International Volunteer Week is here again and for a brief period of time you are inspired to promote and publish your positive volunteer stories. This week you give thanks to all your wonderful volunteers via your social media channels and make gestures to those people that slave away day in day out, week in, week out for the love….helping to make your sport happen.
In the modern, professional world of sport with CEO’s and large work forces, it is easy to understand how a distance develops between the everyday member, volunteer, helper, parent and your organisation; as you as an employee are under pressure to hit targets, make money and grow your sport.
So how do you make every week, International Volunteer Week and maintain this feeling of goodwill to your valuable and dedicated volunteers throughout the year?
British Cycling’s Dave Brailsford talks often of marginal performance gains, the tiny differences between a successful team and a second place team. We believe that in organisations involving volunteers and the third sector, your biggest marginal gain can come from encouraging your volunteer work force to do more, to do it better, keep doing it for longer, and to gain more from their experiences.
So how can you do that? We have some ideas that we would like to share.
There are so many types of volunteer but they all share something in common; they like someone to acknowledge their hard work and say thank you. Across a large organisation that can be difficult, how do you acknowledge the varying contributions they make? How do you even know?
To start with as an organisation you must look at how you are recognising volunteering within the senior management team and resource volunteering within your operational teams, do you have a person or persons with a responsibility for volunteering within your organisation at each level of management?
It starts from the top, is there an acknowledgement at board level as to the importance of valuing volunteers? Bearing in mind you’re a voluntary organisation! That would be a great place to start. We know that where volunteering is valued within an organisation’s culture you are much more likely to see amazing results.
Once you have some sort of volunteer management in place, you need to consider how you identify and recognise those people who are the “diamonds” for your organisation. These are the future volunteer leaders, those volunteers that operate over a wide range and number of volunteers and that inspire and mentor other volunteers.
To spot these volunteer leader candidates, develop a role in your organisation that examines your volunteer workforce. This role identifies the data and information you need to capture, and understands what motivates your volunteers and then uses that knowledge to facilitate and enable volunteer experiences that are fulfilling and rewarding. Read about our experiences in data insight and what we consider to be the most valuable data or take a look at the work of Join In.
It is easy for organisations to fall into the trap of offering great rewards and incentives, but the key is getting the right investment to the right people rather than spreading it too thinly across too many individuals. Incentivisation is part of a successful volunteer team, but you need to know what your return on investment is going to be. Who are you spending on? What do you expect in return? Are you investing wisely? Having data on volunteer retention, cost per conversion, being able to map individuals pathway from starting out as a helper through to running a county executive or becoming a head coach. This data ensures that you remain focused on finding those “diamonds”.
Finally and we think most importantly you need to look at how you grow from a centrally administered and controlled volunteer programme, to one that is owned by the volunteers, clubs and participants themselves. Any expanding and successful volunteer programme is partly the result of a ground swell of people from the bottom, not diktats from the top, you need to build volunteer leader infrastructure (by that I mean find great, motivated people and provide them with support, training and resources) that facilitates and enables your existing volunteers to help to offer more amazing, exciting opportunities to the next wave of volunteers. This is the virtuous circle of volunteer investment.
So to recap we think the most important things you can do to help your volunteer programme grow all year round is to;
- Achieve an appreciation and acceptance at the very top of your organisation that values the investment volunteers make in your organisation. Value your volunteers.
- Develop specific roles within your organisation who’s job is to collate your volunteer data and gain insight which can be used to improve your programme. Do not just collect key performance indicators.
- Incentivise and reward volunteers all year round. Be smart, target rewards for best returns.
- Identify, support and develop potential volunteer leaders. Leverage their experience and enthusiasm to spread your volunteer values.
Sport is known to be poor at retaining its volunteers, its time to move on from yearly gestures to look at understanding your rank and file stakeholders (not just members but mums and dads, siblings, and long standing supporters), what they want and how you can deliver to keep them engaged. We work with organisations to make valuing volunteers an important part of their culture and offer solutions that help with those issues outlined and encourage retention and development of volunteers. Our cloud applications, including VolunteerKinetic, provide an easy to implement infrastructure that makes embedding good volunteer practice across your organisation simple.
I hope next International Volunteer Week I can write a blog where I talk about how we have move into a world where your volunteer is understood and is looked after as well as your CEO.