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.