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

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