One of the regular training gigs I have is to run a half-day 'working with volunteers' seminar for people who are thinking of working in the non-profit sector. The seminar is part of a course NCVO are contracted to run for people transitioning from a career in the armed forces to civilian life. Over a week it promotes working for civil society organisations as a positive career option and explores some of the key issues organisations and individuals face.
When I was invited to run this seminar for the first time I asked myself 'How often does a chance like this come along? A chance to positively influence how people outside our sector view volunteers before they take the step of working for a charity?'. The answer was, to my mind, 'very rarely' and came to me about as quickly as it took for me to say 'yes' to the invitation.
I’m very aware that few of us will get such a chance. We are more likely to only get an opportunity to influence new paid staff after they have started work for our agencies, sometimes long after they start. Let's face it, meeting with the leader and manager of volunteers comes way down the corporate induction checklist.
So how can we make the most of the opportunity we do have an how can we get more of these opportunities?
Here are four ideas:
1/ And now for something completely different
Give new starters something out of the ordinary that will make them sit up and take notice of the volunteer programme.
In one agency I worked at, new starters were never short of paper at the end of the corporate induction course. When it came to volunteering, we gave them an audio CD, produced to a professional standard by volunteers, that features real volunteers talking about what they do, why they do it, what they get out of it and why someone else should do it - in under 10 minutes! It was accessible to all (I worked for a sight loss charity), easy to access, quick to listen to and stood out from the small forest of manuals and processes people were supposed to read at their leisure (but probably never did).
2/ Get a slot on the induction programme for new staff
Ask for a slot on your organisations induction programme. Sell it by setting out the impact of the work your volunteers do and the added value they provide to your organisation. If volunteers are that important why not ensure all new staff have at least a basic knowledge of how you engage volunteers?
Once you have your foot in the door, get new starters to think about their own volunteer work, what it means to those agencies and draw parallels with the importance of volunteers to your organisation. This will help to root their understanding of your volunteer programme within the context of their own experience rather than just bamboozle them with statistics.
3/ Choose your words carefully
Don’t mislead people with the information you give but don’t use language that will turn people off before you have a chance to get started. Steer clear of anything that might worry new starters about volunteers replacing staff. For example, “our volunteers do all this and only cost us 10% of what it costs to employ people”. Also be careful about saying how highly motivated and dedicated your volunteers are. It may be true but it often implies that paid staff aren’t motivated and dedicated to the cause.
4/ Do your homework
When middle and senior managers start with an organisation they normally have a series of one-to-one induction meetings arranged with other key managers. Make sure you are one of them. Avoid using this meeting to find out what the new manager does - do your homework first and instead spend the time helping them see how volunteers could make a real difference to achieving their objectives.
What ideas do you have?
What has worked for you?
How else could you influence new people so they become supporters of your volunteer programme?
Please comment in the space below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.