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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

What top tips for taking a break would you share?

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


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

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Why is mindfulness great for Volunteer Managers?

Why is mindfulness great for Volunteer Managers?

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

So, without further ado, over to Karen.


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

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

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

Rarely is this the case for volunteering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what is mindfulness?

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

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

Why is it so good?

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

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

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

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

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

Mindfulness might be just what you need too!

How to do it

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

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

Why not give it a go!

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

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

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

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

So, let’s go through the steps:

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

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

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

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

Come along to a free group session!

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Reason one

It’s easy for me to do.

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

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

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

Reason two

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

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

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

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

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

Reason three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you

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

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

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

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


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

These two articles may also be of interest:


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

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My top six apps for helping with wellbeing

My top six apps for helping with wellbeing

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

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

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

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

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


1 – Streaks

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

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

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

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

2 – Calm

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

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

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

3 – Waterminder

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

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

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

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

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

4 – Countdown

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

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

5 – Day One

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

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

6 – Apple Fitness+

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

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

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

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

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


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


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Photo by K Fraser on Unsplash

Look after number one

I’ve been working in volunteer leadership and management for almost 24 years. That’s more than half of my life spent in the service of volunteers and those who organise them. It’s not just a series of jobs but a career, a vocation.

Over the last few months I’ve been working with Adrian Murtagh of Just Smart Thinking, a fellow traveller – himself an experienced volunteering professional of over 20 years, a qualified nurse, counsellor and life coach – exploring how we can work together to develop new opportunities and ideas.

We both love seeing the light bulbs go on as people gain new insights into how to involve volunteers to change the world, one donated minute at a time.

We both love seeing lives changed, the lives of volunteers and those they serve.

Volunteering is good for you

Studies abound on the benefits volunteers get from helping others. Just a quick Google search will reveal that volunteering will help you get a job, fight loneliness, make you live longer, make you happier, improve physical and mental health, stave off depression, fight the effects of dementia, and even give you a better sex life!

Is volunteer management good for you?

What you won’t find are studies about the health and wellbeing benefits people get from managing volunteers.  You won’t find studies around the benefits strong self-resilience can bring to you in the management role – improving your quality of life inside and outside of the work environment. Adrian often talks of the powerful me, we and us concept, but what happens when the “me” is not being supported, guided or ignored?

You see, leading and managing volunteers is great. Except when it isn’t. And when it isn’t, we don’t talk about it. We’re often so focused on our volunteers that we don’t take the time to focus on ourselves. You won’t find many (any?) conference workshops dedicated to helping Volunteer Managers look after themselves. Nor will you easily discover hints and tips to resiliently deal with the challenges that arise in the human-focused systems and environments in which we work and live.

All our literature, all our training courses, all our conferences: they all focus on how we can support others. Very few tackle the subject of looking after ourselves.

Looking after number one is a bit selfish though, isn’t it?

Adrian and I don’t believe so. We work in a sector, a profession, that is about altruism, service, putting others first, helping people. All the more reason to make sure we are OK because our work matters. It really matters. If we’re not on our A-game that can have serious consequences for others. If we don’t look after number one, how can we effectively look after everyone else?

Through our wealth of knowledge and years of experience, Adrian and I believe it’s time this changed.

Help us to help you

We are exploring how we can help leaders and manager of volunteers – you! – to look after number one, how to take care of your own wellbeing so you can better support your volunteers.

To help us in this process we want to get your input. We’ve designed a short wellbeing survey that you can complete online. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to complete and your participation will help Adrian and I to develop some tools and resources that will really help you and others working in volunteer management.

Free prize inside

As an incentive to take part were giving away five copies of my book, co-written with Susan J Ellis, From The Top Down. Simply fill in your name and contact details at the end of the survey (this is optional) and we’ll enter you into the draw (UK respondents only).

Please complete our survey before 13 April 2018.

Thank you in advance for your support.