Struggling to recruit volunteers, and need some advice?

By Hazel Finney, Lead for Volunteering, Community Impact Bucks

Let’s face it – sometimes recruiting, managing and retaining volunteers can be damned hard work – especially if you’re not involved with a large national charity with a healthy budget and a ‘sexy’ cause that really tugs at the heart strings. In the grand scheme of things, you might not be saving lives, but at a local level, the charity or community group you work or volunteer for could still be having a massive, life enhancing, impact. Take the man who, due to a weekly activity group, is dealing more effectively with his depression, or the woman who is feeling better now there’s a volunteer driver to take her to her hospital appointments. Remove all the voluntary organisations and the volunteers that facilitate their services at a county level, and suddenly you’re left with a massive deficit that will be noticed on the wider stage.

I meet a lot of switched on, driven, people in my job – well, you have to be to have the presence of mind and tenacity to start a charitable organisation from scratch, successfully diversify your funding streams, or have the gumption to leave a well paid job in the private sector to do something that really matters to you. But everyone needs a helping hand from time to time, especially when this involves support around volunteers, the lifeblood of the voluntary sector.

If you could benefit from advice about involving volunteers, Community Impact Bucks can help. We’re the nationally accredited Volunteer Centre for Buckinghamshire, and so know a thing or two about volunteering. Whether you just have a query that requires a quick email or phone call, or a more complex concern, there is a variety of support available:

Visit our website

– Call us on 0300 111 1250

– Email us on info@communityimpactbucks.org.uk

– Attend a FREE 45 minute advice surgery slot: the next one on 8 June is full up, but the next ones are on 12 July (Winslow), and 16 August (Amersham)

– Attend a half or full day masterclass: next one on 22 August in South Bucks.

Use this Volunteers’ Week to take stock, and think about asking for help if you need it – from that niggling question, to a problem which is beginning to feel insurmountable, we can’t promise to work miracles, but sometimes it’s just good to talk!

Here’s what some of our service users have had to say:

“I thought the pace and variety of activities was really good and think the model forms will be really valuable.” St. Francis Children Society

“Really well run workshop.” Carers Bucks

“I am very pleased to announce that working with CIB, we have at STARS/Oasis Partnership managed to recruit a volunteer to fulfil our Caretaker position. It was after attending one of the volunteer surgeries that CIB provide, they encouraged us to add our volunteer roles on to the Do-it website. This role will make a huge difference to the team in Aylesbury and hopefully provide our volunteer with the confidence and up-to-date work experience to move forward in getting a paid job.” The Oasis Partnership

“Thank you so much for meeting me last week, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to have someone listen to me! The information you have provided is very helpful and I intend to put in practice most of your suggestions over the next few weeks.” Anonymous

Foundations for a successful charity

By Nick Phillips, group chief executive, Community Impact Bucks

What is it that makes a successful organisation? It’s a question that I have been asked, in one form or another, by many people about to embark on the journey to start a charity or social enterprise or, in my past life, a business. It’s easy to trot out the tried and tested criteria we all know either from personal experience of the hundreds of books written about the subject of ‘good business’; vision, clear strategy, cashflow, knowing your customers…  and all that is as true of a charity as of a business.  However, there does seem to be a hierarchy of building blocks that are becoming increasingly apparent. We regularly see evidence of this “hierarchy” being absent in organisations that fail as we can see it clearly in the successes.

Debi, our brilliant projects leader, and her team recently carried out some research on successful community projects and it seems (early days in the research) that here too the same hierarchy holds true.

Firstly, it’s about leadership.  Without good leadership, however well-meaning the team and however great the idea, the organisation will not succeed long term. It sounds obvious, I know, but this is where the clarity of vision for the charity is so vital. It seems that where the chair, founder or CEO have that vision and passion, the organisation is more likely to succeed. Equally if that passion and vision are missing then the organisation can flounder.

The next layer in the hierarchy seems to be about the leadership having the right people around them. They can be volunteers or staff, but people who help carry the vison are filled with enthusiasm, energy and the right skills.

Next, it’s about the money and a plan to make money, not in quick bursts relying just on single grants but a long term sustainable plan. This can be from a structured service income or strategy for donations or a mix of all options.

The next level in the hierarchy is harder to define, but it seems that partnerships are vital. Sharing ideas, or even sharing resources, can be a game-changer to charities, particularly in the early stages of getting a charity off the ground.

The last identifiable feature seems to be going back to the ‘story’ I mentioned earlier, but this is the story of success – the impact. Being able to measure and articulate how the charity has changed lives or improved a situation is really important and the most successful organisations have got that down to a fine art.

I’ve identified these hierarchy priorities from anecdotal evidence, however it seems that research* backs up the findings. As most leadership in the community and charity sector starts with the trustees and chairs – who, let’s not forget, are volunteers – it is vital that we give trustees and chairs as much support as possible. That’s why CIB will be putting much of our resources behind helping charities find the right trustees with those leadership qualities. Later in the year I’ll run some events for chairs, trustees and CEO’s with speakers from different sectors and a chance to network and share ideas and support.

(By the way, I hope you’ve noticed that I’ve been talking about good leadership – no mention of “strong and stable” anywhere – we may have heard enough of that!)

*Third Sector online/Fidelity survey of charities

Volunteering – striking at the heart of life’s key moments – harness it!

By Hazel Finney, Lead for Volunteering, Community Impact Bucks

I love my job. Everyday I speak to new people and get an insight into the unique challenges or opportunities that they are facing. With Volunteers’ Week fast approaching at the beginning of June, I’ve been mulling over the role that volunteering plays for the individual in today’s society, and come to the decision that in these uncertain times it remains a constant force for the good when navigating life’s choppy waters.

Making the decision to volunteer might seem trivial to some – to others, it represents the first hurdle surmounted in choosing a new path in life, one which can signal fresh hope and the possibility of new beginnings. The other day I spoke to a mother whose daughter had had to leave college due to ill health, but was interested in volunteering with animals; following a 10 minute call, where I outlined some options, her relief was palpable. Then there are the calls from widowed pensioners who are interested in befriending opportunities, or the people who have been referred by job centres to gain experience for their CVs. On the flip side, I am frequently contacted by people who work full-time but are interested in fitting a Trusteeship or specialist skilled volunteering role into their busy schedules. All this shows that volunteering can play a key part in everyone’s lives – regardless of their age, life stage or financial situation. And if it goes right, can lead to benefits far beyond anything that money can buy.

I volunteered for several months when I was looking to move from the private to the not-for-profit sector – and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s a low risk strategy to try something new, and can pay dividends if everything falls into place.

Working for the Buckinghamshire Volunteer Centre, I also support charities and community groups that involve volunteers, so am able to see the volunteering experience from both sides. In the monthly advice surgeries and training courses that I run, I frequently hear from Volunteer Co-ordinators and Managers about their internal wranglings with the HR department or management team about how they involve volunteers, and how disruptive this can be to recruiting volunteers. With this in mind, the key message that I would like to impart to charities and community groups as we approach Volunteers’ Week is this: please ensure that you have a well thought out volunteer recruitment process in place with clearly designated responsibilities – don’t leave a potential volunteer hanging, and deal with all enquiries promptly and efficiently – you never know, you may have just stumbled across the one person who can really help to turn your organisation around.