Time for Change

Norma Young has worked with volunteers, Government Departments and charities to create volunteering opportunities that upskill people and for organisations to gain real help. She believes that charities have always been the instigators of social change and will continue to lead the way in meeting the needs of local communities. 

I first got involved in volunteering on a professional level in the late 1990’s, working as a volunteer placement manager with people with a range of mental health issues. Volunteering was a means to help individuals gain confidence and re-enter the workforce feeling valued, skilled and able to deal with everyday issues in the workplace.

Often I was able to intervene with non-compliance of medication and had direct access to consultants, to have medication reviewed. Therefore, action was taken before the individual’s mental health deteriorated to the point of admission to hospital. This reduced hospital admissions and re-admissions saving the NHS thousands of pounds in treatment but there are arguably other ways to show and evidence volunteer impact.

I gained employment in the NHS as a volunteer manager, providing volunteering opportunities for people with disabilities. With Merseycare, Unison and DWP I worked with a group of volunteers who had serious mental health problems and who had been unemployed for a number of years.  Volunteers attended a 12-week upskilling programme to prepare them for the workplace and overcome fears associated with returning employment.

The project was successful and they were supported into a variety of volunteer placement roles within NHS settings throughout Merseyside and guaranteed paid employment within Merseycare. Of the 15 volunteers, 12 of them maintained their employment for over three years, some were promoted and one was accepted into nursing training. After 10 years I made the decision to leave the NHS.

Over the decade I became more involved in a variety of organisations, writing strategy, raising money through fundraising, sustaining their activities for the benefit of the local community: running community cafes, breakfast clubs for children, holiday activities, healthy eating programmes and lunch clubs for the elderly. This was the epitome of voluntary effort; running with minimal staff and the goodwill of our volunteers, providing valuable services to communities.

A common and recurring challenge was that they all recruited volunteers easily but struggled to retain them. They were apprehensive about asking volunteers to do particular types of work and underutilised their skills and their desire to help.  Volunteers want to help; this accords with NCVO Almanac data. They want to feel valued and useful. My advice to any volunteer manager is ask volunteers to do the jobs you need them to do. This saves you time, maximises the time they spend with you and releases your own time. Remember to say ‘Thank you’ – that’s all many volunteers want or need!

I now work for my local hospice in a dual role, developing fundraising activities and managing  volunteers. Over the last 20-25 years, volunteer management has changed to include recruitment, training and supporting and retaining volunteers in a highly competitive market.  It’s a professional skilled role although not always recognised as such outside of the profession. Alongside this, volunteering and the image of volunteering has come a long way; it’s no longer about filling your days after you’ve retired. It’s about community leadership and making a difference.

Volunteer management is one of the most rewarding and useful work I have ever done; I go home most evenings smiling at the conversations I’ve had, the difference my team make to patients and their families.  We can’t always capture the value of volunteering; how do you measure someone’s pride in being involved in an organisation close to their hearts? But the conversations carry great weight! I’m in awe of their dedication and grateful for the extended family the volunteer community provides me with. My message for anyone who isn’t from the world of volunteer management; isn’t it time you took your volunteer managers more seriously?

Norma Young is a Major Relationship Fundraiser at St Joseph’s Hospice (Jospice) in Liverpool

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