The value of learning and development for volunteer managers

Every year, NCVO delivers Volunteers’ Week, the national campaign to thank volunteers and acknowledge the many ways they enrich our lives by giving their knowledge, skills and time. 2015 has seen NCVO’s most successful Volunteers’ Week campaign in 31 years, with over 766 events listed on our map. However in the lead up to the campaign launch I wondered where do volunteer managers get their support from for the rest of the year? What kind of support do they need, and how can NCVO do better to fulfil its strategic goal to grow and enhance volunteering wherever it takes place?

The value of volunteers – and the challenge for managers

Working on Volunteers’ Week has given me deep insight into the people and organisations that make up what is an unofficial army for social change. Their experience proves outright that volunteering is not about repetitive unexciting tasks that no one wants to do. Being on judging panel for the Guardian Volunteer of the Year Award was another positive glimpse into this remarkable world, yet I know from years of my own experience in volunteer management that the reality is far more challenging.

Competing demands to ensure that volunteers are clear on what they need to do, and are feeling valued while doing it, can leave the volunteer manager feeling lost and unable to identify their own needs. The absence of appropriate learning and development when coordinating volunteers means that organisations may fall short of developing effective volunteer engagement and miss out on opportunities that would add value to their social mission.

Relying on the goodwill of volunteers is simply not good enough in an environment where organisations are competing for volunteers. Volunteering used to be about attracting people who were willing to give time. Now we live in a world where volunteers can take their pick. Power has shifted and organisations can and will be judged and measured by the quality of the volunteer experience.

Meeting the learning and development challenge

I joined NCVO earlier this year as the volunteering consultancy development officer. My role is to identify the learning needs of staff and volunteers in volunteer-involving organisations, and help them address their knowledge, skills and development.

I’ve spent years working in the youth sector with boards of experienced volunteers, as well as helping organisations think through their strategic goals in relation to their volunteer offer. During this time I have witnessed first-hand how volunteers are the engine of the organisations I worked for, and this is why developing NCVO’s volunteering, learning and development consultancy appeals on both an intellectual level and emotional level. My goal is to enable an entire movement of volunteer-involving organisations to learn, collaborate and address strategic and practical issues to enhance their volunteering offer.

There are two phases of work: a scoping exercise which runs until August and our launch of a volunteering training programme in September. Our scoping exercise will shape our volunteering development offer and who our primary audience will be. This consists of a short survey and a series of online discussion groups.

Get involved

If you are a volunteer or paid staff member and you oversee the work of volunteers, please take our ten minute survey and tell us about your learning and development needs. We will also ask you in the survey to tell us if you would like to participate in an online discussion group in the coming weeks. All respondents that complete our survey will be entered into a prize draw to win £30 John Lewis vouchers. The survey closes on 21 June and the winner will be announced the following week.

If you are interested in finding out how our volunteering training and consultancy can help your organisation to grow, please email or call 020 7520 2420.

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Avatar photo Jarina is our volunteering development consultancy officer. Jarina develops consultancy and training services with the aim of improving volunteering practice across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

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