Demonstrating the importance of volunteers in your organisation

Part of NCVO’s Volunteers’ Week 2016 series.

matt-hattMatt Hatt is assistant front of house volunteer manager at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. He manages two volunteer coordinators and a team of around 600 front of house volunteers who give up their time to support the charity. Matt has previously managed volunteers for London 2012, Manchester International Festival and Secret Cinema.

‘We are hither come to offer you our service’ – Timon of Athens

Why ask staff to shadow volunteers?

Planning for Volunteers’ Week can be daunting, after a year in the job here at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre I feel we have said ‘thank you’ in so many ways, and finding new, deeper ways that make our team of around 700 volunteers feel important and valued was a bit of a head-scratcher.

I decided to look back at our volunteer survey, of our 2015 theatre season, to see what the volunteers were saying about how we could be doing things better. There, in pie chart form, the answer was obvious.

51% of the volunteers who completed our evaluation answered ‘no’ or ‘don’t know’ when asked ‘do you feel members of Globe Staff understand your role?’.

As an organisation which grew out of a small team of courageous volunteers who helped fundraise to get the theatre built in the late 1990’s; I wondered how volunteers felt the wider team of around 200 staff had become somewhat disconnected to them.

So often in volunteering you provide opportunities for volunteers to learn more about what the paid staff do, but why not do the reverse?

‘I can no other answer make but thanks, And thanks; and ever thanks’ – Twelfth Night Staff shadowing the volunteer experience

Putting the idea into practice

Our CEO supported the idea; we stressed how useful it would be for our volunteers to learn more about staff roles, especially for those volunteering at the Globe to get the experience to move into paid roles in the arts, and equally the benefits to the staff team to learn about our volunteer roles and take a break from their normal routine.

After some encouraging, and lots of flexibility, we managed to organise for 12 senior staff to shadow stewards across the 12 days of Volunteers’ Week. The staff involved included director of development, digital manager, and executive producer. They all had something different to gain and give from their individual viewpoints of the organisation.

The beauty of ‘shadowing’ is that it is a two-way conversation. I encouraged staff to ask volunteers about themselves and their motivations.

Our artistic coordinator, Jessica Lusk said of her time volunteering: ‘What surprised me was just how busy it was, and it’s such hard work… I think the volunteers are remarkable and the time they give is invaluable’.

We hope this exercise will raise awareness generally in the organisation of our volunteer programme, and that the volunteers themselves feel supported by the whole organisation.

Tips for a successful staff/volunteer shadowing scheme

  1. Be flexible with your paid staff schedules – shadowing for an hour or two really is better than nothing.
  2. Put staff into your busiest roles or positions so they can see the level of skills your volunteers possess and how much they give the organisation.
  3. Pair them with the right volunteers, those who will enjoy showing a member of staff the ropes, and are confident enough to treat them like any new recruit.
  4. Ask staff what they thought about their experience and share these thoughts with other members of staff and your volunteers – it is really heart-warming and valuable.
  5. If it’s been a while since you spent time alongside your volunteers – shadow them yourself, you should never ask a volunteer to do something you wouldn’t do!

Was it worth it?

The benefits for both staff and volunteers have been demonstrated immediately, and after staff returned to their desks, looking tired but with massive grins on their faces, I can already see, that this is a process that we will continue when the bunting comes down at the end of Volunteers’ Week on 12 June.


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