Is training being overlooked for volunteer managers?

NCVO recently ran a survey on the learning and development priorities and preferences of volunteer managers. The term ‘volunteer managers’ applies to people managing or supporting volunteers, regardless of whether they are paid or not, our respondents are drawn from across sectors and some are volunteers themselves.

What does the survey tell us?

Of the 723 volunteer managers surveyed:

  • 47% told us they had a training budget
  • 38% said they did not have one
  • 15% did not know if they had one

These findings highlight the fact that training and development for volunteer managers doesn’t appear to be a priority for many organisations.

This is a useful starting point for talking about how resources are allocated. Some of the things we need to know more about are:

  • how much budget is set aside for training and developing volunteer managers
  • who makes the case for developing volunteer managers
  • where this responsibility sits within an organisation
  • how organisations are using their budgets
  • how much influence volunteer managers have over spending decisions.

What’s the problem?

The survey also tells us that time and cost are the main factors preventing participation in learning and development for volunteer managers.  Of the volunteer managers surveyed:

  • 83% manage volunteers directly each day
  • a quarter manage more than 30 volunteers each day
  • 28% manage volunteers in large organisations with an income of more than £5m.

Almost half of the people surveyed represent organisations working with more than 100 volunteers across their organisations. If five hundred volunteer managers are supporting one hundred volunteers on a daily basis, that’s 50,000 volunteers per day! It’s easy to see why volunteer managers have so little time to invest in their own development.

A possible solution?

We need to make the case that training and developing volunteer managers pays much more loudly, with real life stories showing how and why.

Making training and development more time efficient and cost effective is something which would help to improve engagement with training for volunteer managers.

NCVO is currently exploring developing online learning solutions. We have developed a bespoke webinar on volunteering and the law for the National Trust and have plans to expand our video training by offering new Studyzone courses, which would be a time efficient way for volunteer managers to access training.

More about the survey

The survey took place during June 2015 and went out widely beyond the NCVO membership, to organisations that engaged with Volunteers’ Week, our national campaign celebrating volunteers. We received 723 responses over a period of one month.

Our survey is part of a broader scoping exercise in which we’re asking those who are involved in leading and supporting volunteering within their organisations to tell us how we can support them in their learning and development.

Are you a volunteer manager?

We are in the process of setting up an online volunteering development discussion group to enable volunteer managers to further explore the survey findings and look at some of the common issues they face. This will enable us to translate challenges into solutions, to support volunteering across the sector.

At NCVO we offer tailor-made training and consultancy to help organisations think through rationale and approaches to volunteering, from board level to operations. We help clients develop good practice in their volunteering programmes, including strategy, impact, micro-volunteering and understanding the law.

Contact us for a free initial consultation

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Jarina Choudhury 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.

5 Responses to Is training being overlooked for volunteer managers?

  1. Jackson Rob says:

    Thanks for sharing these insights.

    Can I suggest that before NCVO develops new resources it maps what is already available?

    For example, the free to join UKVPMs discussion group has existed since 1997 to provide an online development forum for volunteer managers. With over 1600 members it is the largest such group in the world. On a smaller scale, but not less valuable, are a number of online discussion groups on IVO.

    Similarly, my company has offered an online introduction of volunteer management course for the last 18 months and has been engaged in a number of online learning programmes over the last four years such as Energize Inc’s Everyone Ready programme.

    As a corporate member of NCVO I would hope the organisation would seek to partner and collaborate before new tools are developed from scratch. Do let me know how I and others can help.

  2. Dave Forrest says:

    There is also the network of Volunteer Centres all across the country who provide excellent volunteer management training. Our OCN level 4 accredited training was provided for free to local groups and externally assessed as “outstanding*. It would be really helpful to hear from the survey the impact of the Volunteer Centres.

  3. Jarina Choudhury Jarina Choudhury says:

    Thanks for your helpful comments Rob Jackson; your contributions are appreciated. We have been talking to networks supporting volunteer managers as well as our members about what is already out there that his contributions. Being collaborative and inclusive are two of our core values at NCVO and as this work develops, we will be considering partnerships and collaboration where this can really add value to our work and to the support offered to volunteer managers.

  4. Jarina Choudhury Jarina Choudhury says:

    Thanks Dave Forrest, for highlighting the free accredited training offered by Volunteer Centres. We will be sharing survey findings with Volunteer Centres and I will be taking that forward with John Carlin, NCVO Volunteer Centre Support Manager. We will share the findings more widely in the autumn and exploring how we can collaborate with partner organisations to deliver our volunteering offer.

  5. suevjones says:

    This is an interesting topic and one which has been debated much over the last decade in Volunteer Management on existing on-line forums, through various surveys and previous work carried out by volunteering infrastructure bodies at local and national level. Unfortunately, there has been little change in attitudes towards valuing training and development for VMs and investment, partly due to the short term-ism of VM contracts and because Volunteering and Volunteer Management are still not seen as an integral and essential part of an organisation’s core work. Although organisation’s will say differently – I can’t help thinking that if volunteers really were to quote the much used phrase by CEOs “the lifeblood of our organisation” – then investing in Volunteer Management training and development would be a no-brainer. Regrettably, in so many organisations it’s still viewed as a nice-to-do and as a separate function.
    One of the other challenges for VMs is attitudes towards informal learning. There are so many opportunities now for people to connect with peers, join networks – virtually and face to face plus so many books, blogs, articles and journals for people to access and contribute to. However, this kind of learning is rarely encouraged by line managers and often frowned upon within organisations as not being ‘real work’.
    We need to shift our attitudes generally as a sector regarding learning and training and our working culture needs to encourage people to make time for their own self and professional development. And Volunteer Managers will need to take the lead on this themselves – by asking about these opportunities at job interviews, setting an example with their co-workers and as team leaders and prioritising their own learning and development within their weekly schedule.