ensure those roles deliver for our organisations too!

Who said volunteer engagement was easy?!

“Attempting to recruit volunteers without first having developed worthwhile positions to offer them is equivalent to attempting to sell a product to people who have no need for it.  It can be done, but the buyer may well become unhappy later.  And when volunteers are unhappy, they don’t stay around long.”

– Rob Jackson, Mike Locke, Dr Eddy Hogg and Rick Lynch: The Complete Volunteer Management Handbook (2019)

This is why the training I run on ‘Developing Meaningful Roles for Volunteers’ continues to be popular. The course gives participants a chance to step back, explore volunteer roles design afresh and spend time creating a new role to help them in their work.

Here are three quick insights from my training that might help you improve your volunteer roles:

  1. When speaking with colleagues to identify new ways volunteers can help them in their work, do not ask, “What do you think volunteers can / could / should do to help?”. As soon as you ask this question people censor their responses based on their past experiences or prejudices about volunteers. So, if your colleague thinks volunteers will be unreliable, they will not suggest a role where reliability is important.

    Instead, work with colleagues to identify what their work actually involves – in as much detail as possible. Then work with them to suggest ways volunteers could contribute the skills, talents and experience they bring to your organisation to help get that work done.

  2. Games are fun activities people enjoy playing. People like spending time and effort playing and getting good at games. There are four elements present in all games that we should make sure are also present in our volunteer roles so that people will like spending their precious spare time doing the volunteer work.

    First, ownership – does the volunteer feel they own their role and the work within it?

    Second, responsibility for results – is the volunteer held responsible for actually achieving something in the course of their volunteering (remember, people want to make a difference, not just a contribution)?

    Third, authority to think – is the volunteer controlled and micro-managed, or are they trusted and empowered to use their own brains to figure out the best way to get the role done, perhaps bringing new ideas and insights to the work?

    Fourth, keeping score – does the volunteer know how they are doing and whether they are making progress towards that difference they (and you) want to make?

  3. Don’t use the typical task-oriented paid staff job description format for volunteer roles. Why? When did you last pull out your job description, look at it and get really excited by what it contain, so much so that you can’t wait to get to work tomorrow?

    If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t looked at your job description since you were recruited or had your last annual appraisal. Why then do we think that format will inspire volunteers, people who we need to remain passionate about our work so we can re-recruit them everyday whilst meeting their motivational paycheque?

    Instead, think about constructing volunteer role descriptions around the results you want volunteers to achieve, giving space for people to develop their own ideas about how to do things rather than just doing a list of uninspiring tasks.

If you’d like to know more and have me run training for you and / or your team on developing meaningful roles for volunteers then simplydrop me a line with an outline of your needs and I’ll get in touch.

What are your top tips for developing meaningful volunteer roles? Please leave a comment below and share your insights with us and with your colleagues in the field.


You can find out more about developing meaningful roles for volunteers in The Complete Volunteer Management handbook. Co-authored by me this definitive UK text on volunteer engagement is available now from The Directory of Social Change.

Front cover of the 2019 edition of the Complete Volunteer Management Handbook
Front cover of the 2019 edition of the Complete Volunteer Management Handbook

This post first appeared in a slightly different form in August 2016 on the old Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd blog site.


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.

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Is this the biggest issue holding back the volunteer engagement profession?

Is this the biggest issue holding back the volunteer engagement profession?

In the autumn of 1998 I travelled to the North London campus of the University of Westminster to attend an event that changed my professional life.

CSV (now Volunteering Matters) had organised the first ever Institute for Advanced Volunteer Management (IAVM). A small group of Volunteer Managers (no more than fifty I think) met for three days to learn from international leaders in our field. Susan J Ellis, Steve McCurley, Rick Lynch, Arlene Schindler were the faculty I can clearly remember being there for this revolutionary learning opportunity.

I can recall the first day’s schedule clearly. A three hour workshop with Arlene Schindler on ‘The Philosophy of Volunteering’, then six hours (!) with Steve McCurley and Rick Lynch on advanced volunteer recruitment. Just think about that – nine hours of in-depth learning in small groups. Not your typical conference schedule – no keynotes, no one-hour sessions where you barely learn anything or get a chance to reflect with others on the application of what’s been shared to your work.

CSV went on to run many more IAVM events over the next few years. Eventually the format resembled that of a typical conference with more attendees and shorter sessions, I suspect because of the economics involved. The cost of bringing together an international faculty of respected trainers and providing a decent venue was unlikely to be met from the fees of a deliberately limited number of attendees.

Then, one year, IAVM didn’t happen. It’s never happened again since.

Other countries tried the concept. I was privileged to be on the faculty of two IAVM’s in Battle Creek, Michigan, USA in 2000 and 2001. Both great events put on by the local Volunteer Centre, but they never happened again.

Perhaps the most success that anyone had outside of IAVM was Australian colleagues Andy Fryar and Martin Cowling. They ran a number of advanced volunteer management retreats in Australia and New Zealand, one of which I was fortunate to be on the faculty for in 2009. Keeping close to the original concept, the retreats limited the number of participants, with people having to apply to attend as demand outstripped the places available. Eventually these retreats stopped too, in part due to the limiting economics.

As far as I am aware there has been no dedicated event aimed at advanced level of volunteer engagement professionals anywhere in the western world since 2013. This doesn’t mean what is still on offer for our profession isn’t good – I attend many events and conferences (well, I used to before Covid-19) and there are some wonderful learning and network opportunities available. But are we being held back as a profession because of the lack of focused, advanced learning opportunities?

I think we are. I may have been in this wonderful world of volunteer engagement for over 26 years but that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything left to learn. I’m unlikely to find that learning at a conference or event geared towards people just starting out though. And I’m not alone.

The 2021 Volunteer Management Progress Report found that 29% of respondents had more than twenty years experience in volunteer engagement.

Whilst length of service is only one way to determine if someone is advanced in our field (a discussion worthy of an article in it’s own right perhaps?) this data gives a clear indication that there is a population of Volunteer Engagement Professionals who might not be being best served by current learning and development opportunities for our field.

Without such advanced learning opportunities, isn’t there a risk that practice stagnates and innovation opportunities are missed? Might we also be running a risk that some of our more experienced colleagues get bored with our profession, taking their insights and knowledge elsewhere? In short, is the lack of advanced learning opportunities holding the wider profession back?

As I say, I think so.

What, then, can we do about it?

As I suggested earlier, putting on an IAVM style conference or retreat is difficult financially in the best of times. With the restrictions on life from Covid-19 and the associated difficult economic climate, it may be almost impossible.

Might an online solution be a way forward? There would still be a cost but, without venue, catering and accommodation considerations it might be more viable. We’d need, however, to ensure the learning environment works online compared to intense, small group face-to-face learning of the kind IAVM provided.

Even with this option, would organisations fund their Volunteer Managers to engage in advanced learning? As budgets shrink, spending on training and development will likely be an early victim. Sadly, Volunteer Engagement Professionals rarely seem willing to invest personally in their own development, so without organisational funds even an online, reasonable cost option may not work out.

Where does this leave us? Well it’s not exactly a positive outlook is it? But that doesn’t diminish the importance of the issue. We need advanced learning opportunities for our field.

So I’m going to commit to finding a solution that will work and I want to hear from you in the hope that you’ll join me.

If you’re a trainer or consultant who wants to be involved then please get in touch.

If you’re somebody who would want to attend and participate please get in touch.

If you’re an infrastructure body who wants to be a part fo this then please get in touch.

Let’s make this happen together.


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