National Volunteering Forum: Digital and the volunteer journey

It’s clear that over the last few years digital developments have been changing the way volunteer managers are interacting with their volunteers. But are these changes all good? Can digital tools make volunteer management easier? How can volunteer managers keep a personal connection with volunteers? How easily can volunteers find opportunities online? On 15 May we held our National Volunteering Forum where we brought together dozens of speakers and delegates from voluntary organisations to discuss how digital tools are being used to recruit, manage, recognise and engage volunteers.

Digital and recruitment

In the morning session, we heard from three different voluntary organisations about the different digital tools they use for recruiting volunteers. Elena Zeniou from Volunteer Centre Kensington and Chelsea explained how her organisation uses the digital platform Do-It to recruit volunteers.  She said that the platform is versatile and adaptable to the needs of the local community, yet it can also be challenging when prospective volunteers provide minimal information as it makes it difficult to match them to relevant opportunities.

Jo Dawson from Volunteer Centre Sutton told us about Simply Connect: this platform allows voluntary organisations of any size in the community of Sutton to recruit volunteers. According to Jo, Simply Connect has some key timesaving features. For example, the application process gets as much insight as possible from the client, so the voluntary organisation isn’t dealing with applications with little information.

Stacey Cannon and Rachel Vincent told us about how Christian Aid use MS Dynamics to recruit all types of supporters, including volunteers, donors and campaigners. The platform can assign multiple roles to a supporter which allows the volunteer managers to see all the different ways a person supports Christian Aid.

The other speaker in the first part of the day, Simon West from Zing Foundation, outlined the interesting research he had conducted looking at the different online platforms available for young people to access volunteering opportunities. In total, there are 47 online brokers which can make it difficult for prospective volunteers to know where to go.

There are four online brokers with a clear youth focus and five focusing on brokering virtual opportunities. Simon also found that most brokerage platforms do not stay in touch effectively with their clients, which can mean voluntary organisations and volunteer centres have to plug this gap and stay in touch manually.

Managing volunteers digitally

We then moved into the second section of the day with speakers from four volunteer-involving organisations telling us about the digital platforms they use to manage volunteers. Wendy Halley from Ramblers told us about their its platform, Assemble. For Wendy, the system is very beneficial as it incorporates all elements of the volunteer journey including recruitment, management, communication, networking and recognition. The platform has a peer support system built in, which allows volunteers and staff in different areas to share tips and insights.Sally Goodger of Shaw Trust, explained that Salesforce was chosen as its platform as it is a system that is adaptable to the needs of the organisation,allowing for the onboarding and management of all types of volunteers, including retail, corporate and client facing.

Petula Storey from King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust told us about Better Impact: she said this is a system that is adaptable to the needs of both volunteer managers and volunteers. For example, volunteer managers can see who is on site currently volunteering and volunteers are able to record their contributions by number of hours and type of activity. According to Petula, while the platform is not perfect, it has a good support system that allows users to vote on issues that they would like to be improved.

We then heard from Tim Molloy of Turn2Us who told us about its ‘digital buddies’ app and eLearning platform. The eLearning platform provides core training and role specific training, which means that there is no wait for face-to-face training; an issue that can often be a barrier to people getting involved with volunteering. Volunteers are able to give their time from anywhere using the app and can put in as little or as much time as they wish, whenever they wish. Volunteers are also fully supported by benefits experts through a Slack forum. Tim also told us about a lot of platforms that Turn2Us make use of for free, for example: Slack and Skype. This shows that cost doesn’t need to be a barrier to being able to utilise digital tools for managing volunteers.

Digital tools: recognising, celebrating and engaging volunteers

In the final part of the day we heard from two speakers about how their organisations use digital tools to recognise, celebrate and engage volunteers. Liam Smith of Macmillan Cancer Support explained how they use the MS Dynamics platform to engage their volunteers. This platform provides Macmillan volunteers with access to learning and development opportunities. They have also introduced a new mobile app which allows volunteers to access the CRM system in a more convenient way. Liam told us that Macmillan have benefitted from working with corporate partners that can donate time to help develop digital tools.

Ami Davis of National Trust spoke about its platform Volunteer Voice, which was set up to allow the organisation to better understand the experiences and perspectives of its volunteers. A pilot of the platform was launched in October 2018: they trialled a range of activities with the Volunteer Voice community over a six-month period, including an online live chat between volunteers and the senior executive team and a social hub with extensive volunteer-led chat.

So many tools!

During the day, forum attendees also told us about the range of platforms they are aware of. Although we crammed a lot into the agenda, there are still many more digital tools out there – too many to list here! We’ll think of a way to let you know about them, but if you’ve got a good digital tool, or you use a freely available digital service to help you lead volunteers, we’d love to hear from you.

See you next time

Thanks to all the speakers and delegates for an interesting and productive day of discussion, learning and networking. You can access all the slides from the day via Slideshare.

We run our National Volunteering Forums three times a year across England. You can see previous topics we’ve covered here. The topic and date of our next forum is yet to be decided, however it is likely to take place in September 2019. Make sure to sign up to updates from the volunteering team so we can let you know when the date has been decided and when tickets have been released.



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Avatar photo Charlie is a trainee volunteering development policy officer at NCVO, supporting NCVO's volunteering policy work. He has been volunteering since childhood in various roles, including at a community development charity working with the eastern European Roma community in Glasgow, as an adviser at a Citizens Advice bureau, and as a Scout leader.

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