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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Three reasons why Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd’s prices are changing

Three reasons why Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd’s prices are changing

For only the second time in ten years, Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd’s prices are going up. Read on to find out when and why.

When I started Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd back in April 2011 our day rate was £650. This was based on the results of a calculation suggested in the excellent book, “Starting And Running A Successful Consultancy” by Susan Nash.

After a couple of early years when business was particularly good, the company’s turnover crossed the threshold for mandatory Value Added Tax (VAT) registration, and so VAT started to be added to the invoices. As many clients can claim the VAT back due to their organisation status, or are VAT registered themselves so could get VAT relief on their spend, this has never been a big issue.

In 2015, I increased the Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd pricing to £700 a day. This was a modest rise to help compensate for slowly rising costs. And that’s it — since then, the price charged for what I do hasn’t changed in seven years. Until now.

From 1st April 2022 our fees will increase to £800 a day. This will apply to customers throughout the UK and be the new base rate against which all overseas billing will be based too.

Why is this happening now? There are three main reasons.

Seven years is a long time without price increases

Most businesses regularly adjust their prices according to a range of economic factors. That’s because their prime motivation is making as much profit as possible. I take a different approach.

Sure, I want to make a profit — the income I earn from Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd is how I feed and house myself and my family — but the main motivation for what I do is enabling and inspiring people to bring about change. I want volunteers to make a bigger difference in the world, and the people who lead, engage and deploy those volunteers to be better supported and equipped to enable that change to happen. That I make money to live on is a happy byproduct of that work.

So, I haven’t varied the company’s prices for seven years because I’ve been focused on the value of the work I do, not the costs of running a business or day-to-day living in our modern society. There comes a time though when that needs reviewing, and that time is now because…

… The cost of living is going up

As I said before, Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd is my only course of income. What I earn is what I have to live on, whether I have a good or a bad year financially. And anyone who thinks nonprofit consulting is a path to untold riches is living in an alternate reality from the one I live in.

Covid-19 has been hard on all of us. Many were furloughed, others lost their jobs and had to find new employment. Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd wasn’t eligible for any help from the UK government because it wasn’t the kind of business they wanted to support. I got through it but, with the cost of living rising for all of us, I have to make a change.

So, I am increasing Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd’s fees by £100 a day from 1 April 2022. That’s an increase of £14.28 an hour. Out of that has to come rising running costs, income tax and corporation tax on profits, so it’s not like I’ll be retiring to a Caribbean island because of the price rise!

Why aren’t the fees increasing by more, then? I considered this. I looked at £840 a day, a £20 an hour increase. I think what Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd offers is worth it, and client feedback seems to agree. But the company’s clients, mainly civil society organisations themselves, are also facing rising costs and I have to be mindful of that. I want to avoid pricing Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd out of the market. To that end, a £100 a day rise in fees seems fair, for now.

Supporting the free stuff I provide

Over the last few years, I have provided an increasing amount of free resources for the sector. Individuals and organisations don’t have to be clients to benefit from these, they are there for anyone to access. They include:

Whist it may not cost you anything to access these resources, it costs me time to produce them, and that’s time I am not earning income from paid work. For example, the Advancing The Profession podcast took 33.5 hours to prepare, record, edit, deliver and promote. In that same time, I could have billed for £3,350 of paid work!

So, Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd’s prices are going up in part to help fund my work to continue to develop free resources and materials. As long as I can afford to keep the business going, I’ll keep producing them.


There you have it, when Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd’s prices are changing and three reasons why.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below or get in touch direct.


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Belief and knowledge

Belief and knowledge

Every so often I read something from outside our field, and it strikes me immediately as being very relevant to volunteer engagement professionals. That happened when I read this short article by Seth Godin. I’ve copied it here for ease of reference, giving due credit to Seth as the originator and author:


Belief and knowledge

They’re different.

Knowledge changes all the time. When we engage with the world, when we encounter data or new experiences, our knowledge changes.

But belief is what we call the things that stick around, particularly and especially in the face of changes in knowledge.

While more knowledge can change belief, it usually doesn’t. Belief is a cultural phenomenon, created in conjunction with the people around us.

The easy way to discern the two: “What would you need to see or learn to change your mind about that?”


As volunteer engagement professionals, our knowledge changes all the time. We learn what volunteers want, or don’t want, and adapt our practice. And we’re good at adapting. Look at all the changes we’ve made during the pandemic, often at great speed. As just one example, we’re far more adept at using technology in our work than we were two years ago.

When it comes to beliefs, however, perhaps we have a problem.

For example:

  • We continue to believe that this is an isolating profession, and that nobody in our organisation understands or appreciates what’s involved in our work.
  • We continue to believe that volunteering isn’t taken seriously by our senior management, our sector leaders, our government officials and ministers, and that nobody will listen to us if we try to effect change.
  • We continue to believe that all the paperwork and bureaucracy we have to put up with has to be there, no other options exist, and we couldn’t change things even if there were.

Seth Godin’s article suggests beliefs are hard to change. In our context, I’m not so sure.

Before Covid-19, we believed volunteers wouldn’t embrace technology. That belief has been proven wrong.

Our knowledge of using technology changed, and our beliefs followed, to the point where we now often think digital by default. A complete 180 degree shift in our beliefs in under two years (albeit in exceptional circumstances).

So, if our beliefs can change, what do we need to see or learn to change our minds, and challenge any limiting beliefs we are clinging too? To go back to the examples I used earlier:

  • If we knew that it’s easy to network and connect with colleagues through bodies like the Heritage Volunteering Group and the Association of Volunteer Managers and the Association of Voluntary Service Managers, then would we change our beliefs about how isolating our profession is?
  • If we knew that our leaders don’t ignore volunteering because they don’t care about it — it is more likely because they don’t know much about it, so-called benign neglect — would that change our beliefs about our ability to effect change by filling the gaps in their knowledge?
  • If we knew that much of the bureaucracy we are comfortable with wasn’t used during the pandemic because volunteers were mobilised in different ways, and that this change doesn’t appear to have caused any crises, would we change our beliefs about how we go about risk management and safeguarding?

In conclusion, here are four questions for you:

  1. What limiting beliefs do you hold?
  2. What do you need to know to help change those limiting beliefs?
  3. Where can you find that knowledge?
  4. What will you commit to doing now to learn and make change happen?

As Seth often says, go make a ruckus.


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Three highlights of 2021 and three things to watch in 2022

Three highlights of 2021 and three things to watch in 2022

This is my last blog post for the year, so I thought I’d share my top three highlights from 2021 and muse on three volunteer engagement things to look out for in 2022. Ready?


2021 Highlight one — working with other consultants

I’ve been running Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd for over a decade now and have mainly worked solo. Despite occasional projects with other consultants, most of what I have done has been just me, working directly with clients to engage and inspire people to bring about change.

During the last year, however, I have had the pleasure of collaborating more with others. This has happened largely because a group of us working for ourselves connected during 2020 to support each other through those dark days of the first lockdowns.

Working with others this year has been great, providing new opportunities for me, as well as having a group of people who understand running a business that I can turn to when things get tough. After another year of not travelling or seeing people, another year of sitting at home every day, having regular connection with peers has helped my business and, more importantly, benefited my wellbeing and mental health.

You know who you are — thank you! It’s been a blast and I hope we get to do it again soon.

2021 Highlight two — conference connections

My second highlight is the two major UK conferences I attended this year, not as a speaker but as a delegate. Inevitably these were online and not in-person, but they both provided connection, inspiration, learning and laughs, despite the virtual distance between participants on Zoom.

Before the pandemic, so much of my life was spent with other people, at events and in workshops across the UK and around the world. I miss that connection and interaction with other people, making new connections and strengthening existing friendships. In different times this drove me in my work, but has been noticeable in its inevitable absence as the world has struggled with Covid-19.

So, a big thank you to the Heritage Volunteering Group (HVG) and the Association for Volunteer Managers (AVM) for your two conferences. You provided me with something I have missed so much, and I am truly grateful.

2021 Highlight three — number three

My third and final highlight is also about people, it is the wonderful team of volunteers at Engage.

I have been Editor-In-Chief at Engage for a little over two years now, and it’s one of the great pleasures of the role to work with people around the globe who generously give of their time to support and develop the profession of volunteer engagement through their work for Engage.

The volunteers on the editorial and social media teams are the beating heart of what we do, the engine through which great content is produced and shared with leaders of volunteer engagement around the world. Their generosity of spirit and dedication to the field inspire me every day, and I want to say a huge thank you to all of them. I can’t wait to see what we achieve together in the future.

Oh, and if you aren’t currently an Engage member, please consider it, maybe as a new year’s resolution or a Christmas present to yourself (or someone else, as we now have gift memberships available).

Find out more about becoming an Engage member on our website.


2022 Issue to watch one — A new vision for volunteering

The Vision For Volunteering initiative is due to report in the early spring of next year, and I am fascinated to see what will result from this work. Not just the positions it will take, but the resulting action that follows.

Announced back in June, Vision For Volunteering recently announced their first series of workshops, with more to come soon. This came soon after news of the welcome addition of Sport England to the existing partnership of NAVCA, NCVO, Volunteering Matters and the Association of Volunteer Managers.

“The purpose of the Vision for Volunteering is to set out the ambition for volunteering in England, over the next decade, with a clear and optimistic plan for the future.”

I was involved in a not dissimilar exercise back in 2008 when the Commission On The Future of Volunteering published its “Manifesto for Change” and associated documents. Sad to say, that little actually changed for the better as a result of that project, so I hope that Vision For Volunteering doesn’t suffer a similar fate.

I, for one, will be keeping a keen eye out for their final report and recommendations and, more importantly, what actually happens as a result.

2022 Issue to watch two — Warm words or actual action?

Alongside — but not directly related to — Vision for Volunteering, there is the Shaping The Future Of Volunteering chief executives group. Another initiative designed to capitalise on the attention volunteer received during the earl days of the global pandemic, this group brings together two dozen CEOs of charities to position volunteering to “play a transformative role in creating the kind of society we all want to live in”.

Clearly, a group of influential CEOs taking an interest in advocating for volunteering is a good thing. However, little has been heard about what is actually happening — what do they want, what role do we all have to play, how does it connect with other initiatives etc.? This worries me and brings to mind a phrase Joe Saxton of nfpSynergy used at the 2021 AVM conference:

“Beware of strangers carrying a basket of promises”

I hope 2022 results in some tangible recommendations, actions, and benefits from the Shaping The Future Of Volunteering initiative. We should all be keeping our eyes and ears wide open and asking questions about their progress, especially if you work in one of the member organisations.

2022 Issue to watch three — the return of in-person?

I’m writing this at a time when Covid-19 infection rates are high and causing concern across most of the UK. Big questions are being asked about the Westminster government’s plans and whether we are sleepwalking into another Christmas of lockdowns and disruption.

Like all of you, I hope we aren’t. I hope the end of 2021 will be a pandemic turning point for the UK, a moment we can mark a turnaround to something more like regular life returning on a sustainable basis as next year progresses. And with that comes my final issue to watch for 2022 — a return to in-person.

It is my sincere hope that as the next twelve months progress we can safely resume more in-person events, trainings, meetings, conferences and gatherings, giving us all a chance to re-connect.

Don’t get me wrong, technology has its place, and we should continue with the likes of Zoom where necessary, not least to minimise the harm we inflict on the environment. But humans are social creatures, not designed to sit alone connecting on screens, so I hope that, when it is safe to do so, we can regain the benefits of gathering in-person.

I already have some in-person event bookings for early 2022, and I hope that more will follow. I guess we’ll wait and see.


So, there are my highlights of the year and predictions for the next twelve months. What are yours? Leave a comment below or on the social media platform where you saw this blog post promoted. I’m interested to read your thoughts.


Before we go

Please note: Because of the fortnightly posting schedule and when my time off for Christmas is taking place, the next post on this blog will be on 21 January. See you then!


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Aiming for the wrong target

Aiming for the wrong target

Back In July, Third Sector magazine ran an article with the title, “Turning Covid-19 volunteers in to long-term volunteers” (the article sits behind a paywall so may not be available to all). When I read that headline for the first time, I sighed heavily and put my head in my hands, summoning up the will to read on.

I passionately believe that the premise of the headline is the wrong approach to be taking.

Rather than seeking to bend these people to our will — our desire for regular, long-term volunteers, either because we genuinely need them or we just can’t our won’t change the volunteer model we’re comfortable with — shouldn’t our initial response be to learn from what has happened during the pandemic and consider what changes we might need to make as a result?

‘Covid-19 volunteers’ are people across the UK who helped out their friends, neighbourhoods, and communities as the economic drivers that dictate how we live our lives were stripped away through furlough, lockdown, and social distancing. With no employment and commuting to do, they stepped up to help when the world turned upside down because it was the right and responsible thing to do. They did so in a highly flexible, often informal ways, encountering little bureaucracy — no forms, risk assessments and ad nauseam paperwork. That’s a million miles away from what most people would think of when they hear the word ‘volunteer’. In fact, I’d bet that many of these ‘Covid-19 volunteers’ would never even see themselves as volunteers.

If we believe the narrative, many of these ‘Covid-19 volunteers’ hadn’t volunteered before. Which begs the question: if they didn’t want to engage with the stereotypical, formal concept of volunteering before Covid-19, why would they suddenly have a change of heart when their experience since March 2020 has been so radically different from what many Volunteer Involving Organisations offer?

If all many of these ‘Covid-19 volunteers’ had to do to get involved was respond to a social media post or WhatsApp message, why would they choose to engage with the endless bureaucracy many Volunteer Involving Organisations require?

To me, it’s misguided to assume that because people have volunteered during the pandemic they will be automatically interested in doing so in future, especially on our terms and not theirs. Because the truth is, if we want to engage these people as volunteers in future, we have to change and in significant ways.

Thankfully, the leaders of volunteer engagement interviewed for the Third Sector article didn’t engage with the premise of the question either and focused on some of those changes that are needed.

Marie McNeil, head of volunteering at The Charity for Civil Servants, nailed it when Third Sector quoted her as saying, “Remember to keep the volunteer voice at the heart of your strategy.” If any organisation is entertaining the idea of embracing volunteering post-pandemic, then they need to start not with themselves, but with the people they seek to engage. Forget our desire for long-term volunteers — how do people want to serve our cause, what works for them, and how can we incorporate that into our plans for the future?

I’m sure Third Sector meant well with their headline, and some may think I am over-reacting to eight words at the top of their article. But, as I have written many times before, language is important. What language coveys matters. And there will be people — probably some board members and senior leadership colleagues — who saw that headline and are even now going to their Volunteer Managers and demanding something be done to convert ‘Covid-19 volunteers’ into long-term, regular givers of time, in total ignorance of the futility of such an approach.

The challenges of the last eighteen months have been immense. More are sure to come. But the opportunities we face in volunteer engagement are equally exciting and significant. If we are to seize them, organisations need to start from the right place, with a sound understanding of reality and a real desire to change, not as naive belief that the volunteers of 2020 are just waiting to do our bidding in future.

Perhaps a better headline would have been “Turning organisations into something Covid-19 volunteers want to get involved with”?


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What is excellence?

What is excellence?

The 2021 International Volunteer Managers Day theme is, “What is excellence? — pushing us beyond the ordinary”. This is a great question for our profession to engage with and one that’s long overdue for attention. Here’s why.

Volunteer management as a paid professional role has been around for about fifty years. For more than half of those I have occasionally asked fellow leaders of volunteer engagement to define what makes someone a good leader of volunteers. For example:

  • Is it our ability to engage with and relate to people as individuals?
  • Is it our ability set policies and procedure that support and safeguard volunteers?
  • Is it our advocacy for volunteering within our organisations?

Rarely do I get a clear answer and even rarer still do I hear any consensus from those I ask.

This means that five decades in, our profession still struggles to define and agree on what constitutes ‘good’ in our work. Given that excellence is, “the quality of being outstanding or extremely good”, it would seem that we don’t actually have a benchmark of good against which excellent can be defined.

This is why an article Seth Godin wrote for the Tom Peters blog in 2010 resonated with me when I looked at this question of, “What is excellence?”.

Here’s what Seth says, along with my brief reflections on his observations:

“Excellence means that you’re indispensable. At least right now, in this moment, there’s no one else I would choose but you. You, the excellent one, are so surprising, so delightful, so over-the-top and, yes, so human that there really isn’t anyone else I’d rather dance with.”

Are you and your organisation indispensable in the sense that you are the first choice for volunteers? The experience you offer and the relationship you have with your volunteers is so delightfully human that you are their preference.

In our for-impact space that may sit a little uncomfortably with some as it might be construed as setting us above other organisations. I think that misses the point. This isn’t about competition — winning isn’t the point — it’s the taking part, the striving to be excellent so that we connect with people that matters.

“Excellence isn’t about meeting the spec, it’s about setting the spec. It defines what the consumer sees as quality right this minute, and tomorrow, if you’re good, you’ll reset that expectation again.”

Excellence in volunteer management isn’t about meeting someone else’s spec. It’s not about meeting some external standard, helpful as they may be (e.g., Investing in Volunteers or CCVA). Excellence is defining the spec — setting the standard — based on your knowledge of and relationship with volunteers and the community you serve. It’s about striving for excellence in your interactions with volunteers, meeting that every day, and pushing the standard ever higher in future.

“The surefire way to achieve excellence, then, is not to create a written spec and match it. The surefire way is to be human. To be artistic: to make a connection with the customer and to somehow change them for the better.”

Excellence in volunteer management is not about policies, procedures, forms, volunteer agreements and the like. Excellence is about connection, human connection that brings someone into a relationship with our organisation such that they can change the world, and themselves, for the better.

“To be excellent means you must be an artist. The art of connection, the art of being human, the art of making a difference. Artists do things that have never been done before. They dig deep to create passion. They connect by changing things for the better.”

I honestly can’t think of a better way of answering the question, ‘What is excellence?’, than by saying, “We connect by changing things for the better”.

It’s a powerful way of describing that leaders of volunteer engagement strive to do every day so that those we serve can change the world with their passion.

To sum up then, what is excellence in volunteer engagement? It means we must be an artist. We practice daily the art of connection, the art of being human, the art of making a difference. We do things that have never been done before. We dig deep to create passion. We connect by changing things for the better.

That’s excellence in volunteer engagement right there.

Do you agree?


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Has it all been said?

Has it all been said?

I’ve been regularly writing articles on volunteer engagement for over ten years now and I’ve started to wonder, has it all been said now?

Here’s some context. Since starting Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd in April 2011:

  • I’ve written over 200 articles on my blog
  • For eight years I wrote a monthly column for Third Sector magazine
  • I’ve written quarterly Points of View articles for Engage with Susan Ellis and then Erin Spink, also for eight years.
  • I’ve written articles for people’s newsletters, journals and blogs at various points during the decade
  • I’ve co-written three books – two versions of ‘The Complete Volunteer Management Handbook’ and the UK edition of ‘From The Top Down’
  • I’ve lost count of how many comments I’ve written on news articles, blog posts and the like

Looking back at all of that writing there are almost no volunteer management topics I haven’t touched on. This is unsurprising when two of the books I’ve been involved in have the word ‘complete’ in their titles!

I’ve written practical articles with tips and tricks for getting better at working with volunteers.

I’ve shared my opinions on issues and topics related to volunteering.

I’ve passed comment on government initiates, many of which have faded almost as fast as they appeared, to be replaced by something else which I also commented on.

I’ve (hopefully) challenged, rebuked, inspired, advised and informed.

So have others. Slowly but surely more people are writing about volunteer engagement, adding their perspectives and insights to our growing library of professional knowledge.

We also have a wealth of material available to us. Twenty years of articles on Engage. The numerous books, articles and hot topics from the late, great Susan J Ellis. The blogs of Jayne Cravens. And countless more if we choose to look for them.

So what’s left for me to say?

Can I spend the next decade writing with the same frequency, producing content that adds value to the profession?

Given the comparative lack of innovation in volunteer engagement practice of the last decade (or longer if you want to be really cynical), is there anything to be said that has a realistic chance of stirring some creativity and new practice?

Am I just having an existential wobble as a writer in the world of volunteer engagement, or is this really it, the end of having anything worth committing to the page and putting out into the world on a regular basis?

These aren’t just empty questions to be cast into the world and whose echo is left to resound with no reply. I’m asking them of myself, but also of you.

I want to know what you think, not as a way to stroke this writer’s wavering ego, but as a way to hopefully inspire to me to commit afresh to my role as one of many voices seeing to move our profession forward.

What issues do you think need covering that aren’t being addressed?

What insights, advice and challenge do you think we all need?

What issues are important that leaders of volunteer engagement are being silent on?

In short, what should I write and what would you want to read?

Over to you.


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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.


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

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My career journey

My career journey

I’m always fascinated by how people got into the wonderful world of leading and managing volunteers. No careers advisor suggests it and no child ever says they want to be a Volunteer Manager when they group up — well my youngest son did when he was little, but that’s because I’m his dad!

So, how do we get into this work? Here’s my story.

As a young child I wanted to be a pilot, specifically a fighter pilot. Growing up in the 1980s, I guess you can blame Top Gun for that one. All through senior school that was the plan — finish school, go to university and join the Royal Air Force. My late and much missed mum even decided that I’d have an advantage if I could ride a horse so signed me up for riding lessons — I’m still not sure if I understand that one.

My plan was on track until I got to university. I was studying physics and modern acoustics and, after a year or two, I decided it wasn’t for me. I’d focused on other things than academic work and my worldview had started to change, as it so often does at that age in that kind of environment.

My third year at university was supposed to be a placement year. Poor grades meant getting anything in physics was impossible, so I landed a job at the university, running a scheme placing students as classroom assistants in local schools. The purpose was to raise the aspirations of disadvantaged children towards higher education. The work was volunteer management, although I didn’t know it and nobody called it that.

I learnt more in six months than in the previous two years of my degree and enjoyed the experience significantly more. I dropped out of university and carried on with the Volunteer Manager role, contributing to work CSV (now Volunteering Matters) were doing on student tutoring and mentoring.

CSV's book, "Learning Together", on the value of student tutoring in schools. I wrote a chapter - my first published writing for our field.
CSV’s book, “Learning Together”, on the value of student tutoring in schools. I wrote a chapter – my first published writing for our field.

After that one-year contract finished I spent the summer of 1995 unemployed before getting a job at the student union working as an advisor in the student support service. Part of my role was to recruit and manage a team of volunteer student advisors — volunteer management again. That contract lasted nine months after which I moved to London.

By this time I knew I wanted to do more work with volunteers and applied for a few jobs, not getting any of them. So out of necessity I moved into recruitment with Hays Accountancy Personnel for a few weeks. I hated it. I had a long commute across London during a long hot summer of frequent tube strikes and my boss thought I was good at cold calling, the part of the job I hated the most.

One day, completely out of the blue, I got a call from Barnardo’s. I’d applied for a job with them, supporting volunteer engagement across children’s services in London and the South East, but hadn’t been successful. The call was to tell me the person who had been appointed had decided not to take up the post and would I like it after all? I jumped at it.

I spent two and a half wonderful and formative years at Barnardo’s and will always think fondly of them for the opportunity they gave me. Through that work I attended the first National Volunteering Conference at UMIST in Manchester, hosted by the National Centre for Volunteering. I joined the National Volunteering Forum, members of whom are friends of mine more than twenty years later.

Barnardo’s also paid for me to attend the first-ever Institute for Advanced Volunteer Management where I met the head of volunteering for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). Cutting a long story short, six months later I was working for RNIB, supporting volunteer engagement across all external relations work (fundraising, communications, marketing etc.) throughout the UK.

I loved it at RNIB. I got to work with some brilliant people, made many friends and had some wonderful opportunities. Not only that, but I took part in projects around business process improvement and customer service management, attended some great in-house leadership training and got to ‘act up’ as Head of Fundraising Strategy for nine months. They even let me take my first steps into freelance work, running a side-gig delivering training for the Directory of Social Change.

After six years at RNIB I moved on, taking up a role managing a team of nine regional officers at Volunteering England (VE). Our team supported the local Volunteer Centre network across England, specifically around our development agenda, Building on Success, which became the main thrust of the Westminster government’s ChangeUp initiative to modernise the capacity of the third sector.

I’d been at VE a little over a year when I applied for and was appointed into the role of Director of Development and Innovation (as it was eventually called). I now had a place on the Senior Management Team, oversight of all our externally funded work (Sport England, Department of Health etc.), lead responsibility for our grant making work and a team of about eighteen staff. During this time I also led VE’s merger with Student Volunteering England, temporarily took charge of our policy & public affairs work and worked on a variety of interesting projects.

Sadly, the 2010 general election led to VE’s strategic funding from Westminster being cut. In 2011, I was made redundant. The organisation merged into NCVO two years later when the funding was scrapped altogether.

In 2011 work was hard to come by. The effects of the 2008 global financial crisis were still being felt and the coalition government in Whitehall was slashing funding for the charity sector. So, I set up Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd. We opened for business in April 2011, and I have loved every minute of it.

I’ve worked across the UK with a wide range of interesting and amazing clients.

I’ve spoken and trained at countless events, conference, and workshops.

I’ve been across Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the USA.

I’ve co-written three books and published over 200 articles on my blog.

I remain as passionate about the profession of leading volunteer engagement as I did in 1994 when I took that first job at University.

After all that looking back, I can’t wait to see what the future brings!


What’s your story in volunteer management? How did you find yourself in this amazing field? Please post a comment to join the conversation.


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 Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash