Monday, 27 February 2012

Unpacking our online presence

Friend and colleague Jayne Cravens recently wrote a blog post entitled "Why I won't follow you on Twitter" which explained her reasons for engaging with others through a variety of social media.

This got me thinking that, almost a year on from the creation of Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd, it might be useful to explain the thinking behind the various social media and websites I am involved with in the hope that this will help you think about the best way for you to engage with me/the business (and  me/the business  with you).

Before I get started I will say that with only a few exceptions the media I'm talking about here are company accounts rather than my personal ones.  So the Facebook link is to the Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd page, not my personal Facebook page/timeline.  I keep the two separate so please don't put in personal follower requests if I don't actually know you.

This is the front end to the world for the business.  It explains who we are, what we do and how we can help as well as quotes and recommendations about our work.  The homepage features links to our latest news, recent posts on Twitter and the latest from our blogs.  There isn't a lot of interaction here at the moment as that takes place via the social media covered below.

This blog is the main focus for my professional writing on a whole range of topics and issues.  Some of the content is in response to announcements, breaking news etc. and some of it is more think-piece oriented.  There is no set publication schedule and comments are always welcome, whether in agreement with what I say or to air different views.

You can follow the blog via log-in or email and/or take the RSS feed - all the boxes and links for these options are in the sidebar on the right of this page.

Third Sector blog
Once a month (usually around the 1st) I have an article published as Third Sector online's "voice of volunteering" blogger.  These posts are usually shorter than the main blog and look at a current issue or a reflect on the volunteering dimension to recent news in the voluntary sector.  As with the main blog, comments are very much encouraged.

Third Sector online is a subscription service so the blog may not be available to you unless you already subscribe to the online magazine.

Twitter is perhaps the social network on which I am most active and where most people follow me/the business.  I use the RobJConsulting account for sharing news about my work, about issues in the sector and volunteering field, upcoming events, to promote work I am involved in and to engage in conversation with others, for example via the Thoughtful Thursday discussions run by Volunteer Centre Warrington.  Twitter is also where I gain a lot of my information about what's going on with issues and organisations I'm interested in.  To that end I have set up a number of lists which I follow, from news sources to Volunteer Centres, and anyone can subscribe to these.

There is a company presence on Facebook although I did resist doing this for many months (I am similarly resisting Google+ as there are only so many hours in the day to keep on top of social media).  To date most of what is on the Facebook page is articles and stories that I also tweet, the exception being videos and pictures which I think work better posted to Facebook than Twitter.

Also, please note that I do not link the Twitter and Facebook accounts.  If you want to follow me/the business on both then please do so.

I am currently re-thinking how I use the Facebook page as I want to differentiate it from how I use Twitter, perhaps making more use of some of the more engaging features the site provides.  If you have any ideas about how you'd like us to use the Facebook page then please do let me know by leaving a comment below.

I have a presence on i-Volunteer under the username robjackson74.  I do occasionally post to the network, mainly commenting on articles other people's blogs, but I use it much more as a source of news and information.

Once a month (usually about the 16th) I publish the Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd newsletter.  This has recently undergone something of a facelift and re-launch for 2012 with a view to providing a wider range of content than just what I and the business have been up to.  So alongside some company news you'll find key news stories on volunteering related issues from the previous few weeks, information on useful resources and helpful tips and links.

The newsletter is powered by MailChimp, is totally free and unsubscribing is easy if you decide it isn't for you.

Latest news
The Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd website has the facility for its own dedicated RSS feed of latest news about the company.  A quick click through to the section will show a variety of stories from the past year, announcing events I was speaking at, conferences that were taking bookings, press releases for significant volunteering events etc..

LinkedIn - Rob
If you are interested in who I am and my professional background then you can find relevant information on the Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd website and on my LinkedIn profile.  The latter option gives access to a variety of recommendations about me and my work from throughout my career, my skills and experience and shows which other professional networking groups I am involved in on LinkedIn.

Please note that (for now at least) the company Twitter feed is linked to my LinkedIn account, meaning my tweets appear in my LinkedIn status.

If you want to connect with me via LinkedIn please bear in mind that I only really accept connections from people I know and am doing or have done business with.  I don't use it as a way to connect with people I don't really know so if I don't recognise who you are I probably won't accept your request to connect.

LinkedIn - Company
Aside from me personally the business has a presence on LinkedIn.  If you aren't familiar with company sites on LinkedIn then here is a quick run down of what you'll find on our page:

  • The landing page provides some brief summary information about the company, a link to my profile and the ability to sign up to follow the firm on LinkedIn.
  • The products and services page is where the real content is.  This provides a brief summary of the different services we offer alongside recommendations of our work from clients.  These clients' images can then be clicked on, giving you access to their profiles and thus the ability to get in touch and ask them about our work.

I'm a big fan of businesses having a presence like this on LinkedIn as it gives customers the chance to sound us out before they even make first contact.  That's an additional incentive for us to consistently deliver great customer services and satisfaction because we never know who is going to contact a client for a recommendation of our work.

If a business doesn't have such a transparent approach to what they do, ask what they might be trying to hide.

One of my aims this year is to do more video blogging.  The company YouTube site is where those vlogs will feature.  It is also where you can view videos that I think have relevance to the volunteerism field & voluntary sector and where you can access some of the videos of other YouTube users I follow professionally.

There isn't much I do on Flickr other than use it as a space to share photos of events the business has been involved in and promote the work of the photographers who I come across at conferences etc..

I'm on Skype, again as robjackson74.  I use it for free phone and video communication with colleagues across the world as well as cheap conference calling.  If you add me as a contact please do say who you are and why you want to connect.

I am involved in moderating the UKVPMs email group which I set up in the late 1990's.  UKVPMs was the first online networking forum for UK based volunteer managers and now has over 1400 members.  It is free to join and more details can be found on the UKVPMs website.

I don't expect anyone to follow me on all of these sites (except perhaps for my mum - hi mum!) but to pick and choose the content and method of engagement that works best for you.  That's why there is a range of choice for you.

However you do decide to engage with me and/or the business, I look forward to meeting you online soon.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Volunteer rights – a long and winding road

As some of you may know I also write a monthly blog for Third Sector magazine online. Last June, in only my second blog post for them, I questioned whether the time was right for the sector to be addressing the issue of volunteer rights.  My posting was borne out of a frustration that the momentum built up by the Volunteer Rights Inquiry had seemed to stall somewhat.

Thankfully any drop in profile for the results of the Volunteer Rights Inquiry had only been a temporary blip and there are now more than 100 organisations who have pledged their support for the Inquiry’s 3R promise.

Yet still we read allegations of poor treatment of volunteers.  In November we had further reports into Jon Danzig’s dispute with the Pituitary Foundation and now we have the tale of Gillian Brocklehurst who, after being dismissed from Cylch ConwyDistrict Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) after four years, had to bring a claim under the Data Protection Act to be allowed access to a report into her dismissal.
Gillian Brocklehurst
Gillian Brocklehurst

As with many other cases, this one centres around a CAB.  I don’t for one second think CAB consistently treat their volunteers poorly.  I do, however, think that their volunteers are more aware of their ‘rights’ and so feel more confident in bringing claims of unfair dismissal which is why we see so many

Citizens Advice are to be congratulated for conducting an investigation into the circumstances of Gillian’s dismissal.  Yet the latest developments in the story show that this investigation was flawed; that processes hadn't been followed; that communication was poor; and that evidence existed to suggest bullying and harassment had taken place.  

As was often seen during the work of the Volunteer Rights Inquiry, it appears the person who originally dismissed Gillian was a trustee – in this case Phil Ward, the chair of the CAB.  Whilst these situations can be blamed on poor volunteer management, the Volunteer Rights Inquiry found that sadly they are all too often due to poor governance, behaviour and management by senior staff and board members. 

So what can we learn from this and other similar situations?  

I think there are three things:

  • These are complex and emotive issues, made more so by a lack of clear legal status for volunteers and by the strong passions and emotions that often surround such cases.  To the volunteer, volunteering can be a deeply personal act and to be dismissed can be incredibly hurtful.  However justified an organisation may feel it is in taking the step to dismiss a volunteer, it must always be handled sensitively.
  •  In this day and age volunteers, just like anyone else, have very easy access to a variety of means to share their experiences far and wide.  Couple that with a media who much prefer negative stories to positive ones and the chances of your organisation being cast in a bad light greatly increase.  So if you must dismiss a volunteer, be completely open, fair and honest about why and always use it as an act of last resort.
  • We need to stop seeing such situations as problems for volunteer managers.  If senior managers and trustees are often a cause of these problems then they need to take their role in running a successful volunteer programme much more seriously.  We accept the need to develop their knowledge and skills around fundraising, why not volunteering too?

Whether these lessons are learnt or not, I fear quick solutions are not going to be forthcoming.  There is a long and winding road ahead of us with much distance still to be travelled, and many more to join the journey, before volunteers can be assured that they will not become the next Jon Danzig or Gillian Brocklehurst.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Value, cost and volunteer management

I was recently reminded of a blog post my good friend Martin J Cowling wrote last year about his experiences of running training when the host organisation has offered the session for free.  In a nutshell, Martin argues that training offered for free results in more people not turning up, more people leaving early and more people not really engaging in the training.

A couple of days later I  read an article on "How e-learning can help charities provide staff training on a budget".  I've got nothing at all against e-learning but the sense conveyed by the headline is that this is a good option when belts are being tightened.  In other words, e-learning is cheaper than 'conventional' training (whatever that is!).

In both cases the issue of value seems not to factor.  e-learning may be cheaper, but is it good value?  A free course with Martin would be a really good deal (he is a superb trainer) but if you don't engage in the session because it's free then it isn't going to deliver any value to you.

All too often we hear colleagues and/or management say that they can't justify that training course, database, item of equipment etc. because of the cost?  So a cheaper option is found or nothing happens at all.  But is any consideration given to the value each option would return?  A training course may cost (let's say) £200 more than a cheaper option but it is so much better that the improved performance of the trained person recoups that cost in no time.

At this point some of you may be thinking "that's all well and good, but we have a lot less money than in the past and simply can't afford a more expensive option".  I understand that mindset completely.  However,  when times are financially tough the argument for basing decisions on value more than cost are even more important.

With, less money than before there is surely even more of an imperative that it gets spent on things that will return real value to the organisation?  For example, spreading a much reduced training budget thinly on a wider range of cheap options isn't necessarily going to bring a great return, just lots of people going on average training.  Instead, send a smaller number of staff whose roles are key to the sustainability and growth of the organisation on some more expensive, high quality training.  That approach may well deliver better value.

Of course, not everything that is expensive is good value or quality.  I attended a wine tasting once where the most expensive wine on offer was the worst tasting.  A bottle of that was neither cheap nor good value.  By contrast, a bottle half the price was superb value, delivering much nicer wine.

The point I am trying to make is that we need to stop just asking how much something costs but really consider what value it will deliver too.  We can then factor both aspects into the decision, not just the cost.

This isn't just a consideration when we are buying training, consultancy, office equipment or whatever.  It is also a key issue when we think about the importance of volunteer management in our fiscally challenged organisations.

Sadly it is all to true that, when the income drops, one of the first things to go is the volunteer manager.  That is a decision frequently made on the basis of cutting costs without any appreciation of the value of that function.  But do we quantify and communicate that value effectively so our leaders look beyond the bottom line and consider what else they will be losing if the cut the volunteer management function?

In 2009 and 2011 The Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration released reports exploring the status of volunteerism and volunteer programmes in a changing financial environment.  The studies showed that organisations who cut the funding for their volunteer programmes struggled much more than those who maintained or even increased their support for volunteering.

I think we need research like this here in the UK.  Research that validates the importance of organisations investing in volunteering and volunteer management in tough economic times because of the value they will derive, rather than cutting support because of the money it costs.

In its absence we need volunteer managers who can provide programmatic evidence and articulate this effectively to their leaders.  Evidence that doesn't just put across the (often flawed) financial value of volunteering but that demonstrates wider value as well as the potential value to be gained from maintaining (or even increasing) investment in volunteering when donated funds are harder to come by but donated hours may not be so scarce.

What do you think?

Does such research exist other than in Minnesota?  Please share links if you can so others can access it.

Have you been actively demonstrating the value of your volunteer programme to your organisation's leadership?  How did you do it?  What lessons can you share with others?  Did it work?

Please share examples below so others can learn from your success (or failure - go on, be brave!).