There can be little doubt that Covid-19 has accelerated the pace of change in nearly all areas of our lives. If you’d asked me what a zoom was at Christmas I would have said it was a lolly ice from the 1970s!
In relation to engagement with volunteers we have seen organisations:
Increasing use of Technology, offering access to quicker and simplified volunteer recruitment processes e.g. NHS Responders GoodSam app and use of social media, particularly Facebook, to enable people to engage in their own communities. This has been particularly evident in relation to Covid-19 mutual aid groups. Online recruitment, particularly for light touch roles, has enabled volunteers to start volunteering really quickly.
Volunteer inductions and training have been taking place by Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and WhatsApp on the phone even through office windows in order to maintain social distancing. Training appears to have become more democratised with, in theory, anyone being able to access training as and when they want or need it; assuming of course they can or want to get online which for many can be a significant barrier.
We’ve seen organisations improving their communication structures allowing access to areas normally only accessible for members or identified staff. NCVO Knowhow is a great example of this. Organisations have been openly sharing Information.
Thinking about some of these things. Is there the potential to apply some of these changes to volunteer engagement going forward? Are there things we could do that might help sustain and build our relationships with volunteers after lockdown and in society as a whole?
Less Formal Processes? Is there the potential to offer initial ‘starter roles’ increasing formality as the relationship with a volunteer is developed? Might a range of different roles with different commitments be built that could take people on a more varied volunteering journey of their choosing? Is a further step to allow people to move between different volunteer roles as they deepen their commitment or support in other ways e.g. being a donor if they aren’t able to volunteer? Is there potential to move more fluidly between organisations? Volunteer Sharing between organisations offers an opportunity to increase the range and diversity of volunteers available, to share the workload of accessing references and other checks and to build local relationships.
Person Centred Approaches? Is there the potential to develop more flexible opportunities that could fit around an individual’s other commitments e.g. on weekends, evenings, lunchtimes or involving families? Might this help retain or entice Covid-19 volunteers who have enjoyed their volunteering and would like to continue in some way? Could a volunteer engagement process start with the skills a volunteers can bring not just what is needed? Perhaps ‘return to volunteering interviews’ and risk assessments offer an ideal opportunity to explore how existing volunteers feel they might build on their roles and/or take on new ones. Customers are no longer loyal to brands as in the past sense (it’s not a duty anymore) will we find volunteers doing the same? Authentically embracing a more flexible volunteering culture could be key.
Diversifying our Volunteers. As society gets older and people have to work longer through economic necessity there is potentially not going to be as great and ready pool of people able to volunteer. Maybe it is time to broaden our appeal to a different demographic, more representative of the communities of place, community and interest we serve? There is an immediate opportunity by engaging with young volunteers and job seekers. The Princes Trust Covid- 19 report highlighted that during lockdown more young people felt motivated to volunteer. We know unemployment is rising and that volunteering can offer a stepping stone into employment. Understanding resistance to involving people who might ‘come and then leave’ is it possible to think differently? If we know someone is going to come and leave, is there the potential to offer a distinct time limited role e.g. NHS needed patient surveys completing and developed a role for students to help complete them during the summer. We need to make volunteering more compelling and accessible for young people. Initiatives such as Princes Trust, St Johns Cadets and National Citizen Service are working towards involving more young people in local social action. Balancing volunteer shortages with the differing expectations from young people may be a challenge but also offers a great opportunity
Online Recruitment – Online recruitment platforms such as our own Volunteering in North Yorkshire Directory (VINY) allow an opportunity to recruit for volunteers. Is there the potential to also use other communication methods including printed materials and social distant materials for those without access to technology (we have seen the success in some areas of the door to door leaflet drops) even mats that promote socially distanced volunteering?
Appoint a Volunteer Lead on your Board – This is a great opportunity for organisations to review their relationship with volunteering, making volunteer management expertise available at the highest level in their organisation
There are without doubt challenges that in rethinking our approach to engaging with volunteering. We look forward to hearing your thoughts. Please call us on 01904 704 177 or email us.