Keeping volunteers engaged during coronavirus

Understandably during lockdown, many volunteers have taken a step back. For some this will have been personal choice while for others, a necessary decision. For most, this will only be temporary. Some because they may be extremely clinically vulnerable and need to ‘shield’ themselves. Others have chosen to take a break from volunteering for specific coronavirus-related health reasons, balancing caring responsibilities or other reasons such as going through bereavement.

This presents a range of challenges for volunteer-involving organisations. Volunteer managers have impressively risen to the challenge of keeping volunteers engaged during the lockdown and below we share what they’ve been doing and what you can do.

Create new roles

Unsurprisingly there’s been an increase in befriending roles to reach out to people who’ve been staying at home. In the spirit of a virtuous circle, some of those people will have been volunteers themselves, who’ve now found themselves befriended. Voluntary Action Leicestershire created a web page full of micro-volunteering roles as a result of the pandemic. Mencap have changed how they deliver befriending. Unable to offer this face to face, they moved this service to telephone or online. Other volunteers preferred to send cards and write letters to keep in touch with service users. Mencap gave volunteers different options on how to befriend. Some volunteers will be keen to try out a new role or deliver their existing role in a new way. Both require time, resources and in some cases training, to adjust at a pace the volunteer feels comfortable with.

Be personal

With social distancing and for some, weeks of staying home and not seeing anyone outside their household, warm personal communication has become more important. Volunteer managers have kept in touch with volunteers through well-being phone chats. Others set up Facebook and Whatsapp groups which have been self-facilitating: volunteers keep in touch with one another and encourage volunteer-led conversations. Amongst more social conversations they can discuss covid-19, its risks and how best to approach the tasks they want to undertake.

Create belonging

Identity, belonging and camaraderie are undeniable features of volunteering. If volunteers are feeling worried or isolated, bringing them together by creating a common goal based on your organisation’s values will give them something to get behind. Social media has been helpful to keep volunteers ‘in conversation’ and a popular way for volunteering organisations to reach a wider population.

Value all volunteers

Mencap sent out emails to thank all volunteers who wanted to change how they volunteer, as well as thanking those who chose to step back. Neither group was given greater appreciation than the other. Maintaining relationships, in spite of any temporary absence, was their goal. This will aid later conversations with returning volunteers.

Think beyond covid-19

Parkinson’s UK told us that initially there was a phase where immediate volunteer needs took up more focus, such as training volunteers in how to use online software. They then set up an internal Volunteer Working Group to brings together leads across teams. This helped them identify and prioritise where to focus their efforts to meet emerging volunteer needs.

Reposition volunteering

Coronavirus has sparked the drive to rethink how we engage volunteers. Volunteers’ Week took on a special meaning this year with offshoot hashtags to highlight how crucial volunteers have been in  combating covid-19. People’s eyes have been opened to the possibilities that volunteering gives. This could be a really good time to rethink your volunteer involvement strategy, so use it! Thank you to everyone who shared their ideas for writing this blog.

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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.

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