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Kerry Tilby-Price, Exult and Rachel Sanson, Volunteer Nelson

Growing GREAT volunteer teams

35 people attended Volunteer Nelson’s Growing Great Volunteer Teams event in collaboration with not-for-profit training provider Kerry Tilby-Price of Exult, at the end of November.

Early feedback included comments like, “We loved meeting people and other volunteer groups”, “We especially enjoyed doing the red, green, no dot exercise around what our organisation is doing to grow volunteers, which was efficient and provocative at the same time,” and “I would have liked a bit more time for each exercise and more discussion with fellow participants”.

Great feedback, and we await more of it from Exult once their feedback is evaluated.

Kerry offered everyone a challenge at the start. “Today, you may resist some ideas on growing your volunteer teams, but I ask you to be open minded, mull over what you hear and learn and if you do pick up a nugget of an idea, go ahead and do just one thing to get that ball rolling.”  She explained that often we take a good idea away from a training event and unless we take one small step towards implementing or trying it, the idea is lost in every day activity.

She asked participants to say what they wanted to achieve from the day. The wish list ranged from wanting to learn how to build a team that felt a sense of belonging, like family to their organisations; how to manage a large number of volunteers efficiently and how to recruit more, building on their people management and time management skills, as well as look at role descriptions for volunteer managers who also have other responsibilities in the organisation; Developing a ‘Yes to Volunteering’ culture, and how to start a volunteer network from scratch.

Before Exult dove into unpacking their GREAT anagram – Good Fit, Recognition, Equipped, Appreciation and Team, Kerry offered her first nugget. “If you only take one thing away from today to change in your organisation, let it be this: See your volunteers as Customers, not unpaid staff. They can invest their time (to many of them more valuable than money) in so many other ways, but they have chosen to invest it with you. So you need to offer them a great volunteering experience.”

Past feedback from volunteers says that a great volunteer experience is one or several of the following things: “I felt useful / it was a fun day, enjoyable, well facilitated, rewarding/ I felt appreciated/  I learnt something new/ I made friends, new connections, expanded my network / I put my skills to use, I felt worthy, like I had purpose.

“If volunteers had an experience like this, they would volunteer over and over again,” says Kerry.

Looking at Good Fit, we may think about how we want to involve our volunteers, but turn it around the other way, look at their skills and work with them to create a role for them. E.g. if they love making handmade cards, cakes or growing flowers they could add colour and personal touch to your thank you’s or events. A starting point would be to brainstorm ideas of all the roles, above the usual volunteer roles you offer, e.g. behind the scenes work, applying for grants, media work, policy writing, service deliver… These could be further divided into heavy and light jobs. The job that could top the list, especially for organisations starting out a volunteer network, is the volunteer who will be responsible for looking after volunteers.

Kerry’s second nugget was, “Bite-size volunteering is one of your best recruitment skills!” The volunteer tackles short easy to manage tasks and, if they are enjoying what they are doing, and start to see other ways in which they can help, they are likely to bring in friends to volunteer, contribute new ideas, take on other duties that they would enjoy helping with and be an advocate for your organisation

“Understanding the person’s motivation for volunteering is key,” says Kerry, “because they buy into the ‘Why’ of your organisation, not the ‘What’. We could ask ourselves: If our organisation was doing everything 100% right, what would our community look like as a result?”

Loaves and Fishes, who attended the workshop offered their organisation’s ‘Why’ as an example. “We want to build a Nelson community where nobody is hungry or lonely at lunchtime,” says Alison. Breffni from Age Concern added their why: “No older person would wake up and wish someone would talk to them today.”

This starts a conversation where a volunteer says, “I want to be part of that. How can I be part of that?”

Kerry recommends that once the volunteer has started, that the organisation checks in with them to see how they are doing, after about six weeks, and ask if there is something they would like to do that they haven’t had an opportunity to do yet? Ask them if there is something they might like to change about their role or if there is anything you could do to make their role easier.

“This will help you uncover the why as to what they would like to get out of volunteering,” says Kerry.

With all feedback, there is the flip side of the positive and that is constructive feedback… What volunteers think organisations can do better. Kerry shared comments about how volunteer application processes are too long or clumsy or inaccessible, that there is often a lack of role descriptions or induction processes. Some often don’t get told what difference their help makes to the rest of the organisation. There’s also a need for training and a clearer understanding of their time commitment. Sometimes it’s the simple thank you organisations fall down on. Perhaps the CEO could show how they value the difference a volunteer makes through writing a personal thank you letter? In not doing this, it places a bigger expectation on others in the organisation to value the person. Give the person the context of the organisation and an opportunity to meet the wider team and provide them with a volunteering contract. Be clear on what costs you can reimburse and the process.

As part of the Appreciation part of the anagram GREAT, Kerry introduced Gary Chapman’s five love languages and how to look out for the language that helps your volunteer feel appreciated. Is it words of affirmation/ encouragement, an act of service, a gift, quality time, or a handshake? A way to figure this out is to look at how the volunteer shows appreciation themselves.

Kerry further explained that recognition, which was measureable by milestones, was different to appreciation, which was about showing gratitude.  Milestones could cover years of service, going above and beyond a brief, spotting the difference the person has made to a client, or the special way in which they do something. Kerry added that what we recognise grows.

Finally, one way to cultivate a sense of TEAM in the anagram GREAT is giving the volunteer an opportunity to provide feedback and to respond in an encouraging way. “That’s a great idea, and then we could do xyz, is better than “that’s a great idea, but I think we should…” says Kerry. It encourages the volunteer to keep feeding back and building on or adjusting ideas.

Volunteer Nelson and other organisations in attendance at the workshop have been encouraged to provide feedback of their own and we look forward to receiving it from Exult. In the meantime, we hope that participants got out of the workshop as much as we did. We’ll be sharing the feedback in the coming weeks and look forward to seeing you all again soon.

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