Tell us, we’re listening! – what our members told us in Oxford

This post was co-authored by Hollie McKee, senior membership officer at NCVO.

In February we held a Members’ Assembly in Oxford. Local gatherings like this are vital to the work we do at NCVO: we need to understand the challenges that voluntary organisations face, and we want to hear their stories. It’s also a great opportunity for our members to network, share ideas and talk to us about how we can support their work.

We were excited to talk to organisations in Oxford about volunteering. We shared the results of our national Time Well Spent research and led a workshop that explored good practice in volunteer management based on NCVO’s Investing in Volunteers quality standard. We ended with a member-led open discussion.

Who came?

Delegates from twenty charities operating in and around Oxfordshire joined us; most of our guests were from small or grassroots groups, and a quarter of our delegates represented medium-sized organisations with incomes between £100,000 and £500,000, as described in our UK Civil Society Almanac.

Our members in Oxford exist mostly to benefit children and youths, the environment, or are there to tackle homelessness. We were especially pleased to welcome Oxtalk, a local organisation celebrating 40 years of serving the visually impaired.

What our members told us

They were concerned about the technicalities and flexibility of running volunteer programmes

They felt like ‘formalities’ often got in the way of serving their beneficiaries, and that how they inducted volunteers in their programmes was crucial to making a lasting volunteer-relationship. They agreed that when they chose to invest in the human faces behind their volunteers, their experiences were more positive.

They expressed a need for flexible volunteering:

‘A lot of people find it hard to find the right volunteering opportunity because volunteering is not as flexible as it could be.’

We hear this often and have worked hard to develop tools and resources that lighten the burden of some of the more intimidating duties involved in volunteering. We hope that this will help our members dedicate more of their time and headspace to their beneficiaries.

There was a desire to see more young people taking on volunteer leadership:

‘We are worried about organisations that are run by the elderly. These organisations are in danger of collapse because they can’t get enough young volunteers to be trustees.’

Our members generally spoke of their volunteers with pride. One delegate was pleased to see that although their operation was small, their efforts measured closely to the standards seen in IiV.

They wanted to feel more connected locally

We partnered with Oxfordshire Community & Voluntary Action (OCVA), a local infrastructure body, to deliver the meeting. We were grateful for their insights on volunteering in Oxfordshire. They stressed their commitment to supporting and connecting organisations across Oxfordshire. We were impressed to hear their local initiatives, like a refugee advice service and a directory of local organisations.

They wanted more accessible funding opportunities

They expressed a need for more strategic funding opportunities to enable them to acquire recognised standards and participate in other useful services. They shared fundraising tips and ideas, and we reminded them that organisations with an income under £100,000 could subscribe to Funding Central for free.

They wanted to get the most out of their membership

It was great to hear our members talking about their NCVO membership. They were advocated for the tools and resources that they’ve found helpful, like Volunteers and the Law and Studyzone training packs. NCVO membership continues to grow because of our member community: in fact, one-third of our new members last year joined on the recommendation of another.

What’s next?

Our colleagues are committed to acting on feedback from our members in Oxford

For us, the best part of a Members’ Assembly is bringing so much insight back to our wider staff and sharing what we’ve learned: it informs the policy and projects we’re working on.

I, for one, feel rewarded when I spend time engaging with volunteers and leaders that NCVO exists for. The assembly also firmed up my view that NCVO should focus on providing high-quality resources and policy knowledge that’s applicable across the sector, and I’m appreciative of colleagues like OCVA who focus on local issues and make NCVO’s work locally relevant.

See you next time!

Whether you’re an NCVO member or not, we hope you’ll join us in Bradford on 25 March, or share what’s going on in your area with our membership team.

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Avatar photo Lev is an associate consultant to NCVO, and has specialist interest and knowledge in the role of the voluntary sector in public service transformation, partnerships and consortia, charity governance and leadership.

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