May: Preparing for Volunteers' Week - just the time for our second monthly collection of 30 top tips, this time with a volunteering theme, in celebration of our thirty years of delivering support to the voluntary and community sector

 

In order to find great volunteers, we need to first understand why people choose to give their time for free.  

A lot has been written over the years about wanting to ‘make a difference’, ‘give back to society’ or ‘learn new skills’ – all very laudable concepts, but also very broad and woolly.  For voluntary and community organisations to even start to target their meagre resources, we need something far more specific.

But before looking further into the ‘whys’, let’s first look at what volunteering actually is! 

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) defines volunteering as:  “Any activity that involves spending unpaid time doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives.  Central to this definition is the fact that volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual.”

So, what would motivate a person to make such a choice?   Well, according to Volunteer Power, most people generally respond to three levels of motivation:

  • The Basic Level is the Self-serving drive.  This requires that the potential volunteer personally gets something out of it.
  • The Secondary Level is the Relational drive.  Many people join an organization as volunteers because they were recruited by a friend.
  • The Highest Level is the Belief drive,whereby true believers are already passionate about the cause.

 

WHAT'S IN IT FOR THEM?

So, if we assume that the latter two levels require some recruitment but not a lot, it makes a lot of common sense for organisations in need of volunteers to focus their recruitment efforts towards the Basic Level of Motivation.  

But how can we do that? How can we motivate volunteers to take that first step towards applying for our own opportunities if their passion level for our cause is nowhere near fever pitch and they’re not being chivvied to our doors by friends or family members?  As Volunteer Power put it, “what are the external stimuli we can use to arouse that inner motivation?”

Easy! We need to let them know what’s in it for them, and that process needs to start long before we even get to meet any prospective volunteers:

1: Be specific when writing your role descriptions

Rather than just making a generic ‘volunteers needed’ appeal, offer a variety of roles – some more or less challenging than others.  Prospective volunteers are far less likely to apply for a role if the description is so vague they don’t know what they’re letting themselves in for.

2: Don’t fudge the requirements 

If the role requires specific skills, or strengths, or even simply a certain level of fortitude and this is not made clear in the role description, the confidence of any new volunteer is sure to be shattered if they turn up on their first day only to discover that their given tasks demand a degree level knowledge of IT they don’t have, that they’ll be expected to clean up unsavoury messes, or that they’ll need to be able to perform tasks that are far more physically demanding than they anticipated.  Be honest right from the start.  If you find just one perfect volunteer who revels in taking on such challenges, that would be far better than losing several disgruntled volunteers.

3: Keep the time that’s required as flexible as possible

These days, everyone seems to feel as if there simply aren’t enough hours in the day, and that applies to volunteers too; it’s not many who’d be sitting idly at home twiddling their thumbs if not for the time they give to your cause.  So if you can build time flexibility into your volunteering opportunities, your volunteers will feel comfortable with their commitment and are more likely to enjoy, and continue, their volunteering experience.  Obviously, this isn’t for organisations for which certain duties can only be done at certain times of the day or those with activities needing to be manned to a given level at specific times.  But if you can offer at least some flexibility you could attract a host of would-be volunteers from often under-tapped target groups like full-time workers, students or disabled people.

4: Make clear the physical, emotional or psychological benefits to be had from the work

Volunteering is good for your health – it’s a proven fact.  Studies have shown that volunteering not only helps people feel more socially connected, thus warding off loneliness and depression, but can also improve physical health by lowering blood pressure and increasing lifespan.  What’s not to love about that?  So make sure you capitalise on this in your role descriptions by referring to the feel-good aspect of volunteering.

5: Emphasise the skills a volunteer can develop

Volunteering is also a well-recognised route to employment, so when writing your role descriptions, remember, it’s not only the hard, industry- or sector-related skills that volunteers have the opportunity to learn.  There are many soft skills to be developed through volunteering that are also highly desirable to employers: the ability to work as part of a team, leadership, problem solving and adaptability, communicating with clients and stakeholders, the ability to plan and prioritise work, time management, report writing and improved interpersonal skills to name just a few.  So do expand on how the experience will equip a volunteer in future employment.  Be sure to list all the skills that apply so you don’t miss out on any ultra-keen would-be volunteers who create an inventory of their existing skills, look at what’s missing and then seek out a volunteering role that will help plug the gaps.

6: Highlight how important a volunteer’s key transferable skills are to your organisation

For some people, volunteering is more about being able to exercise their existing skills to help an organisation rather than learning new skills, so they search for opportunities on the basis of the skills they already possess.  Let them know just how vital those skills are to you and how you can use them in the work of your organisation.

7: Show how their volunteering will help the local community or society as a whole

It’s important that a volunteer is able to see the big picture – to know exactly how their contribution makes a difference – so explain how the role you’re advertising will link to your organisation’s strategic aims and contribute towards achieving the overall mission, thereby making the local community, wider society, or even the whole world a much better place. 

8: Emphasise the social aspect of the volunteering experience

Volunteering is a great way to combat loneliness while also making a difference in the world, and the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends is a common motivating factor for many potential volunteers.  Make sure your role descriptions let interested people know they’ll become a valued part of a team of individuals who care about the same social issues that have doubtless caught their own eye.  Just like your volunteers-to-be, they want to make the world a better place – and that’s a great place to start a friendship

9: Offer to cover costs (i.e. travel expenses)

The reimbursement of out of pocket expenses is a vital motivating factor.  No volunteer should be out of pocket for volunteering and by ensuring – and stating in your role description – that reimbursement of expenses is available, an organisation will encourage more people to consider volunteering with them.  This will help to recruit a volunteer team that is diverse and reflective of the community in which an organisation or group operates.  Non-payment of expenses can be a significant barrier both to people on low incomes and to individuals who are happy to give their time for free but don’t believe it should impact on them financially.

10: Emphasise opportunities to escape

While many people want to make a difference in their own local community or simply don’t want to have to travel far to volunteer, others yearn for something more exotic, far removed from their usual humdrum life, and if you can offer opportunities that appeal to these itchy-footed, intrepid adventurers you can tap into a rich seam of volunteering willingness.  The danger of course is that they’ll soon spot an adventure even more alluring and be off again.

 

MAKE YOUR NEW RECRUITS FEEL WELCOME AND VALUED

Okay, so you’ve created and advertised some juicy volunteer opportunities and you now have some keen new recruits.  From their very first day you need to make them feel welcome and valued.  It may well have taken some courage to get to your front door, so how well day’s one, two and three go will have a lasting impact on a volunteer's long-term commitment.

11: Always think of the volunteers’ perspective

Think about how a volunteer must feel as they walk into a strange new situation full of people they don’t yet know, with no idea what to do, where to hang their coat or even where the toilet is.  Welcome them with a smile as you would hope to be welcomed yourself in that position.  Give them a tour and show them where everything is so they can get their bearings.

12: Provide a thorough induction process

Inductions are not just for paid workers.  Explain the history, ethos and structure of the organisation, set some ‘ground rules’ and discuss the big picture so volunteers can get a feel of how their role will contribute to the overall work.  Other issues such as policies and procedures, health and safety, data protection and safeguarding should also be part of this process.

13: Introduce the team

Take the volunteer round to meet each member of the team individually to help them feel part of things.  It’s important to allow a little bit of time for a chat with each one so the volunteer isn’t just presented with a sea of faces they’re never going to be able to connect with a name as soon as their first shift has ended.  If they can get to know a little about each person’s role they can start to make a mental map of how every aspect of your organisation fits together, and it will help if you can include in the induction a document that explains the team structure with photos of each member.

14: Appoint a mentor/point of contact

Ensure each volunteer knows who they can go to with any concerns in an informal way so that little molehill issues don’t have the opportunity to turn into huge unconquerable mountains.  Volunteers also need to have regular catch-ups with the volunteer manager/co-ordinator for mutual feedback.

15: Make clear your expectations

From the very first day, make sure that your volunteers are clear about the standards expected and what you’re looking to achieve. That way everyone will benefit from the experience.  Failing to do so is simply setting volunteers up to fail and is sure to knock their confidence.

16: Provide opportunities for new volunteers to shadow old hands

During their first couple of shifts, new volunteers may find it easier to learn about their new role and the culture of the organisation by shadowing a current volunteer, and it can also help to ease new recruits in as part of the team. 

17: Offer training opportunities

Not only will ongoing training help a volunteer in their current role, it’s a good idea to also include volunteers in any training opportunities that will allow them to gain additional skills that they can add to their CV – even better if the training allows them to gain an accredited qualification as a reward for their contribution to your cause.  And it’s not just those with employment as their goal who will appreciate the opportunity to learn; anyone who has taken that step into volunteering is likely to have a healthy curiosity and willingness to try new things.

18: Ensure they have access to the resources they need

If you don’t have a computer available for a new office volunteer, or your volunteer gardeners don’t have enough tools to go around, then you’re not going to maintain their enthusiasm for long.  Even with limited funds, there are ways for organisations to find the equipment needed for the roles you have created, but this needs to happen before recruitment.  So why not make an appeal for community donations of equipment or submit a funding application.

19: Let your volunteers know exactly how they are making a difference.

Share success stories.  Keep volunteers up-to-date on progress toward your organisation's goals.  Let them see your work in action through tours, presentations about project achievements, and by inviting them to provide suggestions about how your work can be done even better.

20: Thank your volunteers

Be around when the volunteer's shift is over to thank them for their work.  Have a chat about how they’ve found it and give some feedback.   If there have been issues, remind the volunteer that she or he is still in training and that improvement will come with practice.  Confirm the next time they’ll be coming in and tell them how lovely it is to have a new member on the team.  Such courtesies are not just for show; they are part of the process of making the volunteer want to return again and again.

 

EXPRESS YOUR GRATITUDE

This last point may seem like a no-brainer but sometimes, however much the intention is there to express your thanks when the volunteer is actually present, workloads can have a habit of getting in the way.  This means the volunteer may have reached the end of their shift and gone home feeling very unappreciated and underwhelmed by their experience, simply because no-one found the time to tell them just how much their help has been appreciated.  So if you really can’t be around at the end of their shift, particularly for the first few, then you really do need to find a multitude of other ways of expressing your gratitude.  Here are a few suggestions:

21: Remember Christmas and birthdays

Post a hand written card or drop your volunteer a little note at Christmastime or when it’s their birthday.  We’re all so wrapped up in the electronic age of e-mails and texting and social media that nowadays a hand written letter, note or card on special occasions is far more personal.  And don’t forget to put a real stamp on it – nothing will spoil the effect of your handwritten note more than franked postage on the envelope.

22: Send handwritten notes of appreciation

Don’t just wait for birthdays and Christmas.  Handwritten notes sent through the mail at any time have become rare, so when they do arrive they’re noticed and appreciated.  You might want to send one after a volunteer has done something especially nice or completed a specific piece of work, but anytime is good.  Keep a pack of really nice notelets or thank you cards handy or have some postcards printed with your logo and your most iconic photos on them.  Have several versions of the postcard made up so that you won't be sending the same ones over and over to the same people, and make them large enough that you can write a reasonable message, and so they’ll stand out when arriving in the mail.   

23: Send a letter of thanks and recognition to the volunteer’s employer

If you have people who are being supported by their employer to volunteer with you, this is an excellent way to say thank you, especially when some of the donated time has been during regular business hours. It also speaks volumes to the employer about the volunteer’s integrity and work ethic.

24: Recognize milestones

Celebrate the longevity of a volunteers’ support.  Having long-serving volunteers gives an organisation a reliable base of people they can rely on, so let them know how essential their work is by highlighting organisational achievements during your time together and applaud your volunteers’ milestones with a personalized email, social media post, postcard or phone call.

24: Capture the moment

Take photos of volunteers 'on the job', imprint them with a 'thank you' message and frame them – then give them to each volunteer.  If you have a notice board inside your reception, consider turning it into a volunteer appreciation board and add photographs of your volunteers in action.

25: Create a scrapbook

Have staff and clients write comments and quotes about the difference volunteers make and organise them in a scrapbook, have them printed in a booklet and mailed out, or share them at a recognition event.  Include photos and brief descriptions of the projects they relate to and the volunteers involved.

26: Host a "Volunteer Appreciation Event"

This could be a coffee morning, a lunch, dinner, barbecue or even a picnic that features testimonials to the volunteers from recipients of services.  Make it an awards ceremony within your organisation and provide certificates of appreciation to your volunteers, or present them with coins that add up to the amount of hours contributed placed in a container and tied with a ribbon.  Volunteers’ Week is a wonderful opportunity to host this kind of event.   

27: Nominate your volunteers for national recognition awards

The Beacon Awards or National Citizen Awards are examples of national recognition awards for the work of volunteers.  Keep informed of what is going on and how to make nominations so you don’t miss the opportunity to celebrate your volunteers.

28: Give your volunteers appropriate role titles

Don’t just use the label "Volunteer".  Each volunteer should have a defined role within your organisation.  Acknowledging this in a specific role title which reflects the work they do helps to make your volunteers feel a valued part of the team.

29: Allow volunteers to take on more challenging responsibilities

Enable volunteers to 'grow' on the job.  Let them put their names to, and take credit for, something they have helped to produce or to make happen and provide progression routes to more advanced work.  Ask for volunteer participation in planning that affects their work and encourage them to sit on committees and attend meetings

30: All of the above, and more

Don’t rest on your laurels.  Continue to create opportunities to thank your volunteers in as many different ways as you can.  After all, where on earth would you be without them?

 

Whether you are an organisation already working with volunteers or are just setting up your volunteer programme, Northumberland CVA can offer support and advice on recruiting and supporting your volunteers. 

Our website contains a collection of useful factsheets and other resources that cover every aspect of involving volunteers: www.northumberlandcva.org.uk/resources.

Our Volunteer Connect web-based database provides vastly improved search options for prospective volunteers and allows volunteer involving organisations to manage their own online profile, to add, update or remove their own opportunity details directly on-line and be alerted to suitable volunteer matches.  For more information about Volunteer Connect or to register and advertise your opportunities, please visit www.northumberlandcva.org.uk/volunteering/organisations, call us on 01670 858688 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

If you’d like to discuss the support Northumberland CVA can offer to your organisations, contact Michelle Cadby, our Development Officer for Volunteering: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland

By our Anonymous Blogger

 

During the course of my blogging adventures I thought I would like to look at several different aspects of volunteering.  I wanted to find out: Who are the people who volunteer, why do they volunteer, what are the common issues they encounter and what types of voluntary opportunities are available?

When I began my volunteering experience all of my colleagues explained what their roles were and where they fitted in within the organisation.  However, a lot of this did not sink in at the time, so it was really interesting to go out with a couple of them individually and get a flavour of their roles and responsibilities.

I recently had the opportunity to attend what I thought would be simply two community group meetings with Carolyn, our Development Officer for Projects at NCVA.  What I found was that many people feel more inclined to help their own community directly and provide a service that isn’t available when they band together to provide it. This creative group work is where volunteering and community action merge.  

On the day we attended the first group they were participating in their first AGM, and this was within weeks of becoming constituted.  The group consisted of local people who were formally creating a new Community Arts Group.  Their meeting was very well planned, and they appeared organised in their approach to the formalities of good governance (meaning the legal requirements and formal establishment of the group).  As a matter of fact, during this meeting a new member arrived, who had relocated to the area, and whose prior knowledge of another community arts group appeared invaluable to the group.  Carolyn reminded the group of some of the processes that they still had to complete but complimented them on what they had accomplished in a relatively short period of time.

The second group were ‘old hands’ and had been operating for a number of years.  They rented a room within a rural Community Centre from where they ran a Crafts Class for the elderly and disabled.  Carolyn had helped this group get started many years before but still kept in touch and continued to support them whenever the group needed it.

Whilst there however, we also had an unscheduled and informative meeting with the new Management Committee of the community centre itself.  The new committee consisted of local residents, who had taken over the running of the centre to save it from closure and were working hard to improve this facility for all the residents of their small village.  The committee were still in the initial stages of building a community group and still getting to grips with learning their new roles, duties and responsibilities.  Members had lots of questions for Carolyn and it was interesting to see how keen they were to achieve their goals.  Carolyn also had a discussion with a couple of outreach workers who were strangers to the area and were planning to e-mail local residents in connection with a workshop they planned to deliver.  However, Carolyn, quite rightly, pointed out that the local community had a high percentage of elderly residents who were not familiar with modern technology and advised therefore that they change their approach to door knocking and flyer distribution.

In this age of cut backs it is important to remember those who give freely but are generally invisible to the rest of society.  In fact, this experience really opened my eyes to the hard work and determination of many volunteers who work hard for their community and care passionately about putting facilities in place, or indeed keeping them.

Why not tell me about your own experiences of volunteering - good or bad?   Get in touch with me, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to talk about your own Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland

 

 

Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland

By our Anonymous Blogger

 

As a follow up to my first blog about my own experience as a volunteer I thought it would be interesting to take a look at other peoples’ experiences.  

To break myself in gently, I asked a colleague at Northumberland CVA, whom I knew had started as a volunteer and who had received the offer of permanent employment as a result, to give his story.  If you’ve visited the Northumberland CVA offices in Ashington in the past few years, you’ll no doubt have met Simon, who covers reception.  He was happy to be identified and talk about the difference volunteering made to finding paid work after years of unemployment (although he really didn’t want me to take his photo for this post). 

 

ME:Why did you volunteer?

SIMON: It’s a long story, but initially I was sent here by the Job Centre because I had expressed some interest in Administrative work so I didn’t really have a choice!  I had been unemployed for years and all my previous work experiences had been totally different.  I had worked as a drilling technician on rigs and land fill sites, I’d delivered carpets, done some care work and also worked at music festivals, but I’d never done any office work.  I decided I would like a total change.  

At that time, 5 years ago, the organisation was running a return to work sub-contract for INGEUS and I took part in their work placement programme, but when it ended I decided to stay on as a volunteer because I was enjoying the work so much.  When my placement finished I carried on volunteering for 4 days a week for another 2 years.

ME: What did you do?

SIMON: Just a bit of everything really, answering the phone, filling in forms, sorting groups out with the rooms and generally just helping people.

ME: What was your first impression?

SIMON: My first impression was that the staff were very friendly and I felt at ease and comfortable straight away!  In fact, on my first day they hadn’t known I was coming so were surprised at my arrival but I was quickly being shown what to do and within minutes I was answering the phone!

ME: Any positives?

SIMON: I learnt many new skills during my volunteering.  In fact I got to complete a level 3 NVQ in Business Administration.  The other thing was that once I started to volunteer directly instead of through INGEUS, although I still had to apply for other jobs every week, I didn’t have to attend basic training sessions or interview skills training which I felt were a waste of my time!

ME: Did you have any negative experiences?

SIMON: I cannot think of any negatives at all about my experience as a volunteer to be honest, that’s why I stayed.

ME: What happened after your volunteer post finished?

SIMON: Well, after 2-year experience as a volunteer a post became available here for an Admin Assistant.  I went for it and got the job!  I was amazed.  

I’ve worked here now as a permanent employee for 3 years and I really can’t believe it; the time has just flown!  Because we rely upon funding I know it might not last but I tend to get my contract renewed every 6 months and I’m still here so that’s okay!

ME: If you hadn’t been sent on a return to work programme or experienced volunteering from the inside what would have motivated, you to volunteer?

SIMON: I wouldn’t have thought of volunteering to be honest.  To me at that time, volunteering didn’t strike me as a useful way to get a job.  It was a going nowhere type of thing.  It just wasn’t for me.  Like people working in charity shops for instance, I didn’t see them as getting proper jobs from the charity when they finished their voluntary work, but as it turned out I did get a job and it was my volunteering experience that made all the difference.

 

Simon’s experiences clearly demonstrate that volunteering is a great way to get back into employment after a long absence from the work place.  But that isn’t the only reason people volunteer.  I’d love to talk to others about their own motivations and experiences of volunteering.

Get in touch with me, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to talk about your own Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland

Chris Hook, associate solicitor at Hempsons, asks whether it is time for volunteers to play a greater role in public services.

At the turn of the year Sir Stuart Etherington, the longstanding CEO of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), sent an open letter to NCVO’s members and the wider sector calling for volunteers to play a greater role in public services.

Sir Stuart cited health and social care as two areas facing enormous pressure. “Social care is consuming an ever greater proportion of local government spending. The trajectory appears unsustainable.” Similarly, the Red Cross recently went so far as to say the NHS was facing a “humanitarian crisis”.

Whoever becomes the next Government, given the economic climate, what is to be done in the area of social care and other public services?

Greater involvement of volunteers

While Sir Stuart acknowledged that volunteers alone cannot plug the gaps which are emerging, he argued that greater use of volunteers had to be part of the solution: “We need volunteers at the front door to reduce demand and help keep people out of hospital, and volunteers at the back door to help those who needed hospital treatment to settle back in at home. On both ends this is not about delivering more but using the capacity of communities to help meet and even reduce demand.” Enabling communities to be better neighbours and look out for each other is surely a good thing, after all.

But, seeking to open up a debate, Sir Stuart did not stop there: “I don’t believe in putting limits on what volunteers can do, especially not based on ideological arguments about the role of the state.” On the one hand, it is useful to move on from the old paradigm of “public sector equals good, private sector equals bad”. But can we dispense with politics altogether? After all, some might argue that government decisions to cut public spending and spin out public services may reflect an ideological desire to reduce the size of the state.

Local variations in service quality

There is also a wider question about whether it is socially equitable that the extent and quality of our public services may depend on the willingness of local communities to band together?

For instance, the New Local Government Network report Realising Community Wealth suggested that there is a correlation between volunteering rates and deprivation. This means that more affluent areas are likely to be better placed to sustain volunteering and better volunteer-led services because they already have higher levels of social interaction and engagement. On this basis deprived areas, which may already face more acute difficulties, would be even less well equipped to deal with them.

Asset transfers

The growth of volunteer-run libraries (often known as “community libraries”) is perhaps an interesting example of what Sir Stuart was talking about. Transferring control from local authorities has no doubt saved these important civic institutions from closure for the benefit of hundreds of local communities across the country. However, in many cases the professional expertise of trained librarians and archivists has been lost; local authorities have further cut their book funds limiting the replenishment of stock; opening hours have reduced; the joined-up area-wide library service has fragmented; and, of course, jobs have been lost.   

Meanwhile the Communities and Local Government Committee recently published a wide-ranging report into the future of England’s parks, including a discussion on setting up park trusts or formal partnerships with friends groups to take over the management of parks. Newcastle City Council is one such local authority exploring how to set up a charitable trust to take over the management of its parks, including those gifted to the city by philanthropists.

The Committee's report noted that a key issue is the establishment of transparent governance and accountability structures, particularly because changes to the traditional park management model can weaken a community's ability to hold local authorities to account through the ballot box. It is therefore important that careful thought is given to establishing governance arrangements which provide appropriate oversight and involvement in decision-making for local people.

That said, the Committee also heard evidence that setting up a park trust could in fact enhance local democracy and accountability. Alan Carter of the Land Trust said: "it is really crucially important to get the local community involved in making the decisions and having what I call the soft ownership: 'It feels like it is mine; legally and technically it might not be, but it feels like it may be mine'. [The local community] make the decisions about what that green space is used for and what benefits really come from that green space."

Likewise, David Foster, Chief Executive of the Milton Keynes Parks Trust, said: "The real benefit of having a trust is not so much about the funding; it is about setting the parks free and [setting] the people who run the parks ... free to be innovative and creative. [ … ] an independent trust that has nothing else to do but promote the parks, get them well managed and bring the money in to manage them, with a single purpose, is much more likely to succeed in making them work."

But the report also notes the liabilities and legal complexities which community groups may face on an asset transfer. The voluntary sector therefore needs to be wary of Greeks bearing gifts and, furthermore, be sure that its enthusiasm for taking on or saving community assets is not misused by public authorities as a Trojan horse for spending cuts and job losses. Otherwise this may serve to undermine public confidence in volunteerism and the sector more widely.

Benefits of volunteering

Nonetheless, Sir Stuart was right to be positive and stress the benefits of volunteering i.e. it provides social and health benefits and development opportunities for individuals as well as strengthening community bonds and building collective capacity.

But such benefits do not come only from delivering public services. Individuals and community groups can derive these same benefits through different forms of volunteering e.g. community activism or local campaigning against proposals to close a service. It is important that charities continue to defend their right to engage in legitimate political activity and campaigning as well as looking to harness their expertise in mission-focused delivery. This is particularly relevant as we approach the local elections and the general election.

Fostering effective volunteering

Despite the differences of opinion about the role of volunteers in public sector delivery, there are also a number of points where all sides can hopefully agree. For example, volunteering comes with a cost. It takes time, effort and resources to make a good volunteer. Voluntary does not mean free. Government needs to understand this.

It is also only fair that community groups have access to legal advice from the start to understand what they are taking on and ongoing support in relation to funding, training, business planning, compliance and so on.

In addition, it is important that charities properly induct and support volunteers so that they are effective and get the most out of the experience. For this reason it is good practice for organisations to develop non-binding volunteer agreements which set out the parties’ shared expectations.

The recent DCMS report Enabling Social Action is also a useful guide on how to foster different types of volunteering in different contexts.

Fundamentally, this debate is more complex than a simple question of state funding versus volunteer-involvement, as if it had to be one or the other. Rather, the real question has to be about where and how the state and volunteers can best work together to sustain and enhance our public services.

Sir Stuart said he wanted to start a debate. As the elections approach, the debate continues…

Chris Hook is an associate solicitor at Hempsons in Newcastle. He provides specialist legal advice to charities and social enterprises on a wide range of charity and commercial law matters.

Contact

Chris Hook

Associate solicitor specialising in charity and social enterprise

Hempsons | Newcastle

d: 0191 230 6052 e: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

www.hempsons.co.uk

Follow us on Twitter: @hempsonslegal Follow us on LinkedIn: uk.linkedin.com/company/hempsons

 

 

April: spring – a time of new beginnings and the start of a new financial year, and for Northumberland CVA the start of our celebrations for having delivered thirty years of support to the voluntary and community sector. 

This year, we’re going to be publishing a new series of monthly blogs, each one a collection of 30 top tips with a particular topical theme.  This month’s blog is all about the questions you should ask yourself when starting a new community group, although the tips given are equally relevant to any small group that wants to review what they’ve been doing and give their group new impetus.

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST

1: Why do I want to start a new community group?

Community groups are an essential ingredient of sustainable communities. When people come together to form a group it can promote inclusion by alleviating exclusion.  When people become directly involved in their community, they are able to meet new people and learn new skills.  They can share information and help each other to solve issues.  Coming together in this way can also help a community to access funds to improve the local area.  Whatever your reasons, you do need to be clear about why you want to start a new group in such a way that you can explain it to others in a clear and concise way.

2: What do I need to do first?

The type of group you want to be may affect the order you do things in. For instance, to set up a small community arts project, you’ll need to give some thought to the aims and structure of the group before you invite others to join you, so that you can be clear about what you are asking them to do.  On the other hand, if you need to respond quickly to a controversial proposal from the council that will affect your community, the first thing you’ll need to do is to get as many people as possible together so that they can all contribute their ideas and their energy to tackling the issue.  Getting bogged down in worrying about aims and legal structure would slow you down unnecessarily at this point.

3:Is there already an organisationdoing something similar near me?

This is something you’ll need to research.  If a group already exists in the same area doing what you want to do then duplicating what they’re doing may affect the level of support, funding or volunteers you will be able to access, so do ensure that what you want to do is new and/or unique in some way before you start – at least in your area.  Try searching the internet.  Visit the library or your local authority.  If something already exists, you could join that group, find like-minded people and save yourself a lot of work.

4: Could I work in partnershipwith any other groups or organisations?

If there are groups already doing something related but not quite the same, perhaps you could make your idea an addition to their already successful organisation, or perhaps you could work together to develop something new.  If you want to work in the same geographical area then you could perhaps share premises and work together for the benefit of both groups.

5:How do I know there is a need for what I want to do?

You may feel strongly about a local development or issue but do others feel the same?  Perhaps you’ve had a good idea for your local community but how do you know others will want to get involved?  Or maybe you’d like to meet up with others who’ve had similar experiences to your own for friendship and support but don’t know anyone among your immediate circle who could help.  Or perhaps you are part of an existing group that needs to find new members to survive.  To find others who feel the same or have similar interests, you need to get the word out in a number of different ways to reach as many people as possible.

6: How can I get the word out?

You could create flyers and put them up where people meet – in your local library or shop, on your local community notice board, or in your local pub perhaps – or you could write a piece for your local parish mag asking for anyone with similar interests or issues to get in touch.  You could start a Facebook group or even hold a public meeting open to anyone.

7: Where can I hold a public meeting?

Think about the amount of people you hope to attract and the venues that may be available.  What about a local community centre or village hall?  How many people will it accommodate? What will be the costs involved?  Is it central?  Is there transport?  Is it appropriate for the type of group you want to start? N.B.: Only as a last resort should you ever consider inviting people who are as yet strangers to you into your own home.

8: How do I go about conducting a public meeting? 

This can be nerve-wracking if you are not used to speaking in public so it’s important not to be too ambitious about what to cover in the meeting.  Make sure you have an agenda and clear notes of what you want to say. Keep it simple; a public meeting is not the place to engage in complicated discussions about structure or day to day organisation.  Instead, simply share basic information, encourage others to share their opinions and ideas and, most importantly, gain contact details of people who may wish to be involved in the future.

 

GETTING ORGANISED

9: What’s in a name?

The name you choose is going to stick with your organisation for many years so you need to spend some time finding a descriptive name that is easy to remember, suits what you do and feels comfortable.

You could start by coming up with ideas around the following statements: “My group will……..”, “My group helps……..” or “Our members are……..”  Use descriptive words, make up an acronym or try combining two words into one.  Don’t be afraid to be creative.  Pretend you’re answering the phone and saying the name as an introduction.  Does it roll off the tongue easily or do you feel silly saying it?  Does it sound too stiff, or too jingly?

10: What do we want to achieve?

At this point, you should already have plenty of idea on what changes you want to bring about and how such changes will benefit the community.  This is your mission.  Now it’s time to form your ideas into the aims that will give your new group direction.  As a group, you may find it useful to carry out one or both of the following analyses:

·         A SWOT analysis – a detailed description of your organisation’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (If you are a completely new group, this could be all that is required)

·         A PEST analysis – an analysis of the political, environmental, social and technical factors currently affecting the organisation (If you are review planning for an existing group, it can be very useful to carry this analysis out too)

It’s important to keep your aims broad and general so that you don’t limit your activities.  Two or three general aims are plenty, and the more simply worded the better – this is no time for jargon and complication.

11: How can we narrow things down?

So you now have a set of aims that are broad and general and no doubt they feel a bit big and unwieldy at this point.  Now it’s time to define these aims into something more manageable by setting some initial parameters and identify themes.  For instance:

·         Do you want to help people affected by a specific issue in a defined area? 

·         Are you going to work with the residents of a particular town or village? 

·         Or with a vulnerable minority group that has special needs over a much wider area?

All of these considerations will have implications for your resources that will need to be taken into account in your service and funding plans so it’s a good idea to be realistic right from the start.

12: How can we decide our activities?

Objectives are organisational goals that help to convert your broad aims into something more specific by linking your activities to your overall mission and aims.  Consider the themes you have identified and list activities that will have the greatest impact, make the best use of your resources and help to achieve your aims.  These can become your objectives.  Once your group is set up properly, you can review these objectives and set up some firm activity milestones – targets you want to achieve in a given timeframe.

13: Will we need to form a management committee?

Management Committee, Trustee Board, Executive Committee or Steering Group - whatever you want to call it, they are the people (elected by and from within your membership) who manage your group andwho are legally and financially responsible for it.  It is important to have a committee to ensure the smooth running of your group. 

If your group becomes a member of Northumberland CVA, your committee members can join Northumberland Trustees’ Network and have access to a huge online library of resources, including a Strategic Planning factsheet, workbook and template as well as templates for SWOT and PEST analyses  that will help with the previous few points.  Find out more about Northumberland CVA membership at: www.northumberlandcva.org.uk/about/membershipand about the network at www.northumberlandtrustees.org.uk.

14: Who needs to be on the committee?

You will need at least three people on your committee to take on the specific roles of Chair, Treasurer and Secretary, which every organisation should have.  These ‘honorary’ officers have additional duties to carry out on behalf of the committee, although they do not have any more power than any other committee members.  Our factsheet: Roles & Responsibilitieslists the key responsibilities of these roles.  Find out who can and can’t be a trustee in our factsheet: Who Can Be a Trustee

15: What does the rest of the committee do?

Everyone on the management committee is responsible for ensuring that everything your group does supports its mission and aims, that all money, property and resources are properly used, managed and accounted for and that your group follows the law.  They are responsible too for managing any staff and volunteers.  Our Roles & Responsibilitiesfactsheet also lists the legal and managerial duties of all trustees.

16: What sort of legal structure is best for us?

There are a number of different types of legal structures available to community groups, although most begin with the simplest possible structure – an ‘unincorporated association’. 

Unincorporated groups are quick and cheap to set up – ideal for small groups with a membership, short-term goals, low incomes and that do not intend to employ staff or acquire property.  However, an unincorporated association has no separate legal existence and remains essentially a collection of individuals, so any legal proceedings taken against the group would actually be taken against the individuals themselves.  Therefore, if you are a committee member of an unincorporated association you are personally liable for your group's actions.

Other types of legal structure include Company Limited by Guarantee, Charitable Incorporated Organisation and Co-operative.  If you need help understanding which structure would be best for your organisation, read our factsheets: Legal Structures and Charitable Status orcall our VCS Support Services team on 01670 858688 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

17: Will we need a governing document?

Even small groups should have a governing document.  A constitution is a type of governing document that sets out the rules of the organisation and details the group's aims, obligations and powers.  It’s a statement of what your group is going to do and how it is going to do it. 

Being formally constituted is often one of the basic eligibility criteria of funding bodies.  It shows that your organisation is sustainable and set up correctly so other organisations can have confidence in what you do.  It makes your group accountable and ensures that members make decisions in a democratic way.  The type of governing document you adopt will depend upon the legal structure your group takes, so you can only write your governing document once you have agreed the structure of your group.  For information on the best type of governing document for your group, call our VCS Support Services team on 01670 858688 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

GETTING STARTED

18: When should we hold our first official meeting?

The committee becomes official at your group's Inaugural General Meeting.  At this meeting the proposed committee members will adopt the constitution.  The people who adopt the constitution become the first committee members.  After that, the management committee is elected annually.

19: How can we get others to come?

As well as putting flyers and posters in public places or writing a piece for your parish newsletter and local newspaper, you could use some of the following methods: email supporters and ask them to forward the information; make an announcement on your local radio station and on social media; offer an incentive such as free refreshments or a speaker.  Or perhaps, if your group is going to provide activities for children, ask the local school to put invitations into pupils’ bags for parents to read.

20: Will I need an agenda?

Your committee meetings need to include certain points of business and it is useful to set a format for the meeting and have an agenda to ensure that each point is covered and to keep things on track.

21: Where can our group meet?

This may depend on the types of activities you’re planning.  If you need a physical base for your activities, then this could be the best place to hold committee meetings too, although a huge recreation hall may not be conducive to getting committee business done if your activities are sports related.  You may be able to use a room at your local community centre, library or local pub.  You do need to make sure that your chosen venue is accessible so that your group is open to as wide a section of the community as possible.

22: Do we need an action plan?

Action plan, business plan; in the early days of your group it amounts to the same thing since your concentration is likely to be focused initially on getting through the first year rather on detailed planning for the long-term.  An action plan is where you can look again at the basic objectives you have already formed and set milestones and targets to keep on track.

It’s a good idea to make your targets SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.  For instance, if you want to raise money to fund your activities, try changing ‘Raise more money for our services’ to something like ‘Raise £10,000 to fund our full 2018-19 service through voluntary income by 31/03/2018’.  This will give you something solid to aim for and you can then break your targets down into smaller milestones so you can measure your progress as you go along.  Make sure you consider costings, cash flow and how much you’ll need to spend to get the organisation up and running.  

You don’t need to be an expert to do this – anyone organising a family budget knows about cost and expenditure.

23: Do we need policies and procedures?

Policies and procedures set out how a community organisation should be run.  One of the most important ways a management committee can oversee the delegation of its work is via written policies and procedures.  Some are required by law.  They can help to demonstrate a group’s professionalism.  They can ensure fairness and resolve disputes, and allow new people to know how things are done in the group. 

For more information download our factsheet: Policies and Proceduresor, to discuss which policies and procedures would be best for your own group, call us on 01670 858688 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

24: How will we generate funds?

How much money you need to raise will depend very much on what you want to do.  Cash flow is a significant factor for your charity and having enough income over the first 12 months is vital.

Some smaller groups are happy to rely simply on asking their members to pay a small weekly or monthly fee.  Some add to this income by taking part in organised sponsored events or asking local supermarkets to allow them to ‘bag pack’.  Others carry out street collections (which need the permission of the local licencing authority), organise pub quizzes or raffles or host their own sponsored events (Permission and licenses may be required).  To fund more costly activities or to purchase necessary equipment, you may be able to apply for grant funding.  But before you start applying for grants, you need to make sure that you have the basics in place; funders need to know that they can trust you with their money, and that your project or organisation is well managed and likely to succeed.  

Download our factsheets: Fit for Funding , Searching for Funding, or Fundraising Strategy for Small Groups.  For more tailored advice and support, call our VCS Support Services team on 01670 858688 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

25: Do we need a bank account?

Your community group will almost certainly need a bank account. Most high street banks offer accounts for not-for-profit organisations, which will allow your group to start depositing funds and authorise signatories that have access to them.  Instead of going for a ‘standard’ account, look at the many ethical accounts available and try to find one that aligns with your group's constitution.  The first step though is to decide who on your committee will be responsible for signing cheques and make sure that this decision is recorded in the minutes at your meeting.  It is common practice to authorise two committee members to authorise cheques and take money out of the account on behalf of the group. 

The bank will want to see your Governing Document and the minutes of the meeting that authorised the signatories.  They will also need to see at least two forms of identification for each of them.  Opening a bank account can take up to four weeks so bear this in mind when making decisions.

26: Do we already have the skills we need?

Every community group needs a variety of skills to keep it moving ahead.  In appointing your committee, people will no doubt have come forward who possess some or all of the skills needed for the specific roles of Chair, Treasurer and Secretary, but it is still a good idea to carry out a skills audit to capture the current skills of your board as well as to highlight possible gaps and points where professional guidance may be useful.  You may find that a committee member has marketing or business development skills for instance, or someone may possess well-developed IT or customer care skills.   Finding even one of these skills amongst your members could be an invaluable asset to your group. 

27: Will we need any training?

Governance is about leadership and ensuring that an organisation is properly run.  Good governance is the board’s responsibility but most individuals who take on the task of setting up a new community group don’t start out with a well-developed knowledge of governance issues.  Instead, they start out with a burning desire to provide activities for local children or to oppose a local planning proposal, and the governance side of things is something they must learn along the way.  To find out about governance training for your group, call our VCS Support Services teamon 01670 858688 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

You may need to source other training too.  For example, there may be training needs around safeguarding issues if your group is going to work with children or vulnerable adults (To find out about safeguarding training in Northumberland visit voices-northumberland.org.uk/safeguarding-training/).   If you plan to serve food, you’ll need to have up-to-date food safety certificates (There are a number of private sector providers for this, or you could see what’s available through Northumberland College).  Depending on your activities, it could be a good idea to get a good basic grounding in Health & Safety too – again, look at local providers for this.

28: How can we keep in touch with people?

For very small community groups, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem but as a group grows, or if the group operates over a wide area it can be more difficult to maintain communication with members and other stakeholders. 

And of course the methods you use need to be sympathetic of the needs of the individual members – for instance, many older members do not use email or social media.  Some other dos and don’ts: do use plain English to get your message across clearly and do ask people how they prefer to be contacted; don’t overwhelm people with too many communications and if you provide an e-bulletin, do make sure you also provide paper copies  and post them out to those who prefer it.

29: Should we use volunteers?

Essentially volunteers should add to the efficiency, diversity and quality of your organisation.  They can be involved at all levels of your organisation, from making decisions at a management committee level, to working in the community at grassroots level and thousands of community groups would be unable to survive without them. 

However, volunteers expect to get something positive out of their experience of giving their time and skills for free and should never be used as general dogsbodies to carry out the tasks others don’t like.  Volunteers need to feel valued and your group needs to provide them with ongoing support and feedback.  Involving volunteers then is never to be taken lightly. 

Read our collection of factsheets on involving volunteers, all available at www.northumberlandcva.org.uk/resources.   For more support on involving volunteers in your work, call our VCS Support Services team on 01670 858688 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

30: How can we keep up to date with changes?

Northumberland CVA produces a regular fortnightly VCS Support Services e-bulletin full of information on news, views, events, training opportunities and funding opportunities.  You can subscribe via the website: www.northumberlandcva.org.uk.  

If your group is a member of Northumberland CVA, your trustees can also receive an additional Trustees’ Network monthly e-bulletin with information on governance issues, legal updates, consultations and links to new resources.  Find out about becoming a member of Northumberland CVA at: www.northumberlandcva.org.uk/about/membershipand about the network at www.northumberlandtrustees.org.uk.

Northumberland VCS Assembly offers an inclusive, independent and influential voice for the VCS in the county.  Members come together to define common concerns, to speak with one collective voice and to take a stand on important issues.  There are four geographical networks across Northumberland that all meet regularly and offer the chance for voluntary and community organisations to get together, share ideas and good practice and raise concerns.  Find out more about the Assembly at vcsassemblynorthumberland.co.uk/.

 

 

Image: Creative Commons

 

Volunteering Adventures in Northumberland

by our Anonymous Blogger

 

I am a 56-year-old former Social Worker who has been out of the job market for over six and a half years.  

I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to drop out of employment though.  As with many other people (particularly women my age), it was a series of life events that de-railed me, and at one point seemed to overwhelm me.  Indeed, after supporting both parents and my husband through a series of serious health issues in relatively quick succession, I also developed health problems of my own and my work life simply imploded.

However, after moving to a new area a year ago, I realised that I needed some kind of occupation other than the usual housework, decorating, gardening and grandchildren!  Something that would engage my brain and apply the skills, I thought I may still have.  Like a lot of people who have been out of the labour market for a period of time though my confidence was low and although I wanted to take the risk I was also scared of rejection, of not being ‘up to it’ anymore. 

I therefore decided to do a trawl through the internet just using the search terms ‘Volunteering’ and ‘Northumberland’ and I found the site for Northumberland Community Voluntary Action (Northumberland CVA).  I then came across an opportunity for a Voluntary Volunteering Adviser that I thought may suit me as it seemed to require some of the transferable skills I was pretty confident I still had.

Initially, I emailed the Volunteering Co-ordinator at Northumberland CVA, who suggested I fill in the application form, which I found relatively straight forward.  Subsequently I was contacted by Jackie, who is the Information and Communications Officer, who asked me to call into the office for an informal “chat” and I discovered that the Volunteer Co-ordinator I originally contacted was no longer with the organisation. 

Jackie was very friendly and open and explained that, after some restructuring, the position I had applied for no longer existed but there were two other options available. The first was to work on a one to one basis as a mentor to someone who has difficulties accessing the labour market.  The second was to work on the administration side, inputting data into the new Volunteer Connect System, which allows organisations to advertise their volunteering opportunities and potential volunteers to search for opportunities they like.  After some consideration, I felt I would rather opt for the latter option both because it was something I thought I could do, and because the alternative was too close to the work I had previously done.

My initial volunteering experience however wasn’t as straight forward as I had assumed.  Although I regularly used an iPad at home, I was very anxious about using a PC as it had been some years since I’d used a real computer and several years since I’d last input any data.  

At first I felt totally incompetent.  Nothing would sink in.  Everything I tried to do went wrong.

I didn’t know how the system worked and felt a nuisance asking my very patient colleagues for help.

 After the first day, and then the second day I had ‘brain ache’ and wondered whether I should return because it seemed just too difficult!  Indeed, my colleagues appeared quite pleased and encouraging when I kept turning up!

Eventually things began to ‘stick’ and I was able to get on with less and less help, I felt comfortable amongst my peers and my confidence increased.

This week is my 2-month anniversary and I feel my volunteering experience is not only using skills I already had, but it is also giving me new ones!  Indeed, writing this Blog, which I have never done before, seemed like an impossible challenge just a few weeks ago, and today I have not only completed it, but enjoyed the whole process!  

I’d love to chat with other volunteers in Northumberland to find out how they coped with their first few days, and what motivated them to volunteer in the first place.  Please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..         

By Anne Lyall, CEO of Northumberland CVA

Profile

Having been raised with the music of David Bowie, Prince and others, it has been a sad time recently to hear of the death of so many celebrities over the past year.  Every one of them played a part in my past and have all influenced me one way or another but I am amazed by the passion and, to some extent, the excesses shown by some fans in honouring the demise of their heroes.

A lot of my career has been spent in the Voluntary and Community Sector.  My passion began when I worked with a group of women in the 1990’s, women who had never done anything but been married, raised kids and had no expectations for their future.  Together we developed a programme of activity, including a weekend doing outdoor pursuits in Yorkshire, and from that programme I saw women grow, develop careers and, for some, leave abusive relationships.  For me, it planted a desire to do more and to continue to work in the Voluntary and Community Sector – a sector that could change the lives of individuals for the better.

For 25 years I have worked with like-minded passionate people – people who wanted and have made a difference.  But now, with the pressures being placed on staff and volunteers to do more with fewer resources, I am seeing that passion being eroded. 

Northumberland CVA is the facilitating body of the VCS Assembly.  We have made great strides in developing the Assembly since winning the commission.  We have engaged with more people in the sector and increased membership by 68%.  We have developed a democratically-elected Executive Board with representation from both geographical and themed areas.  We have established regular meetings of a VCS Cabinet Advisory Group, made up of elected members from Northumberland County Council along with members of the VCS Assembly Executive Committee, and agreed a Statement of Intent to work together.

For the first time, Northumberland VCS Assembly offers the sector a real opportunity to prove its worth to the public sector, to put the strength of our combined passion into making things better for the VCS.

Of course, we still have a long way to go to break some of those glass ceilings in the public sector to make our voice truly heard, and there is no doubt that bigger cuts are on the way.  I have always been an optimist and my glass is always half full, but we have already seen the VCS Support Services grants to the sector cut dramatically over the past three years.  Organisations have closed, services have shrunk, and yet demand for the services the voluntary and community sector provides is constantly growing.

This won’t get any better. 

Unless we work together, drive our combined passion forward, and commit to making things work differently, the survival of the VCS and its future sustainability may be severely limited.  It is vital that we harness the passion that makes us do what we do.  Our commitment to those who need us most is not what’s in doubt; it’s our value for money.  

We need to show our worth.  Demonstrate our impact.

A passion every bit as ardent as that felt by those fans over the loss of their celebrity heroes (although perhaps not the excesses) is evident throughout Northumberland’s voluntary and community sector in the work we do every day.  We need to harness it.  And we need to do it now!   Before it’s too late!

 
 
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