'Strictly Volunteering' networking

10 October 2016

Volunteer Scotland hosted a Strictly Volunteering Networking session during our recent AGM. More than 370 comments were provided across 3 main themes. 

Participants to our AGM (who were largely volunteer involving organisations) were asked to consider and discuss the following statements, more specifically how each of us currently 'Do' or could 'Improve' across: 

  1. Inclusion “more people are actively participating in volunteering”,
  2. Experience “our people are having great experiences through volunteering”, and
  3. Collaboration “our partnerships support more people volunteering, regularly, safely and enjoyably”

Summary outputs are provided for each in turn:


1. Inclusion “more people are actively participating in volunteering”

The top 10 areas based on volume of comments are shown below. Note the coloured bars where the graph indicates the 'comment split' between what organisations currently 'Do' and where they'd like to 'Improve'. 

Inclusion Chart 

In more detail, we have summarised individual comments for the most popular areas, as follows:

Area Summarised comments
Communicate more effectively There is room to improve here. Suggestion is for use of different communication methods to reach under-represented groups but all must be accessible. "Speak to the vulnerable and excluded" can be interpreted as both targeting specific groups and networks and going to where people are. It's important to be approachable, friendly and see communnication as being two-way, aim to build relationships. Be aware of how others currently see us (e.g. as aloof). Get better at asking people to get involved but also be honest on what's involved.  
Meet volunteer needs Balance is on improving current practice. Identify the diverse needs of those we are excluding, understand their barriers. Focus on ability rather than disability, see the individual. Provide adequate expenses and financial support, address the hidden costs. 
Tailor support for volunteers Room for improvement. Supporting volunteering is key, tailor this to needs through assessments or co-create support with participants, aim to overcome barriers. More support is needed throughout all aspects of the role, including recruitment. Make accessible - "find out what the ramp is for volunteering". Provide support for more isolated volunteers. Use technology to help support where appropriate. Invest in supported volunteering programmes.  
Plan for inclusion Respondents are doing much of this. Planning is important, considering inclusion at every step, scrutinising data, seeking advice, thinking creatively, finding out who we are currently excluding and aiming to do something about it (targetting excluded groups). 
Opportunities are flexible, accessible Some room to improve here. Create more opportunities (with emphasis on more flexible opportunities) and accessible roles (that make a difference and are local). More opportunities are needed in the public sector. Agencies (working with excluded groups) are more aware of what’s available now.

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2. Experience “our people are having great experiences through volunteering”

The top 10 areas from the experience theme are shown below. 

Experience Chart

In more detail, we have summarised comments from the most 5 popular areas.

Area Summarised comments
Support / train / develop There's a lot of work happening in this space but also a need for improvement. Comments suggest creating a welcoming place and a diverse community of volunteers. Have one point of contact (named person), regular support (and supervision) perhaps where people volunteer. (Lots of) training needed, formal (with subsidised or free qualifications on offer) as well as mentoring and learning in the role. Tailor the approach to suit. Develop new skills, transferable skills and develop leaders with the authority to make decisions. Have processes in place (not ad hoc) and staff time to support volunteers, get to know volunteers and provide effective responses. Discuss new ways of doing things with volunteers.
Rewards and recognition Largely doing already but can improve. Thank volunteers, recognise their contributions incl. "going the extra mile", celebrate them. There are many ways to recognise and one size doesn't fit all, the personal touch is good but time is an issue. Need to improve approaches. Reward volunteers, through local or national schemes but also reinforce the difference they make (to beneficiaries).  
Communications A lot of room to improve. Communications should be regular and can be a good source of dialogue and feedback with volunteers. Volunteers help promote volunteering and highlight the benefits through sharing their experiences via case studies and word of mouth (seen as particularly important). Need to be better at highlighting the why, what and how. Also, look for new ways to show the impact volunteering makes. The language used in communications is important and needs to be volunteer friendly. 
Meet volunteer needs Respondents are doing this. This includes careful matching of volunteers with opportunities, building their aspirations and delivering the skills and experiences they need. This can also be about building confidence and providing a positive destination. Key is meeting their needs for a meaningful experience and to enjoy their time and have fun. It involves prioritising relationship building with volunteers. 
Opportunities: meaningful, fun, safe A lot of work already happens here. Provide opportunities that meet needs (for being meaningful, enjoyable, fun) whilst also being safe and appropriate. If possible, create something local and unique "outwith the norm". Allow volunteers to connect and build relationships, interact with staff and directly with beneficiaries e.g. children or young people. Need local knowledge to create local opportunities. Do we (always) need opportunities that offer high levels of training, development but also stretch our capacity?    

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3. Collaboration “our partnerships support more people volunteering, regularly, safely and enjoyably”

The top 10 areas of Do and Improve from the collaboration theme are indicated below.

Collaboration Chart 

In more detail, we have summarised for the most commented areas.

Area Summarised comments
Partners build capacity Doing already but room to improve. Share and improve knowledge, resources, skills and practices with other organisations, provide greater (local or national) reach and coverage. Improve networks, communicate better and increase capacity. Programmes are more sustainable with partners. Partnerships cited are with public sector (NHS, Police, etc), volunteer centres, community groups, charities, social enterprises, businesses, same-size orgs, larger more experienced orgs, those with a particular focus, that link more closely to services and support and operate at the level of role (e.g. via volunteer support officers).   
Better communications Balance of do and improve. Partners improve the quality and reach of communications. Help to reach more / more diverse volunteers, connect to new networks, raise the profile of volunteering and volunteers (nationally). Through more open debate and discussion new collaborations can be found. Help promote opportunities, through shared databases. Organisations could do more to share volunteers.
Learning from good practice and experiences Doing much of this. Learn from partners (particularly those with special expertise), share knowledge, research, ideas and experiences (positive examples and good practice). Inform, improve (the volunteer experience) and grow the evidence base for volunteering. Promote further investment. 
Support strategic goals and standards Balanced between do and improve. Partners can support strategic goals around volunteering but must be a shared ethos. Need for partners to be aligned and to minimise the influence of “personalities”. Work happening with partners on standards for support and management and with government on vision and language. A general lack of understanding that volunteering is changing and what this means for partners. 
Better rewards and more recognition More about improving from a partner perspective. Reward and recognise volunteers, celebrate and share successes. Partners can help develop more varied rewards and ways to recognise the contributions of volunteers.

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Thank you to all of those who attended and added their views. Whilst not intended to be representative of the wider population of volunteering involving organisations, these focused comments across areas of Inclusion, Experience and Collaboration give food for thought. This exercise has helped to identify priority issues across these important themes (where we could look to improve) and highlighted where good practice is happening. 

Your comments are very welcome. 

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