In our online inspiration session ‘Empowering each other to enable social action’ on October 18, we discussed all of this and more:
• How can we rise to the challenges of the changing world of volunteering?
• How can the enablement of social action be redefined and shaped?
• How can we ensure the futureproofing of voluntary infrastructure organisations?
The insights of the session can be found below!
Katie Staddon (she/her)
Volunteering Project Manager at GoVolHerts
Katie Staddon is the Volunteering Project Manager of GoVolHerts which is the one-stop-hub for all things volunteering in Hertfordshire. Volunteering has been an interest of Katie’s for over 10 years, and she is passionate about upskilling volunteer engagement professionals so that they can get ahead of their peers, save time, and increase their reach all whilst providing a high-quality volunteer experience. Her role includes connecting prospective volunteers with local charities, training volunteer coordinators, overseeing community projects, managing stakeholder relationships and reporting to commissioners.
Charlotte Jones (she/her)
VCSE-Public Sector Partnerships and Engagement Lead at Spark Somerset
Charlotte Jones has worked with and involved volunteers for over 40 years in all manner of settings, leading change and inspiring social action to flourish. Charlotte works for Spark Somerset – Somerset’s infrastructure charity and helped to launch the Deedmob platform (known locally as Spark a Change) in September 2020 as the digital hub for volunteering in Somerset. Charlotte works in close partnership with a range of partners from the voluntary and public sector to increase the profile of volunteering and increase the diversity, quantity and quality of all things volunteering in the Somerset eco-system.
Levi Witbaard (he/him)
Head of Growth at Deedmob
The combination of a Communications degree, extensive experience in a software startup and a background in education and healthcare led Levi to Deedmob, where he is the Head of Growth. Following the principle "alone you go faster, together you go further”, he combines the best of Marketing, Sales, Product and Customer Success to grow the impact for and with our partners. If he’s not trying to crack the case of how to create scalable impact worldwide, he enjoys life in the form of his family, business books, helping out a the food bank, 10k+ steps a day, discovering local food, anime and investments in a greener tomorrow.
Enabling Social Action
The current landscape volunteering landscape is changing: there is a cost of living (COL) crisis, the demands of volunteers are changing, and a lot is required from infrastructure organisations to enable social action and social mobility to facilitate inclusion and diversity. The pandemic demonstrated the value in particular of the spontaneous social action offer people created. This increased the recognition of the public sector around the value and potential capability of the voluntary sector. This also increased the workload and demands infrastructure organisations are facing.
One of the ways to deal with this increased workload was digital transformation. Empowering organisations to use a digital platform to create their own space, manage their own volunteering brokerage, and reach new audiences in volunteering was key. Previously, people had to come to the desk, but now they can push this back to the community to focus on things needing personal contact.
Therefore, while there is a huge demand for volunteers, a platform makes it easier to connect or match. This improves the interaction with volunteers and the visibility of organisations. By automating matching, infrastructure organisations can focus on other challenges while empowering both organisations and volunteers to undertake social action!
Many organisations are struggling with the declining number of volunteers, mainly in a number of areas (for example, drivers or trustees). Does that mean that the next generation doesn’t want to help in these areas? Probably not! This means we have to engage with volunteers and organisations to understand the motivation of why volunteers apply or not, so we can tackle the problems in other ways. Motivation is strongly related to appreciation: organisations need to stop seeing volunteers as ‘people who do your bidding', but should try to involve, communicate and appreciate their volunteers.
Organisations want to know how they can diversify their volunteer offers. The best way to go about this is taking a step back, and doing an audit: who is volunteering now, who is not, why could that be, and what can we change? Have a look at your demographics. There is a big focus on age but look at all characteristics. Ask your community, don’t rely on your knowledge of the sector, but instead engage with people:
- Host an open day
- Where are the people you want to reach? Go to those communities, and be proactive!
People are willing to contribute, but how to go about that has changed!
To get people to volunteer, we need to understand the motivation. But how can we do that? One way is to see things from a workforce perspective: volunteers are not a replacement workforce, but they share some similarities. When people have been around a lot, they learned a lot, and their involvement in processes has expanded. Expecting the successor to do the same things sets barriers for volunteers to apply. Therefore, go back to the essentials, the must do’s. What skills do you really need to have?
Marketing & Communication
Also, think about marketing and communication skills in your offering. People want to understand how to diversify their volunteering offers. Take notice of how people diversify in other ways and copy! Use imagery, create examples, celebrate and talk about that! Use nudge theory and apply that in the volunteering space. It’s an awesome opportunity to grasp and learn! Try to reduce hurdles and reduce steps. Simplify, make it easy, automate, and digitize what you can. When that is in order, we can focus on the things that are essential!
In communication, there is still a stigma that volunteering is something you do to help your community. Organisations need to rethink their communications about what the volunteer gets out of that! Brand it as…
- A step to meet new people
- For future job experience
- Contribute to the community
- Developing new skills
A good best practice is to think about threefold benefits - benefits to volunteer, to the organisation they volunteer for and the wider community;
Social action is all about that sense of belonging. Show best practices, and encourage organisations. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, we are just enablers. It’s about us not taking over their existing processes/procedures, but about us giving them top tips to help them along the way.
Attracting the new generation
Many infrastructure organisations struggle to get organisations to organise opportunities for younger people. To realise these opportunities, infrastructure organisations would need to be the voice of the younger volunteer more, instead of the voice of just the organisation that wants to attract younger people. It is also useful to think about what problems the new generation is facing and share best practices. Some best practices shared:
- Some volunteers lack confidence, made slightly worse by the pandemic, requiring more pre-volunteering support.
- Share and show stories about subjects around the benefits of volunteering in topics they care about - such as environment and climate change
- Connect to the local university and try to relate volunteering to their studies!
- Try running pilot projects to find out what younger volunteers want, and share this with other organisations! Together, we can crack the code!
People have a newfound appreciation for outside volunteer work, so think of ways to include that in your offerings. In terms of finding new recruits: collaboration is key to making the biggest impact. Make a group, network with similar organisations, and start a volunteer fair. Then you can share the best practices, but more importantly, working together means joint resources, joint time, and joint funding that can be put in to make much more impact than just trying to recruit on your own.
The Future of Infrastructure Organisations
First, Infrastructure Organisations need to realise that the nature of volunteering organisations is about to change. The pandemic showed that people can mobilise through social action quickly. These quick social changes are often paired with a lack of structure, which is a change of the status quo. This means the ability to deal with networks needs to grow.
Second, Communication will move more to social media and digital platforms, so be on time and share practices. Start being proficient before it is too late.
Third, on the public sector: whether we like it or not, the financial drivers in the country are creating an environment in which the public sector is very interested in the voluntary sector. We need to be positioned to ensure that our beliefs and values - social action is a free choice, the community should run the country - stay strong. That moves infrastructure organisations in a strategic relationship alongside day-to-day communications. That means we will have to add longer-term strategic relationships to the daily on-the-ground action.
Effectively, this highlights the importance of stakeholder engagement, funders, and links with the public sector. The voluntary sector's importance skyrocketed. This requires a lot from organisations. Continue to ask the community what they need from you: it’s about engagement, communication, and the local offer as well! The needs and landscapes differ. Remember all these things alongside day-to-day interactions with volunteers and coordinators.
Fourth, corporate volunteering (Employee Engagement Volunteering) is more important than ever! Start thinking about tapping into that pool! The local CVS should be able to support you. If you start it, get it right. Corporate Volunteering is not just about a one-off thing, it’s about long-term partnerships, ambassadors, and long-term funders. Don’t miss out on this opportunity! A good example is Business Involved in Amsterdam. The sector is in need of success stories and case studies. The solution is just to get started and experience it along the way! So start it up, and then scale up!
National platforms and the role of local systems
Local systems should take ownership and show leadership in how a volunteer environment is created. The government should enable this to be done locally - not for political reasons, but because it is an organic thing that volunteers aren’t a separate part of the community, but are part of the community. National deployment may work in a crisis, but in slower times, we need a more systemic approach locally.
Winter pressures are always a discussion. The key is enabling your volunteers to continue volunteering in whatever way. However, think about what this means for volunteers. If they work remotely, you can reimburse some of the costs they make at home. You can, for example, also offer warm hubs.
Perceived Risk - Barriers to volunteering for Trustees
People have their own risk tolerances. It’s incredibly challenging to help a trustee board to all have the same tolerance for risk.
If it’s really important and significant, you want to build confidence. Encouraging people to have a higher tolerance for risk isn’t simple. The government provides a lot of the regulatory frameworks, so there is, locally, not too much we can do about that. Nevertheless, we can challenge what data you need from the volunteer, or give critical feedback to challenge themselves.
When the future of the organisation is at stake, re-evaluate the whole culture of the board, refresh the governance procedures the board follows, and the wider risk conversation. It’s not simple, but it’s about reminding the board that the organisation cannot function without volunteers. If you feel like you’re coming up with barriers, it’s potentially worth having conversations with your CEO to rethink the policies.
Volunteer Centres and infrastructure organisations need to push back a bit on the public sector. Don’t allow an extension of the workforce mindset to take place. Social action isn’t here to prop up services that haven’t been redesigned. While we all want to help and protect our dearest and have a strong local affinity with the councils and NHS, volunteering isn’t an extension. Push back in kind ways, making a coherent argument back. The public sector needs to invest in volunteering infrastructure in organisations, helping people create confidence so we don’t create too many barriers. We need training and skills around inclusion and communication. Supporting volunteers isn’t about organising the road - where it traditionally was. We should think beyond the role of the volunteer coordinator.