Twenty one-sentence thoughts on dealing with volunteer problem behaviour

FeaturedTwenty one-sentence thoughts on dealing with volunteer problem behaviour

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

Ready? Let’s dive in.


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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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.


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

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Are Volunteers Our Most Valuable Stakeholders?

Are Volunteers Our Most Valuable Stakeholders?

Since 2019 I have had the honour of serving as Editor-In-Chief of Engage, an online journal written for volunteer engagement leaders around the world who want to be informed and challenged about volunteering trends and issues.

Whilst Engage is a subscription journal, we do publish some free content and, since 2013, I have co-written these Points of View articles, first with the late Susan J Ellis and then more recently with the marvellous Erin Spink.

What follows is the Points of View Erin and I published back in October 2021. It asks questions about the value your organisation places on volunteers compared to other supporters. It is just a relevant now as it was seven months ago.

Finally, please check out our other Points of View articles as well as consider becoming a member of Engage.


The global pandemic – along with raised consciousness on diversity, equity and inclusion – has forced many organisations to refocus, change directions and reflect on a range of issues. For example, some are re-evaluating how they serve their community, from both a procedural and ethical lens. Others are tweaking volunteer engagement to make it more accessible online. And still others are undergoing a wholesale review of the place and value of volunteers within their work.

Whatever such rethinking involves and must take into account (which includes fluctuating funding environments for many), new lines are being drawn in the sand around who and what is essential versus who and what is nice-to-have in mission-driven organisations.

When we talk about who and what is essential, we know that for any organization that engages volunteers such discussions can be challenging for leaders of volunteer engagement. When those conversations happen, the relative value of volunteers compared to other stakeholders is often a thorny topic.

Consider: your organization is going through an exercise in prioritising stakeholders (e.g. donors, clients, board members, paid staff, the public, funders, government, etc.) from most to least valuable. Are volunteers on the list? And, if so, where do they sit on this list and why do they sit there?

What seems to be a simple question actually reveals a host of unspoken, hidden assumptions and biases that aren’t discussed nearly enough or with the rigour and critical thinking needed. For many volunteers, their main ‘currency’ of time has been largely put on hold during the pandemic. Instead, we’ve heard a lot of anecdotal stories from peers that the major shift in volunteer engagement strategy was to say to volunteers, “Since you can’t give your time, please give us your money.”

There’s a lot to unpack within the ‘give money instead of time’ mantra. However, the core of it boils down to the perception of value contributed from a particular stakeholder group, in this case, volunteers. In many organisations, money is valued more than time and so financial donors sit above volunteers in the stakeholder pecking order. Clouding the conversation, however, is the historical practice of correlating volunteer time to an hourly currency amount, despite excellent work in evolving the understanding of how we assign value to volunteer time (see articles by Jayne Cravens, Sue Carter Kahl and Meridian Swift on this topic and how to articulate volunteer value).

The seemingly quick switch of many organisations to a ‘give money instead of time’ message to volunteers demonstrates how much farther we need to go in order to change perceptions by key decision makers and influencers on the value of volunteers and why we include them as part of our organisations. To be clear, we’re not saying it is/was wrong to ask volunteers for money during the pandemic or, indeed, at any time. Research has shown that volunteers are often more generous money donors than non-volunteers, if asked in the right way. No, the issue we have is the seemingly automatic distillation that volunteers’ value is the one-dimensional construct of time.

By equating volunteer value to time alone, we discount the many other important contributions that volunteers make and spotlight the fragility of any real change in the broader understanding of volunteer value.

We have been saying for some time now in these Points of View articles that the changes and challenges of the past year have presented great opportunities to move beyond the ‘tried and true’ and seek to effect innovative and lasting change in volunteer engagement. This ‘time vs. money’ issue is another example. Volunteer impact is not one-dimensional. Whether it’s the number of hours or a currency value assigned to that time, these overly simplistic valuations miss the mark. In discussions about stakeholders and the contributions they make, this is dangerous. Because when time is not an option – like during the pandemic – then volunteers fall to the bottom of the stakeholder value ladder.

How does volunteer value measure up in comparison to other stakeholders?

Volunteer contributions can (and should) be considered from multiple dimensions. For stakeholders and organizations, there is ideally an equitable benefit for both parties, as well as costs.

What is unique about volunteers as a stakeholder group is that they can, and often do, receive fewer of the benefits while at the same time more of the costs compared to other stakeholders. For example, have you ever heard of a program or structure being named after a volunteer? Probably not. But we bet you’ve come across something like that named after a cash donor in the past. Regardless of whether a volunteer was instrumental in developing or running a core aspect of your organization’s mission, they rarely get the credit in the way a cash donor might.

In business, some use the “triple bottomline” of people, profit and planet to measure positive and negative impacts. Perhaps the same should be true in our for-impact sector, too – and for all stakeholders.

Volunteer contributions and the involvement of volunteers form a virtuous cycle. Unlike a monetary donation which has a set value, the value of time and heart is unlimited. Due to the nature of their voluntary involvement with your organization, volunteers can advocate and influence a wide sphere with an authenticity unparalleled by other stakeholders, with the exception of participants. We have both seen examples over the years of how volunteers can bring something to an organisation that truly no other category of worker or supporter can bring.

Often volunteers are involved with projects and programs that are deeply embedded in the work of your organization. As a result, it can be argued that they more deeply impact (and are impacted by) the work of your organization. While some volunteer roles are of a more transactional and short-term nature, the ripple effect of the exposure to your mission is far more powerful than the transaction of writing a cheque or making an online donation. Most volunteers – no matter whether their involvement is in-person, episodic or virtual – go through some level of orientation to an organization. This awareness-raising and exposure heightens the emotional and educational aspects of becoming involved with an organization, and impacts a volunteer more than other stakeholders.

Stakeholder Value Education

The pandemic brought into stark relief a continued need for more education, advocacy and compelling evidence of the multiple bottom-lines that volunteers impact, as well as the more intangible qualitative contributions that volunteers uniquely add. This isn’t just about scoring points with colleagues by getting volunteers further up the stakeholder value list; it’s about ensuring that our organisations make the most of a multi-faceted, highly valuable resource without simply dismissing it as less valuable than a one-dimensional financial donation.

To get you started, consider the following:

  • What networks do volunteers give your organisation access to that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach?
  • What is the ‘opportunity cost’ to the volunteer of giving time to your organisation? What are they giving up to support you? How might this be used to show the value of what they bring to your cause?
  • How do volunteers contribute in unique ways from paid staff and other supporters? Do they, for example, bring a lived experience of your cause, or appear to clients as more reliable / committed etc. because they aren’t paid to be there? How does that help progress your mission through volunteer engagement?

We’d love to hear what you are already doing on this issue, how you get on if you’re just starting and what you think more broadly of the position we’ve taken in this Points of View.

Please leave us a comment and let’s get the conversation started.


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

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

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

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

1/ Does everyone know why you involve volunteers?

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

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

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

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

2/ Are you using, involving or engaging volunteers?

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

As I put it in a blog post in 2011:

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/ Do you really need all that bureaucracy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what’s the correct balance for volunteers?

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

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

5/ Are volunteers making a contribution or a difference?

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

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

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

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

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


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Bored? Join a Board!

Bored? Join a Board!

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


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

How I came to Trusteeship

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

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

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

Surprises and Expectations

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

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

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

What Makes Volunteer Managers Ideal Trustees

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

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

Why You Should Do It

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


Resources

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

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

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


About Claire

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

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

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


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Online vs. In-person: do we have a choice?

Online vs. In-person: do we have a choice?

Since returning to work in January, I have spent nine days travelling within the UK, attending conferences, events, trainings and making site visits for a consulting client. These have been the first opportunity to leave home on business since the middle of March 2020. I’ve loved it. But will it continue?

Let’s be clear. Going anywhere for the last two years hasn’t been sensible. The risks to health from Covid-19 have been real and serious.

Selfishly, the impact of the worst effects of long Covid on me would have been disastrous. If I’m too ill to work, I don’t earn my income. The bills go unpaid. No sick pay, no government help. Less selfishly, I would never have lived with myself if I’d been a one-man super-spreader.

But now, with all the progress we’ve made, the return to in-person work is possible. Of course, we are all — individually and organisationally — going to have to decide what stays online and what should be done in real life (IRL), and why. Some want as much human connection back as possible (I won’t lie, I’m in that camp) and some want us to spend the rest of our lives at home on Teams, Zoom, and the like. As in all things, reality will be a balance between the two, as Matt Hyde of The Scouts so brilliantly wrote recently — you can read his thinking here.

What concerns me now is whether that choice about returning to IRL is being taken away from us by short-sighted organisational thinking. I’ve heard quite a few leaders of volunteer engagement (and others) saying that even if they wanted to attend an in-person event or learning and development opportunity, they can’t because their employer has banned attendance at anything that costs money for the foreseeable future.

There are three serious implications that immediately come to mind from this position:

  1. At a time when the jobs market is pretty buoyant, investing in the learning and development of our people will be crucial to attracting and retaining the best talent to our work. Banning people from attending conferences workshops, events, and the like will simply result in your people going elsewhere, leaving your organisation less capable of attracting and retaining the talent you need. Ultimately, this will probably cost you more money eventually.
  2. If your people can’t go and learn from others, network and make connections, then how will they gain the insights they need to change, adapt and grow their work to the benefit of your mission? Sure, reading a report or watching a webinar on your own will help build your knowledge, but not as much as being able to debate and interrogate that source material with others, something much more effectively done IRL as so many elements of communication get lost online (e.g., body language).
  3. If our organisations fail to invest in learning and development, then the infrastructure to support that activity may disappear. Local venues who host events will close. Local and national instructor bodies will wither away. For years, our voluntary sector infrastructure has been told they need to earn more of their income. They’ve adapted accordingly. Now we’re going to pull up the drawbridge and hang them out to dry, whilst lining the pockets of the likes of Zoom and Microsoft?

In saying all this, I am aware of the budgetary squeeze the pandemic and current world situation has brought to many organisations, my own included. I am aware of the need to avoid returning to the environmentally harmful behaviour of the past. I am aware of the need to behave responsibly and safely in a pandemic that hasn’t yet ended.

Likewise, I am aware that we are social creatures. Being with others in our DNA. We are not designed to only engage with others through a window on our computer desktops. We learn more from spending time with others, that’s why coffee and lunch break conversations and interactive workshops always rate highly on event evaluation forms (except for the online events!).

As I said earlier, we have to find a balance between online and IRL as the pandemic (hopefully) fades. Being left without that choice because of short-sighted financial worries could cause long-term negative effects from Covid-19 beyond those we have already experienced. We mustn’t let that happen.


What do you think?

Do you agree with me?

What perspectives do you have on these issues?

Please share your thoughts with a comment below.


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Volunteer Management in Fundraising: Reflections on the ongoing journey from good practice to ‘excellence’

Volunteer Management in Fundraising: Reflections on the ongoing journey from good practice to ‘excellence’

In this article I welcome guest writer Jennifer Cathcart who shares the story of recent work she has been involved in to drive up excellence in volunteer engagement in a fundraising context. This is an area of working with volunteers that often gets little attention so I’m grateful to Jenn for penning this contribution to the profession.


I received a card in the post this week from a colleague thanking me for my support on a project. It was a lovely surprise, hidden amongst the visa bill and mail order dishwasher tablets, and it struck me yet again what a warm fuzzy feeling we get when we are re praised or thanked. In that one simple gesture, I knew that my time was valued and appreciated. We get this when it comes to volunteers but often forget it when we think about paid staff colleagues. Here at Marie Curie, we are changing that and I want to explain why and how.

Working as a Fundraiser or a Volunteer Manager in any setting can be really busy. Most days are spent in a blur of meetings, returning calls and trying to manage the to do list. After two years of rapidly changing Covid restrictions, personal stresses and collective uncertainty, taking time to make small gestures like sending a card can seem impossible. It feels like the thing that it is ok to push down the to do list as unimportant. Yet protecting time for those gestures with our volunteers is one of the most important aspects of our role. Our volunteers freely give their time and are vital in allowing us to provide our services, so our relationships with them deserve to be nurtured.

The demands on our time have only increased over the pandemic. From the very start, we had to quickly adjust plans to accommodate changes in restrictions and create plans for every eventuality. We needed to make sure we were always empathetic towards our volunteers’ fears around Covid-19, fears which we as paid staff often shared. Many teams were reduced due to furlough or self-isolation, and it would be easy for the quality of volunteer management to have slipped.

The Fundraising Volunteering Team at Marie Curie is responsible for the strategy, resources and processes of all things volunteering within fundraising, and to support our community fundraisers in rolling out new initiatives and supporting the volunteers in their area. Our priorities for 2021 were clear — re-engage with our volunteers, making sure they were kept up to date and on board for the future while we worked on creating new initiatives. This included launching online information sessions, holding engagement events, improving our newsletter and making sure our fundraisers had all the information they needed to connect with their volunteers. These were essential priorities for that time, but with 2022 approaching we had an ambition to grow our volunteering programme in new ways.

Ask our Community Fundraisers what they love about their job, and most will say it’s working with their volunteers. They tell us it is their volunteers’ enthusiasm, passion and creativity that fuels them on the tough days, that their observations about their community leads to new opportunities and that their networks allow us to be part of their community. Yet, we weren’t routinely celebrating their role and skills in volunteer management.

That changed in November when we chose to celebrate the 2021 International Volunteer Managers Day. We felt the day could be used as a springboard to celebrate the excellent volunteer stewardship we knew existed already — but what did the theme of “excellence” really mean? Had I been a volunteer, was it demonstrated in the card I received last week? Where is the line between what is good practice and what is truly excellent in volunteer management? If we can define it, what are our expectations in how often we do each? Is it possible to be excellent all the time by consistently ticking the good practice box, or is it by providing peak moments that can elevate our practice into excellence (much like those suggested by Chip and Dan Heath in their book, “The Power of Moments”?

We brought our community fundraising team together on the day to try and find the answers to those questions. Through our first early breakfast (aimed to allow space for learning before the call of the inbox) and lunchtime meetings, we explored our own experiences and what they represented to us. Many of us were brought to tears as a fundraiser talked about calling a volunteer on Christmas Day as she knew he was not looking forward to spending it alone.

The day culminated in the launch of our new awards for Volunteer Managers in fundraising. The scheme will run all year, with fundraisers nominated by their peers when they’re seen to have shown excellence in their work with volunteers. The awards encompass the whole team, from those with more than twenty years’ experience to those in their first fundraising post. Those newer to the team bring fresh ideas we can all be inspired by, and those with long standing respect from their volunteers and peers can remind us of the importance of small actions over time. All can embed excellence in their work with such ease that they don’t always recognise it with the respect it deserves.

Although we’ve set up these awards to celebrate excellence across our fundraising team, we also feel a responsibility to help grow excellence across the sector too. The experience a volunteer has in any setting impacts their passion for continuing to volunteer, be that in their current role or in the future. It will also influence how they reflect on their volunteering, and the reflections they share with others who may consider volunteering. As leaders in volunteering, we all have a part to play in ensuring volunteering continues to grow, adapt and be celebrated.

With that goal in mind, we set up an informal network for fundraising volunteer managers. The network provides a space for those responsible for volunteer strategy within fundraising teams to come together, share good practice and ensure we learn from the wider volunteering sector as we strive to build consistently excellent volunteer management within fundraising.

I write this as we channel hop between the Six Nations Rugby and the 2022 Winter Olympics – watching people who have dedicated their lives to being the best. Striving for excellence in their field. I don’t think volunteer managers are any different — we need to learn and grow, and it’s important to have a space to celebrate and share successes. There are the skills we need to put into practice every day, but there is also a need to be continually striving to evolve beyond the basics. To be continually inquisitive in trying new things so we are not left behind (quite literally if you’re talking about an athlete and the latest technology in trainers, but equally if we’re volunteer managers who fail to embrace new digital opportunities).

For me, my passion for volunteering was renewed when I was furloughed. With a sudden excess of time on my hands, it was volunteering I turned to and I found a welcoming home as a “furlonteer” at Blood Cancer UK. I had a great few weeks and was reminded how much volunteering can enrich your life. Not only did it give structure to my otherwise empty diary, but I was reminded of the sense of purpose you can find in using your time for good, and the chance it offers to learn new skills and make new friends.

Volunteering enriches lives and we, as volunteer managers, have a responsibility to ensure it continues to do so. We need to work together, always striving for excellence to ensure that volunteering continues to be appealing and rewarding to those who generously give us their time, skills and enthusiasm.

After all, where would we and our organisations be without our volunteers?

Closing note: If you are reading this as a Fundraising Volunteering Leader and would like to find out more about our new network, email us.


Jennifer Cathcart is Fundraising Volunteer Development Manager at Marie Curie and has been in the role for four years, having previously held other roles in the charity. Jenn can be contacted through LinkedIn or Twitter.


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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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Is employer supported volunteering changing?

Is employer supported volunteering changing?

Employer Supported Volunteering (ESV) has been around for well over thirty years. It’s gone through some changes in that time, but nothing radical. Which makes me wonder: now we’re coming out of the pandemic, could we be about to see real and significant future change in employee volunteering?

I don’t have any answers, but I do have thoughts, so here are three areas I want to look at in this article:

  1. How the pandemic has changed our working lives, and so may change ESV
  2. The opportunities of millennial recruitment
  3. Employee volunteering as direct action

Throughout this post, I’ll pose some questions, and it’d be great to hear your thoughts on these, so please consider leaving a comment at the end of the article.

How the pandemic has changed our working lives and so may change ESV

I live in Grantham, a small market town in Lincolnshire, England. We have a population of about 44,500. We’re located on the A1, the main road linking London and Edinburgh. Furthermore, we are a stop on the East Coast Main Line, the railway connecting London to Leeds, Doncaster, York, Newcastle, and Edinburgh. We have the A52 running through town, the main road connecting the agricultural fenlands to the road transport network, and cities like Nottingham.

I mention all those connections because they directly relate to the expansion of Grantham. Hundreds of houses have been built, with more to come because living here is an attractive proposition. The cost of living is much lower than in the South East, and the transport connections make it possible to commute to London in a little over an hour. The urban centres of Leeds, York, Lincoln, Peterborough, and Nottingham are all within an hour by road or rail.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, these changes were having a significant effect in the local community. People were moving here but not spending most of their time here. They mainly spent Monday to Friday at work in one of those towns and cities mentioned above. They would leave Grantham early in the morning and return late at night. Weekends were when they actually lived here, and those days were taken up with the usual leisure activities and family commitments. This left very little time for volunteering. For these people, employee volunteering may have been the only way they could get involved, and that was most likely taking place in the communities where they worked, not in Grantham where they lived.

Those who did live here during the week were largely retirees. An ageing population, not all of whom volunteered but, those who did, were slowly dwindling in number. This left local Volunteer Involving Organisations with a problem — fewer ‘traditional volunteers’ and a growing population unavailable to volunteer when the organisations needed them.

Then along comes Covid-19.

Fast-forward to today. With a widespread vaccination roll-out, offices are re-opening, but commuter numbers are not even close to where they were two years ago. This means more and more people working from home, living and working in Grantham — they don’t just sleep and spend weekends here any more. And working from home perhaps affords a greater flexibility in their lives than before. In short, unlike before the pandemic, they could now volunteer here in Grantham, potentially on any day of the week.

Are the employers of those staff working from home in Grantham looking at the opportunities and challenges this presents for employee volunteering? For example:

  • Supporting their staff to get involved with smaller, community-based nonprofits, rather than the big name charities, as might have been the case before.
  • Shifting their focus away from ESV as a team building activity that brings employees together, to a more skills-based approach in communities across the country, not just where large offices are located.
  • Exploring the practicalities of employee volunteering from home, from capturing data on what their volunteers do, to monitoring paid time off to volunteer, to facilitating links between employee volunteer and local organisations.
  • Helping local Volunteer Involving Organisations to create opportunities that accommodate the talents of professional, skilled workers who may be looking to volunteer in significantly different ways than these organisations are used to.

Of course, Grantham is not the only community in the country (or the world) that could tell a similar story of how the pandemic has affected local life. How have such changes influenced your community, and what might that mean for employee volunteering as a result?

The opportunities of millennial recruitment

In 2018, Meridian Swift and I wrote about a new ‘volunteering initiative’ from Starbucks in the USA. You can find the links to our two articles below:

The motivation behind this initiative was to try to attract more millennials to make Starbucks their employe of choice. As The Guardian newspaper reported at the time:

”18-34 years old are quickly becoming the largest group of employees in the workplace. Business owners, both big and small, are trying to come up with innovative benefits to attract the best and the brightest people of this generation to their company as well as keeping existing employees happy and motivated.”

Back in 2018 I was seeing this kind of issue borne out in the USA more than the UK. I still don’t think it’s a big feature of ESV here four years later, either. But it may well become so.

As the UK faces labour shortages brought about by Brexit and the pandemic, employers are all too aware of the need to recruit the best people into their workforce. With the huge baby boomer cohort continuing to retire in vast numbers, and a comparatively small Generation X population, this places the focus squarely on recruitment of the larger Millennial generation.

How might UK employees factor ESV into their offer to Millennials? Might we see more initiatives like Starbucks tried in 2018, initiatives which might challenge our understanding of volunteering? Might employers need to embrace the issues illustrated earlier by my story from Grantham, giving Millennials time and space to engage in local causes that matter to them where they live, not just where the corporate offices are located?

How might Volunteer Involving Organisations get on the front foot with these issues? Are we prepared to be flexible on our concept of volunteering? Can we actively promote employee volunteering opportunities to businesses as a way of addressing their Millennial recruitment challenges? What might we need to change to create more ESV opportunities for our employees, potentially making us more attractive to Millennials who want to work in our sector?

Employee volunteering as direct action

For a few years now, the traditional team challenge approach to ESV has been declining. Fewer groups of employees have been setting out to, for example, paint the local community centre or clean a canal towpath.

In place of these team challenges, employee volunteering has morphed into something where individuals or groups of employees use their professional skills to help nonprofits on a project basis. This could be, for example, developing a new marketing plan or designing and building a website.

A third approach to employee volunteering is starting to gain traction now, too. If employees can take paid time off work to paint a wall or help organise an event, why can’t they also take time off to take part in a protest march or some other form of direct action? It’s rarely referred to as volunteering but, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, then perhaps it’s a duck!


We may not think of Black Lives Matter or Extinction Rebellion protestors as volunteers, but they are, they certainly fit the accepted definitions of a volunteer. So, what if employees want to choose this form of service as their employee volunteering? Or volunteering for a candidate for political office? Are employers willing to allow this? Would your employer? Would you?

My colleague Jerome Tennille has written more insightfully and eloquently on this evolution of ESV than I possibly can, and I really encourage you to read his thoughts on the issue from his June 2020 blog post.

Jerome also brought my attention to this May 2021 story from the USA about the company Peloton allowing staff time off for, “voting, volunteering for a candidate, participating in peaceful and lawful demonstrations, or any other time devoted to civic participation.”

So, there are my thoughts on how we might see Employer Supported Volunteering changing in the future. Now it’s over to you?

What do you think?

What other issues can you see driving change in this area?

Do you agree with some of my observations or see things differently?

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


See also my 2019 blog post, ”Are we ready for the future of Employer Supported Volunteering?”


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