National Volunteering Forum: Engaging volunteers and paid staff

Throughout 2020 volunteering has taken centre stage in many national conversations and in media coverage. We have seen new roles and programmes emerge, and volunteers have been a vital part of the national response to the coronavirus pandemic. On 8 December 2020 we held our second joint online National Volunteering Forum (NVF) with the Association of Volunteer Managers to talk about these developments and more.  

A view from the sector

Karl Wilding launched the event by giving us an update on key changes across the sector over the last few monthsVolunteers and organisations have faced unprecedented challenges this year. Yet there is also space for optimismThe pandemic presents us with a unique opportunity to talk about volunteering, and we are seeing renewed and increasing interest from government and national public bodies.  

This national conversation on the role and value of volunteering is focused much more on high level, philosophical questions than it is about practicalities and management. What is volunteering? What is it for? What should volunteers be doing? How should we as organisations engage with this? At the heart of these questions is the subject of the NVF event itselfHow do we best engage volunteers alongside paid staff?  

Updating the charter for strengthening relations between paid staff and volunteers

Kamaljeet Gill from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) gave us insight into the history and background to the 2009 charter between TUC and Volunteering EnglandKam described how the Trade Union movement is founded upon and maintained by volunteers. Union representatives are volunteers, and volunteering is a core aspect of work to improve the environment for paid staff in thousands of workplaces across the country.  

TUC and NCVO are working together to update and refresh the charter, through developing a set of key principlesWhile we are clear on some core messages and principles, this is a very complex piece of work. There are a huge range of factors which influence how organisations make decisions around their paid staff and volunteers 

Making decisions

The slides and conversations throughout the event demonstrate just some of the range of challenges organisations face. The principles need to be flexible to adapt to all different types of organisations and their roles. We are clear that we can only achieve this in dialogue with the wider union movement, our members and organisations across the sector.  

We heard from Rebecca Kennelly, who described how the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) engages their volunteers and paid staff. Never has the need for clear principles and guidelines been more obvious than when organisations are faced with a huge groundswell of volunteers in a matter of days, as happened with the NHS Responders programme. The programme has since engaged over 360,000 volunteers in carrying out over 500,000 tasks.  

We were also joined by speakers from the Journey Makers programme, Northumberland National Park, Redbridge Local Authority and the Zoological Society of London. Throughout the talks from our speakers, the Q&A sessions, and our breakout spaces, we discussed many of the challenges organisations have faced, and how they make decisions around their volunteers and paid staff.  

We touched on the level and complexity of demand brought on by the crisis, and the impact this has on both staff and volunteers. Echoing a 2019 NVF, attendees described some of the ways they are using digital technology to adapt and change to their circumstances. Organisations told us how they make decisions on their roles and activities, and how difficult these decisions can be.  

Karl emphasised that members and networks will be a vital part of NCVO’s new strategy, as we work to answer some of these questions. We will continue to engage with the union movement, members and our wider networks, as we work to develop principles on engaging volunteers and paid staff.  

See you next time

We want to say a huge thank you 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 several 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. 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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Catherine Goodall is a senior policy officer at NCVO, working primarily on public services policy. She has a background in research and practice, working with local authorities and universities to drive service improvement and facilitating participatory action research.

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