Friday, 16 December 2011

Looking back on 2011

OK, so where did 2011 go?

Seriously, it seems like only a few days ago we were entering into 2011.  Lots of people I've spoken to this year have commented on how fast the year has gone by.  Before we know it we're on the cusp of 2012.

This post is an opportunity for me to reflect on the year coming to a close and say some thank you's before, in the new year, I consider what may lay ahead in the year to come.

For me, 2011 started on a low note.  Never one to be particularly enthused with new years (for me it always feels more like 'here we go again' than 'yay, its January again!') 2011 was, I knew, the year I was going to lose my job.  I ended 2010 having failed at interview stage to secure a new job.  January was just three short months away from redundancy from Volunteering England (VE).

Not far into 2011 I decided I was going to take the plunge and set up in business for myself when I left VE.  As soon as I made the decision things began to fall into place.  It seemed I'd made the right call as people responded to my news enthusiastically and the first invitations to pitch for work came from prospective clients.

Considerable activity ensued to get the business set up in time for my last day at work.  I bought domain names, set up email accounts, built a website, set up this blog, established a Twitter account, found insurance, a bank, bought equipment etc..

I remain indebted to:

  • Mike Marshall at eastsleepthink who helped me immeasurably by designing my logo.  If ever you need design work doing, Mike's your man.
  • David Swann and Nathan Hopkins at Greenstones, my amazing accountants.
  • Kate Moss (yes, really!) at Barclays for getting the bank account set up.
  • My brother-in-law David Byworth who helped me learn how to build a website.
  • My great friend Susan Ellis of Energize who has been a constant source of support and challenge.

March was an emotional month, closing down projects that had occupied me for the previous 3-5 years, saying goodbye to friends and colleagues, and having to make others redundant whilst getting set to leave myself.

On the upside I had the chance to kiss goodbye to five years of commuting over 100 miles from Lincolnshire to London and back for four days a week and to the season ticket that cost £6,000+ each year!

And so my journey as Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd started.

I can honestly say I have never looked back.

I've had great fun this year, both in establishing a new business and in meeting & working with some amazing people.  Some of the highlights and thanks owed are, in no particular order:

  • Working with the amazing Sue Jones of Volunteer Centre (VC) Warrington.  I've known Sue for many years and have had too few opportunities to work together before 2011.  We put that right this year and will hopefully collaborate even more next year.
  • Developing and delivering the Turn Your Organisation Into a Volunteer Magnet tour with Martin J Cowling of People First Total Solutions.  We'll hopefully be bringing the tour back next year and are discussing some exciting developments for early 2013.  Thank you Martin for your friendship and support.
  • Working with two other old friends, Lynn Blackadder and Moyra Weston.  We have exciting plans for 2012 - watch this space.
  • Being asked to re-work Essential Volunteer Management into a new Complete Handbook on Volunteer Management for the Directory of Social Change (DSC).  Particular thanks to Rick Lynch and Steve McCurley, the book's authors, for the opportunity and to John Martin at DSC for his support and patience.
  • Working for and with some amazing clients.  In just nine months we've had over 20 clients, more than I ever dreamt we would have had by the end of 2011.  Thank you all.
  • Getting to be a part of the Volunteer Squared team as their UK representative.  Thanks in particular to Tony, Anne and Andrew.
  • A big thank you to Gemma Quainton at Third Sector online for asking me to be their blogger on volunteering issues.
  • Thank you to everyone who has read this blog.  As I write we've had 8,279 views of 29 posts (this is my 30th).  That's just over 900 views a month.  The most popular post was my analysis of Pathways Through Participation.
  • Travelling around Europe during the European Year of Volunteering 2011.  I've been to Dublin (thanks to Volunteer Ireland), Budapest (twice), Brussels (three times) and Warsaw (once).  I've met and worked with some great people and become even more convinced of the value of volunteering organisations in the UK linking up with our fellow European colleagues across the EU.  You can read my thoughts about the European Year of Volunteering in my latest blog for Third Sector.
  • Thanks to our newsletter subscribers, the 400+ people who follow the company/me on Twitter and everyone who follows me or I have interacted with on Facebook, LinkedIn, , Flickr and YouTube.
At the risk of this becoming rather like the Oscars, I am sure there are people I haven't thanked.  That's because so many people have been hugely supportive of me and the business in just a short period of time.  

To all of you, a very sincere and heartfelt thank you.

And so 2011 comes to a close.  It has been a rollercoaster ride that I have thoroughly enjoyed.

In my next post I want to share some of my thoughts about volunteering in 2012.

Have a great Christmas and New Year.


Thursday, 8 December 2011

Are we alienating a generation of volunteers?

That's a question I'm starting to ask myself about young people.

Here is a generation that has had £millions spent on encouraging them to get volunteering.

Here is a generation who have been told that volunteering will help them get a job when they leave school, college or university.

Here is a generation who are leaving school, college and university (those that can afford to go to uni anyway) and are now facing levels of unemployment unparalleled in recent memory.

Here is a generation who are told that the solution to their joblessness is to volunteer, to become interns, in short to work damned hard for no pay in the scant hope someone will give them a job.

Here is a generation who are now being charged to take part in their so-called rite of passage to adulthood, National Citizens Service.

Here is a generation who we risk becoming very cynical and negative about volunteering.

Here is a generation who in 20, 30, 40, 50 years time we will expect to be the core volunteers organisations rely on.

Here is a generation who, if we are not careful, will tell us to go to hell when we ask them to volunteer.

What can we do now - right now, today - to make sure this generation of young people don't abandon volunteering in future, branding it as a cynical ploy to get them to work for free whilst others profit, and pass those same values to the generation that will follow them?

Answers on a postcard via the comments section below please.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Volunteers, stationery supplies and an apology

First of all, the apology.

It has been five weeks since I last posted to this blog.  Whilst I have had my monthly Third Sector blog published during this time and I have written a post for The Cowling Report which will appear on 5th December I haven't gotten round to posting anything new here.

The main reason for this has been a really busy November travelling around the UK training and speaking at conferences.  This busy period has been very welcome given Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd is a new business in a tough economic climate but it has kept me from having time to write anything here.  So my apologies.

What then has prompted me to write something now.  Well, I am currently attending the closing conference of the European Year of Volunteering 2011 in Warsaw, Poland, and in one of the sessions this morning a speaker talked about her organisation using volunteers.  I immediately turned to a colleague and we both grimaced.


I feel very strongly that we should never talk about using volunteers but involving them.

Yes, volunteers are a resource that contributes to the fulfilment of organisations' missions just like paper clips, photocopiers, staples, staplers.  But volunteers are people, they take an active role in fulfilling our missions.  They are engaged and involved, not used.

In my experience, all talk of using people is in a negative context.

We use paper clips, not people.

Now some of you may be thinking this is mere semantics and that there are bigger issues to be concerned about.  In fact, this is what another colleague said to me this morning.

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.

So I hope you will join me in challenging anyone who talks of using volunteers and help them to understand why such language is unhelpful.  Please share stories of doing so in the comments below and give others confidence to do so as well.

And of course if you disagree, please leave a comment telling me why.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

An open letter to the Hairy Bikers

Dear Si and Dave.

Hi there.  My name is Rob and I have spent seventeen years working in and around volunteers and volunteering.  I am also an active volunteer myself, serving as a chair of my local primary school's governing body.  You can find out a bit more about me here if you're interested.

I have recently enjoyed your series focusing on Meals on Wheels.  To be honest I enjoy most of your programmes but this one had me more interested than usual because of the focus on volunteers.  As volunteering is what I spend my professional life working on I was fascinated to see how your show dealt with the subject.  Normally TV does a fine job of reinforcing all the stereotypes about volunteers that make so many people today think "that's not for me".

I am pleased that your show was different.  You clearly demonstrated how volunteering can be effectively 'sold' to a new generation of volunteers through a little creative thinking and bags of passion.  You challenged stereotypes by portraying young people as having something to give society and not just as feckless youth always on the take.  You highlighted the power of the generations working together for the good of society and the benefit of others.  And you showed that volunteering can be fun, rewarding and fit into the lives of busy people - it isn't about a level of worthy self-sacrifice beyond the reach of us mere mortals.

What you probably don't realise is that you have given those of us who work to lead, organise and manage programmes that involve volunteers so great examples to help us demonstrate the value and power of what we do.


Because you were volunteer managers yourselves.

When you went into the kitchen in Surrey it seemed that nobody had responsibility for volunteers.  You not only turned around the food side of the service but understood the strategic need for volunteers, developed a plan to meet it and got out there and drew in new volunteers.  That's what volunteer managers do, mobilising communities to get stuck in.

(By the way, that green baize recruitment board was brilliant in its awfulness.  There are far too many of them in use for volunteer recruitment and the contrast between your use of it and the meeting you had in the staff canteen was a striking illustration of how volunteering needs to be marketed much better).

In Yorkshire you supported those ladies to use their abundant talents and connections to start a service from scratch, changing the lives of local residents.  That's what volunteer managers do, empowering and enabling others to make a difference.

Without the important catalyst you provided the change we all witnessed wouldn't have happened.  You commented on how challenging it was compared to what you expected, clearly illustrating that leading and managing volunteers isn't easy and requires a complex mix of skills, experience, patience and hard work.  At which point volunteer managers across the country could be heard to cheer in agreement!

So as a professional working in volunteer leadership and management I want to thank you for the way your show demonstrated that volunteer management is an essential part of any initiative involving volunteers.

You may be interested to know that volunteer managers in England have their own professional body, The Association of Volunteer Managers.  You may also be interested in the discussions your show inspired online between volunteer managers - take a look hereherehere and here - not all of it positive but it certainly got people talking and I think the overall feeling was a good one.

I hope you choose to learn more about leading and managing volunteers so that if you embark on a project like this again you can be even more successful in future.

Thank you.

Kind regards,

Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd

Friday, 21 October 2011

Are Volunteer Centre brokerage services under threat?

There is a great discussion going on over on i-volunteer about the perceived threat to Volunteer Centre's from the current growth in online brokerage services.

I would encourage readers of my blog to go and take a look at the full discussion.  However, I also want to share my response to it here so a wider audience can see my views on the issue.  as ever please do share your thoughts in response by posting comments below.


Brokerage may the first of the six core functions of a Volunteer Centre (VC) but that doesn't make the it the most important.
For a long time I have said that brokerage is actually the outcome of other VC core functions. Brokerage services depend upon VCs working with Volunteer Involving Organisations (VIOs) to develop meaningful opportunities that people want to do, helping VIOs to develop their practice in engaging people effectively as volunteers, and marketing volunteering locally so people know about the option of volunteering.
Brokerage alone does not help address a key (if not the key) problem facing volunteering today - a lack of suitable opportunities that people actually want to do, that they can fit in around their busy and complex lives and that still meets the needs of VIOs. we know that via VCs, interest in volunteering went up 87% a couple of years ago. There hasn't been anything like the same level of increase in volunteering according to the citizenship survey. That speaks volumes. People want to volunteer, they see what's on offer and they say 'no thanks'.
The growth of online brokerage site is not a threat to VCs but an opportunity. An opportunity for them to show the added value of what they do. An opportunity to show how they develop volunteering, not just broker it. An opportunity to show their strengths in supporting people into volunteering who wouldn't use online brokerage systems.
Sadly a number of factors work against VCs in this.
One is that they are largely funded (if they are still funded at all) to put bums on seats and broker people into placements. Until funders of all kinds realise that successful brokerage relies upon these other elements (good practice, marketing, opportunity development etc.) they are always going to struggle to change, especially in hard financial times.
A second factor is that this funding regime focuses VCs onto brokerage can create a victim mentality when other providers come along with new models (including online) and get funding for them.
And you can understand why.
If I run a VC and I do so on what little funding I can get from local government and some whizzy new media types come along and set up an online brokerage system that barely does half of what I do but gets a small fortune from government (or the lottery or whoever) for it, I'd be narked too. And that's what's happening. In fact, government want those new media types to be given - for free - the opportunities VCs post to Do-It so they (the new media types) can broker the opportunities to organisations who pay them for the privilege. That's not fair when VCs work hard to source the opportunities and someone else gets paid for filling them.

[See my post on The Giving White Paper earlier this year for more information on this]
And VlOs don't care so long as they get volunteers.
A third factor is that as VCs become part of other organisations (commonly Councils for Voluntary Service - CVS), often all that remains unique about their volunteering infrastructure role is brokerage. So that's all they have left to focus on. The development and marketing is done by the host agency staff and that's normally aimed at developing voluntary sector organisations not volunteering (which happens across all three sectors). The evidence shows that independent VCs provide a broader range of services, more of the core functions, and are better funded than those run by other bodies. Yet only a third of VCs are independent agencies compared to half five years ago. And with the cuts, that number is probably even lower.
As you can see this is a complex and emotive issue - I know, I lived and breathed it for six years. Some will blame Volunteering England, some will blame government, some will blame the new players on the brokerage block, some will blame everyone.
Who is to blame is not the point. What is done next is the key thing.
For me one of those key things has to be much closer work/dialogue between VCs and VIOs. I remember VCs refusing to go to conferences with VIOs because they didn't see they had anything in common with them. That was never true and is quite frankly a suicidal attitude in this day and age. VIOs need volunteers. VIOs need support to grow their good practice and develop opportunities suitable for 21st century volunteers. If VCs don't help them, someone else will.
The world is a different place from just a few years ago and the old models of doing things need to change to fit that world.
VC brokerage may be under threat but complaining about it won't solve the problem.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Yes, research microvolunteering, however...

Yesterday my good friend and colleague from the USA, Jayne Cravens, posted an entry in her excellent blog responding to the announcement that The Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) are going to be exploring microvolunteering.  

Microvolunteering is a topic I have commented on previously both on this blog and on my monthly blog for Third Sector online.  

On this occasion, Jayne summed up my feelings about IVR's project so perfectly in her own post that I want to encourage you to read it here because I am in complete agreement with What Jayne says.

Please do share your thoughts via the comments facility below and/or on Jayne's blog.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Pathways through Participation – what it means for volunteer managers

In September, NCVO published a report of the Pathways Through Participation project.  This lottery funded piece of work, undertaken in partnership with Involve and the Institutefor Volunteering Research, gained some sectorpress coverage for its finding that government encouragement “deters people from volunteering”.

However, look behind the perhaps obvious headline and there is much to be gleaned from the summary report that is useful to volunteer managers, although the focus is on many forms of participation not just volunteering. 

The researchers conclude that participation takes place when four elements are present: a personal motivation, a trigger, resources and opportunities.  Perhaps the most immediately relevant to volunteer managers is motivation.

The report highlights six motivations to participate: helping others, developing relationships, exercising values and beliefs, having influence, personal benefit and being part of something.  They then go on to expand on the social dynamic of participation, stating that:

A desire to make and/or embed social connections, meet new people and combat isolation or loneliness led many people to get involved in a collective activity. The human desire to be with others in a joint endeavour, and the strength and quality of the relationships between fellow participants that grow through belonging to a group, came through vividly in our research.”

This reinforces one of the headline findings of Volunteer Canada’s Bridging theGap report from earlier in the year.  People increasingly want to volunteer in groups, either a pre-existing group coming forward to volunteer, or to engage with others and form groups through volunteering.

As volunteer managers we need to provide opportunities for people do just that through volunteering with our organisations.  Indeed, the report also observes the potential for groups to help with volunteer retention, noting that “the relationships that are built in groups are a crucial sustaining factor in people’s participation”.

The researchers also highlight that “people’s participation is dynamic and constantly evolving  as of people’s motivations are complex and change over time, something Bridging the Gap also noted but many other studies of volunteer motivation fail to do. 

“Almost everyone we spoke to had experienced some degree of fluctuation in the levels of intensity and frequency of their involvement, depending on what was happening in their lives. Participation was characterised by ebbs and flows, starts and stops, a mix of one-offs, short- and long-term commitments…”

Often organisations make varying degrees of effort to understand a volunteer’s motivation when they first recruit them and then fail to re-assess this over time to see if motivations have altered and therefore whether the person’s volunteering needs to adapt accordingly. 

As Pathways Through Participation highlights, such complexities in motivation are “crucial to understanding motivations for participation” as “any attempt to encourage participation must take into account the differing and multiple motivations people have for becoming and staying involved” for we must provide “the environment, conditions and opportunities for an individual to translate their motivation into action”.

Equally significant is the finding that, apart from these factors of changing motivations, “a good quality participation experience was the single most important reason interviewees gave to explain their sustained participation”.  Additionally, “people participated in order to specifically achieve something”.

In other words, give volunteers roles that make a difference and a quality experience and you greatly enhance your ability to continue to engage people in giving you their time.

This validates the importance of volunteer managers investing time and effort into developing meaningful roles for volunteers.  As Steve McCurley and Rick Lynch put it, "The primary ‘problem’ in volunteer involvement right now does not lie in finding new volunteers, it lies in enabling those who are already involved to accomplish productive work."

Organisations have to offer opportunities that fit with people’s complex lives, meet the needs of organisation and/or client group/beneficiary and deliver a great experience, when that could mean different things to different people.  This isn’t science, it isn’t an A+B+C=D process driven approach with predictable outcomes.  It is more akin to alchemy with a complex interplay of frequently changing factors that must be juggled and balanced to achieve a one or more outcomes for all concerned.

When seen in this way perhaps the question is not whether organisations can afford a volunteer manager (as many all to readily ask when times get tough) but whether they can afford not to have a volunteer manager.

“Improving participation opportunities requires starting where people are and taking account of their concerns and interests, providing a range of opportunities and levels of involvement so people can feel comfortable with taking part, and using the personal approach to invite and welcome people in.”

In conclusion, my view is that Pathways Through Participation is telling is us as volunteer managers that we need to consider: how we can engage people in groups or in group work; how we are aware of and responding to changing motivations; and how we create and adapt opportunities for volunteers that given them a great experience.

Pathways Through Participation adds to a compelling body of research, anecdotal and experiential evidence that should be stimulating organisations and volunteer managers re-think their approach to engaging and keeping volunteers.

Please do feel free to share your views on the Pathways Through Participation report by leaving your comments below.

If you’d like to talk to Rob about how Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd can help you think through these issues in regard to your own organisation please do drop him a line.

[NB - The Pathways Through Participation team have produced their own summary of findings relating to volunteering].

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

European Charter on the Rights and Responsibilities of Volunteers

Guest contributor Lewis Smith has written a helpful summary of his recent participation in a youth convention on volunteering held in Brussels between 7 and 11 September 2011.  Organised by the European Youth Forum, this event saw further work being undertaken towards a European Charter on the Rights and Responsibilities of Volunteers.

Lewis was an important member of the Volunteer Rights Inquiry bringing considerable experience and insight as a volunteer and as volunteer at York CAB in 2008 when an issue of volunteer rights hit the headlines in the sector press.

Here is Lewis' report from the event.

To explain the venue – for those who haven't visited – the European Parliament in Brussels is an extensive
array of buildings along and adjacent to an esplanade. From one main entrance it is possible to access on
several floors a vast range of debating chambers, meeting rooms, and offices – not to mention restaurants and shops. Much time is spent finding where one is meant to be, and the conference I attended had a team of helpers just for this guiding purpose. Several major activities can co-exist: while I was there, for example, I noticed conferences on “The Forest sector contribution to bio-economy” and on “Patient reported outcomes on clinical trials of cancer”.

The youth convention was apparently the largest. I don't yet have the full list, but 27 European Countries
were represented, together with a parallel event involving 100 Chinese for whom 2011 is the “EU/China Year of Youth”. 2011 is, of course the European Year of Volunteering (and incidentally of Forests, and probably much else).

The event, organised by the European Youth Alliance, lasted five days. It was partly celebratory, with a
range of speeches from EU and Council of Europe officers, a representative from the United Nations and so
on. There was a range of workshops. It was also an advertisement for what youth volunteers undertake, with talks from those who organise international volunteering opportunities, and with a range of marquees on the esplanade showcasing volunteer activities.

Central, however, was the more political element of a two-day stakeholder conference on "A Rights-based
Approach to Volunteering" which, as the result of our membership of the Volunteer Rights Inquiry, Caroline
Aldiss and I were invited to attend. Unfortunately, Caroline was not well enough to go, so it fell to this
elderly youth to make a sole UK contribution to discussion. (The only other UK participants I came across
were three from CSV Preston, and one from CSV Lewisham. Unlike members from other countries, they did not seem to be exactly representing their organisation: was this a reflection of the UK's ambivalence towards Europe, I wonder?)

The president of the Europe Economic and Social Committee sees the EESC as being at the centre of
European policy on volunteering. They have been considering the question of a legal framework for
volunteers. Meanwhile, the European Youth Forum (organisers of this convention) have over many months
been developing a draft European Charter on the Rights and Responsibilities of Volunteers. As this had been
agreed by the Youth Forum's constituent bodies, it was not up for discussion. Rather the aim of the
conference was to produce an agreed declaration on the need for a rights-based approach to volunteering. To this end, the discussion was tightly structured so that all countries had their say and could accept the
statement as being applicable to their situation. Whether the charter itself eventually becomes a European
Charter is presumably in the hands of the EESC.

I do not yet have the final wording of the Declaration emanating from this conference.  It does, of course, have to aim at harmonization while recognising the notion of subsidiarity, and cannot be too specific or prescriptive. However, it, and the subsequent charter, could become a useful reference point for future action, especially in areas such as:

1. getting a common agreed definition of volunteering

2. improving administrative structures and regulation

3. overcoming obstacles to volunteering

4. improving research into volunteering and its social and economic effect

5. developing an appropriate legal framework.

Lewis Smith. Sep 2011

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Reflections on David Blunkett's proposed National Volunteer Programme

On 31st August, David Blunkett MP launched a report calling for the creation of a new National Volunteer Programme (NVP) as a response to the recent urban riots in the UK.  You can access his proposals here.

Such a programme of national community service for young people isn't new.  Mr Blunkett has made such suggestions in the past, thanks in no small measure to his long-standing association with Community Service Volunteers who run such volunteering placements and have done so successfully for many years.

Yet this particular proposal leaves me rather cold.  Here's why:

Opportunism and questionable evidence
Mr Blunkett's proposals smack of blatant opportunism following hot on the heels of the recent riots.

Rather than giving any evidence of why he feels the NVP approach would solve the complex problems at the root of the recent unrest, Mr Blunkett chooses to focus on the results of a YouGov poll taken shortly after the riots that said that 77% of people support compulsory service for young people (even though he states the NVP would be voluntary - mixed messages?).  Not a surprising survey result really given the flames had hardly been extinguished in British cities.

Mr Blunkett further states the case for a NVP on the basis that community service was a success in Germany and in China.  So his justification lies in a now scrapped German alternative to mandatory military service and a programme from a Communist dictatorship not know for its glowing human rights record?

Finally, in justfying his projected costs for the programme, Mr Blunkett argues they are drop in the ocean compared to the cost to the nation of youth crime and re-offending.  Yet Mr Blunkett fails to draw any link between such an NVP and evidence that it would reduce such costs to society.  If any organisation submitted such a proposal to a funder on so dodgy an evidence base it would be immediately rejected.

So much for evidence based policy making when one can just ride the crest of opportunistic public opinion.

Yet more money for young people's volunteering
The last government spent £117million on v.  This government is spending a small fortune on National Citizen's Service.  Now we are being encouraged to spend £950million (just short of £1billion) on Mr Blunkett's NVP (total direct and indirect costs based on 100,000 volunteers as per the figures in the paper) with no evidence that it will solve the problems that cause the riots.

Don't get me wrong, young people's volunteering is an important issue.  v have done some great work as did Millennium Volunteers before them.  And, with a fraction of the budget, Orange RockCorps do fabulous work engaging young people in volunteering.  Yet young people are a shrinking proportion of this country's ageing population and a group that the UK will reply upon to pay the taxes needed to meet the pension deficit, the health and social care deficit, the national debt repayments etc..  When exactly will they have time to volunteer?

Mr Blunkett acknowledges that young people are most likely to volunteer and states that 32% of young people aged 16-25 volunteer but in "limited" ways.  Their committment is limited because they live busy and complex lives like the rest of us.  Perhaps the money might be better spent engaging the over 25's, who volunteer much less, to engage in their communities, alongside young people.

Ah, but Mr Blunkett thinks the NVP important because young people were the majority of the rioters.  It is clearly aimed at getting our feckless youth off the streets for nine months whilst they serve society, thus becoming better citizens.  In that case, I ask again - where is the evidence that nearly a £billion of money spent on the proposed NVP would solve the problems that led to the riots?

Involvement of people knowledgeable about volunteering
As with many such proposals warm words are used about working with existing "major volunteer organisations" to make Mr Blunkett's ideas a reality.

Yet his proposed operation board seems to exclude agencies with expertise in volunteering in favour of health, crime prevention etc..

There is no explanation of the basis for the proposed £2,500 per participant indirect costs, other than it is calculated from a three year old CSV leaflet.  Would this make involvement in the scheme financially viable? Certainly £2,500 seems rather low if an organisation is to meet the management costs of a full time volunteer for nine months (although I accept that is a gut instinct judgement rather than one based on any evidence).

And where is the emphasis on helping and supporting organisations to provide nine-month, full time volunteering placements for young people?  Is that what organisations want and need in terms of volunteer engagement?  It doesn't seem to be the case for the British Red Cross.

I suspect that even if this idea had an evidence base that supported it as a sensible use of money - and I contend that it doesn't - the implementation issues have yet to be fully considered.

Legislative and ethical barriers
Finally, there are the concerns that will be raised by many in the volunteering movement because whilst this appears to be a voluntary scheme participants would be paid a £3,000 stipend, £1,000 for travel expenses, receive £500 of citizenship training and have their efforts rewarded/incentivised through receipt of a passport that would offer financial and other benefits.

Does this make the scheme volunteering or low paid work?  What might be the implications under employment legislation and national minimum wage if a NVP participant felt aggrieved at their treatment and took their volunteer involving organisation to a tribunal?  Would volunteering organisations want to involve people from a scheme that so stretched the understanding of volunteering?

These are some of my initial thoughts on Mr Blunkett's proposals.  Whilst I am sure they are well intentioned they are, in my view, opportunistic, ill considered and not fully thought through.

What do you think?  Is Mr Blunkett onto something or barking up the wrong tree?  Please do share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

So, where is volunteer management?

It has just been brought to my attention that provider of news to the voluntary sector, Civil Society, has launched a new jobs section.

This is just a quick blog post to express my displeasure that this new service does not have a category for the function of volunteer leadership and management.  HR is there.  So is fundraising.  So why not volunteer management?

I have written recently on the growing importance of volunteering to organisations that are feeling the pressure of funding cuts.  Volunteer management is of growing importance to many organisations and is starting to get the attention it deserves from funders, government and others as they realise that effective volunteer engagement doesn't just happen magically but needs leading and resourcing.

So come on Civil Society, correct this error and add in a category for volunteer management and join those parts of the the sector press that realise the importance of volunteer management and provide a searchable category on their jobs site - good on you Third Sector!

Shortly after this blog post went live, Civil Society tweeted me the email address of a person on their staff to contact in order to suggest changes to their service.  As the jobs service is new they are keen to hear from interested parties as to how it could be improved.

This is what I have sent them:

"I simply think that it would be wise for you to include a heading, some thing like volunteer leadership and management, within the new jobs service Civil Society are providing. Such roles are increasingly important to voluntary organisations as they have to rely less on donated funds and more on donated time and so need skills professional volunteer managers to help them in this."

"Sadly there are too few job services for the voluntary and community sector where people interested in volunteer management roles can quickly and easily find appropriate vacancies. Were you to add such a category to your service it would be a valuable addition."

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Positive deviants & the importance of effective volunteer management

Three papers that have come across my desk in recent months that have all been sitting in a folder for me to blog on.  As I re-read them recently common themes cam through that chime with one of the issues I'm passionate about at the moment - the need for voluntary sector leadership to adapt from funding driven models of mission fulfilment to embracing a wider range of community resources available.

In this post I want to outline the key findings from those three papers I have recently re-read and suggest what they might be telling us about the way organisations need to respond to the new reality of more scarce financial resources.

First up, is a December 2009 report from TCC Group, published for the USA's Reimagining Service initiative and with perhaps one of the best titles I've ever come across, Positive Deviants in Volunteerism and Service. The report summarises findings from work done using TCC Group's Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT) which examined the effectiveness of non-profit organisations against four core competencies.  The work sought to find links between effective volunteer management and effective organisations, in other words those that positively deviated from the average/norm.

Key findings from the report were that:

  • When organisations engage and manage any number of volunteers well, they are significantly better led and managed than organisations not engaging volunteers or engaging them but not managing them well.

  • Of the eight volunteer management behaviours explored, there was plenty of scope for improvement, with organisations especially needing to focus balance the involvement of skilled and unskilled volunteers, defining roles for volunteers and resourcing volunteers to do their work.

  • There appeared to be a tipping point of engaging ten volunteers.  Organisations that involve more than ten volunteers, regardless of whether they have figured out all of the best practices necessary to manage those volunteers, have just as much capacity as other organisations that don't involve volunteer but at about half the cost.

Second, in February 2011, the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) published their report into The Status of Minnesota's Volunteer Programs in a Shifting Environment 2010.  This report followed a similar study the previous year and so was able to draw some conclusions as to the effects of organisations' responses to the financial crisis in regard to volunteer management.

The MAVA report concluded that:

  • Organisations were increasingly reliant on volunteers who were having a real impact during tough financial times as organisations adapt to the new reality.

  • Cutting staff for volunteer programmes results in fewer volunteers and less service.

  • It is unrealistic to expect continued growth through volunteers without increased investment in management and support for volunteers.

Finally, at the end of May 2011, Skills Third Sector issued a position statement on why volunteer management requires specific skills.  The statement succinctly outlines how volunteer management differs from the management of paid staff and summarises some of the key skills effective volunteer managers must have.  The authors conclude by saying that:

"...the evidence from research is that investing in volunteer managers is the best way to raise the skills and opportunities for all volunteers in the voluntary sector. Not understanding the different skills needed to manage volunteers and how they differ from managing paid staff, can lead to poor quality services for the people who use the services [and] poor volunteering experiences for volunteers."

To summarise:

  • Organisations that manage volunteers well are better led and managed overall than organisations that don't involve volunteers or don't manage them effectively.

  • If an organisation involves more than ten volunteers, they seem to have as much capacity as organisations that don't involve volunteers at just shy of half the cost.

  • Increased volunteer involvement can be an effective way for organisations to continue to deliver and develop effective client services in tough economic times.

  • Conversely, cutting resources for volunteer programmes results in fewer volunteers and reduced service provision.

  • Investing in volunteer managers is the best way to raise the skills and opportunities for all volunteers.

  • Failure to understand the distinctive nature of volunteer management can lead to a poor experience for volunteers and poor quality services for clients.

So, what is all this telling us?

I suggest that it is saying we need to rethink our response to the challenging times we find ourselves in.  

Many organisations seem to be increasingly fixated on generating more income from different sources to replace the money being lost due to cuts and tightened personal finances.  They continue to invest increasing amounts of money to find ways of getting more golden eggs from a dying goose.  Sometimes this investment comes as a result of cutting resources to the volunteer programme.

This dependence on money to supply the resources to enable voluntary sector organisations to achieve their missions has to change.  If it doesn't then organisations will go one of three ways: 

  1. close down;

  2. chase funding and so risk mission drift;

  3. compromise or limit their mission and vision because they don't have the money to do what we want.

But things can be different.  The sector needs to think differently and get wise to how they can make best use of non-cash resources, investing the money they do have to maximise the impact of and value rather than chasing an ever shrinking post of money.  

This means opening up to the potential that well led and managed volunteers can bring to the way we work.  This means being wise to the way the world is changing and the opportunities this presents for donated time if organisations are smart enough to adapt to the new realities.

I think many leaders are adrift, unsure of how to respond to the challenges they currently face because the environment has changed so dramatically from what they know.  These leaders need to become more aware of the kind of findings summarised above and be encouraged to apply the learning to their organisations.  Volunteer managers have a key role to play in this.

Now is the time to step forward, to educate and support your CEOs and their senior management colleagues to change.

Have you done this, supporting senior managers to reduce your organisation's dependency on cash and embrace non-cash resources like volunteers?  How did you do it?  What role did you play?  What advice do you have for others?

Do you think this is step beyond your role?  Why?  What support might you need to play such a change advocate role?

Please share your thoughts below.  

[See also my Third Sector blog from June 2011 which looks at this issue from a voluntary sector leadership perspective.]

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Gas to Go

This time out we're featuring a guest post from colleague Martin J Cowling, CEO of People First -Total Solutions.  Martin and Rob will be training together in the UK later this year.

Walking through a local park  yesterday, I passed a group of guys engaged in football training (Aussie Rules of course!). Calling out instructions, encouragements and ribbings, they were focussed on improving their skills, coordination and success. To do this, they were giving up their spare time to stand on a cold night on an outside oval.

I think its universally agreed and understood that to be top of any sporting field, we need to practice and train. When it comes to volunteering there seems to be two sets of extremes when it comes to training volunteers for a task.

In the first scenario, the volunteers are given no training, they are just propelled into a task. Or the volunteers themselves resist any training citing “they have been doing it for years” or “'you can’t teach an old dog new tricks". 

In our research at People First - Total Solutions, we have found 43% of volunteers have received no initial training to do the job and we've seen it all.  For example: the person who turns up to their first ever Annual General Meeting of a club, scout troop or sporting group and finds they are elected, co opted, or nominated as Club treasurer. At the end of the meeting,  the existing treasurer gives them a pile of boxes and papers and says “good luck”. That new treasurer spends six months working out how to do the job and then gets berated at a committee meeting for forgetting something they knew nothing about.

In contrast, the second scenario insists every volunteer has to undergo weeks or months of training. We tend to recruit people with a whole bunch of different skills and then train them all together in the same way at the same time. A waste of time for some and life changing for others. Those who get frustrated may choose to discontinue and not recommend your programme to others. 

In my trainings I talk about one group which required volunteers to take a 12 month course to work in a tourist information centre! Other groups made retired school teachers attend weeks of training on teaching skills before they can teach English or insisted social workers volunteering to be phone counsellors do courses on basic counselling techniques. One civil defence group I know of put a doctor through their first aid course before he could volunteer for the group!

Somewhere between these two extremes is a happy medium. I have yet to find a sufficient number of volunteer groups who have found it yet.

There are three sets of skills and trainings, we want to consider for volunteers.

1 - General Skills and knowledge
These are what you want every volunteer to have before they start volunteering. These include understanding the mission and direction of the organisation, fundamental information for working there and emergency procedures. If necessary, these can be distilled down to 15 minutes. There is no excuse for not having something in place!

2 - Applied Skills
These are the skills people need to do a particular role. If they already have them in their workplace or background we don't need to train people again. If they are missing something or you change something, then give them that specific applied training.

3 - Specialised skills
Some volunteer roles indeed require very specialised skills. Rather than train in them, we need to find people who already possess those skills up front.

Breaking down your role skills into GAS: General, Applied  and Specialised will give you the fuel you need to make your volunteer programme succeed through relevant training.

Martin J Cowling, 
Tel -  020 8133 7991 

Monday, 25 July 2011

Why I write and why I want to encourage you to write too

One of my aims when I started Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd was to write more.  For many years I'd been working in organisations where my workload meant that I didn't have the time to do any writing about volunteerism or volunteer management or any of the other topics I felt moved to comment on publicly.  It sometimes became difficult as my views didn't always agree with organisational policy and, if expressed, could have caused problems for colleagues working to support and influence others.

Since starting the business in April 2011 I have written numerous blog posts as well as a guest Hot Topic for OzVPM, an article for ArtsProfessional Magazine online, a piece for and a regular blog on volunteering for Third sector magazine.  I've also started work editing a new edition of the Complete Volunteer Management Handbook (formerly Essential Volunteer Management) for the Directory of Social Change and the first UK edition of Susan Ellis' popular book, From The Top Down.

But why do I write and, more importantly, why should you?  Why should leaders of volunteer programmes put finger to keyboard and share their views, opinions, insights and thoughts on volunteerism?

Four reasons why I write

  1. To contribute to and build up the field.  For most of my writing I don't get paid; I do it as a volunteer.  Why?  Because I am passionate about volunteering and the invaluable work of those who lead and manage volunteers and volunteer programmes.  When I started in the field I benefited hugely from the writings of others, leaders like Susan Ellis, Steve McCurley, Rick Lynch, Jayne Cravens, Ivan Scheier and Linda Graff (to name just some).  Now I can share the insights and experience I have developed since 1994 and contribute to the field myself.  “Pay it forward” in action.
  2. From personal experience, I know how busy the day-to-day life of a volunteer manager can be.  It can be an isolating role with demands mounting up daily from volunteers, colleagues, managers, prospective volunteers and organisational leaders.  Consequently it can be hard to carve out thinking time during the day - time to muse on some of the big issues facing volunteerism.  And if we do manage to carve out the time, what are the big issues?

    Through this blog I hope to provide some food for thought for colleagues in the volunteering field.  I hope I am writing on issues relevant to people in their busy professional lives.  I hope that what I say might ultimately lead to some action that helps volunteers to have a more rewarding experience as they make important contributions to organisations' missions and society's needs.

  3. One of the things I think we lack in the UK is people who speak out when issues come up that affect volunteering and volunteer management.  That list of names in point one is made up of people who are all outside the UK.  Our peak bodies like Volunteering England have a key role to play for sure but they sometimes have to hold back because of wider concerns and other forms of lobbying and influence that they are engaged in.  Similarly the Association of Volunteer Managers are great advocates for volunteer management but they are a small number of dedicated professionals who can't speak up on everything.  So I see myself as having a role to play, free from the constraints of political influence, funding or inter-agency politics.  That's why I write posts about stupid ministerial statements or union leader ignorance or ridiculous expectations placed on volunteer managers.

    Of course I hope what I say helps but, no matter what, at least someone is saying it (and I also provide a forum to allow you to say it with me!).

  4. Whilst my main motivation for writing is to give back to and build up our field, I also do it because it can be great marketing for my business.  I say this honestly and unapologetically.  Having taken the risk to go out on my own makes it important to be known so that I can earn a living and keep on speaking out.  As of today, there have been over 3,500 views of my blog from people in more than ten different countries.  I hope the people who read what I write like it, feel challenged or inspired by it and so might hire me to work with them as a consultant, a trainer or a speaker at their events.  Ultimately, someone will hire me because of my publicly shared opinions, which becomes an upward spiral:  I will continue to experience the real-world issues of our field through my clients, write more, and stay on potential clients’ minds.

Four reasons why you should write

  1. Writing things down forces you to think about what you want to say.  Whether it is sharing an insight you have, a response to a news story, or something you feel passionate about, the process of getting what's in your brain down into written form forces you to have an opinion.  Not enough people working in volunteer leadership and management roles have opinions about the strategic and operational the field faces.  And If they do have an opinion, they often don't share it for others to read and think about.

    Just to clarify – I am not urging you to go write a book – although perhaps you might.   But what about replying a blog post (like this one!) or to an article in an online magazine (as you are increasingly invited to do)?
  2. Which leads me to my second reason more people in the volunteerism field (you!) should write.  Once you have an opinion and you share, it you open the possibility for others to engage in debate over your views.  Such debate forces us all to think, to sharpen our understanding, challenge our perspectives and advance the theory of volunteer leadership and management (and ultimately the practice, for there is nothing as practical as a good theory).  My own views on working with volunteers have developed significantly (and continue to do so) from reading and discussing the thoughts and insights of others. I haven't always agreed with them but I have always learnt something.

    What could you help others learn today?
  3. Which brings me to my third reason why you should write.  I want to know what you think.  So do others.  It isn't just the 'leaders' in volunteerism from whom we can learn.  All of us have something to share.  That's why I started UKVPMs over ten years ago:  as a forum for people in the trenches of volunteer management to ask questions, share tips and ideas and advance our collective knowledge.  That's why I got involved in co-editing the free Turn Your Organisation Into A Volunteer Magnet eBook, in which forty people from across the field of volunteer management around the globe (contributions come from Australia, Britain, Canada, Italy, New Zealand and the USA) share what they have learned about making your organisation attractive to volunteers.  You have fabulous treasures of knowledge others could benefit from, so please share.
  4. My final reason for encouraging you to write is that it has never been easier to share your ideas and insights.  Blogging, social media and the overall growth and development of the web have revolutionised the provision of and access to information on volunteerism.  You can even tweet your thoughts in under 140 characters,  so there is no longer as excuse for not having the time to comment.

    Susan Ellis has written that the web means no volunteer manager should ever feel isolated again.  This is true, but the more people write and contribute to the ever growing library of knowledge online, the richer we all become.

    Friday, 15 July 2011

    Observations on an advert for a volunteer manager

    Whilst catching up with my email etc. after a couple of days away I this morning noticed this advert for a volunteer manager post at a UK charity.
    Purpose: To grow and co-ordinate voluntary activity across the organisation through the delivery of professionally central services, resources and tools for staff, volunteers, projects,  patient and fundraising groups and partner organisations; the role will involve some direct supervision of volunteers 

    Reporting to: Chief Executive  
    Responsible for:
    Key relationships - Internal: Heads of Department, Development Co-ordinators; Community Fundraisers; other staff and volunteers. 
    Key relationships - External: 
    Volunteering organisations and brokerage agencies in England, Scotland and Wales; healthcare professionals; relevant health and voluntary sector groups and alliances

    Key Result Areas  
    1. Develop a volunteering strategy within the framework of the organisations Business and Departmental Plans
    2. Ensure that policies, standards and best practice for effective volunteer management are in place for recruiting ,inducting, supporting, training, recognising and promoting volunteers

    3. Provide expert advice, support and coaching to staff, volunteers and trustees on all matters relating to volunteering 
    4. Generate and maintain up-to-date information on national/regional/local volunteering roles, and volunteer projects and pilots, based on the needs of the charity and its beneficiaries; 
    5. Research, recommend and develop new volunteering roles and projects 

    6. Broaden the range of people involved in voluntary work at the organisation 
    7. Ensure training and personal development opportunities for volunteers are provided to meet the charity’s and volunteers’ needs 
    8. Lead or support others in volunteer recruitment and ensure volunteers are appropriately matched, inducted and trained 
    9. Encourage colleagues to think laterally to foster understanding of the value of the volunteer contribution and to build growth and commitment 
    10. Monitor and report progress against agreed voluntary activity in key areas; produce a monthly report 
    11. Attend relevant external voluntary and health sector meetings 
    12. Manage a volunteering budget and ensure offer of volunteer expenses; 
    13. Undertake any other reasonable duties compatible with the post
    In some ways this a good role.  Not many volunteer managers report to the CEO, although many wish they did.  They're not just looking for someone to manage the volunteers but to work with colleagues at all levels across the organisation to enhance the contribution volunteers make to the mission.  Furthermore they want someone who can engage with volunteerism networks and with professionals in the field the organisation works in.
    In summary there seems to be some committment to volunteering at this organisation and investment being put into leadership and management to support this.
    Or is there?
    The hours advertised for this post are 17.5 a week (assuming a usual working week of 35 hours that 2.5 days a week).  That's a huge job in such a small amount of time.
    And the pay?  £21,000 pro rata, or £10,500 a year.  
    That's well below what I would expect for a role that is as critical to the organisation as this one seems to be.  
    Compare that with a Head of Fundraising post the same organisation advertised for earlier this year.  Also reporting to the CEO this was full time and paid...£40,000. 
    My point?
    I know the labour market is tough at the moment.  
    I know the financial environment is tough at the moment and is probably not going to get better any time soon.
    But when are organisations like this one going to wake up to the fact that the effective leadership, engagement and deployment of volunteers is something that demands proper investment and is at least as important (if not more so in the current economic climate) as fundraising.