Andrew Pincott: Give time to those who give theirs

Thanking volunteers is a welcome acknowledgement of the role they play, but probably not enough for the majority. Most want their views listened to and acknowledged. But the age, gender and socio-economic profile of your volunteers means you’ll need to think carefully about how you communicate with existing and prospective volunteers.

People expect to be engaged, whether it’s through the use of social activities or social media, or seeking people’s thoughts and ideas before setting a clear path, and clearly communicating it. To do otherwise runs the risk of volunteers inadvertently misdirecting efforts or interpreting things in their own way, acting as unwitting detractors for your cause or leaving.

In some charities I’ve been involved with, the core team’s commitment to the charity has struggled to communicate its passion beyond that core with the risk the bulk of work and reliance rests upon a few. The danger is that this ‘core’ becomes too overburdened, or detached, which becomes self-perpetuating.

The arrival of GDPR (May 2018) may force many charities to put aside ‘round robin’ mailings in favour of other supporter engagement activities. Here are some ideas to conjure with:

Volunteers’ feedback: Often like the checkout worker in your local supermarket, volunteers may have a truer view of the charity’s workings ‘on the ground’ than either management or trustees. Volunteers’ feedback is invaluable in shaping your operations or propositions. Working or coffee sessions with the volunteers in small groups can be a direct and personable way to get feedback.

Consider holding briefing meetings for volunteers: Where you can outline the plans for the year ahead and your vision for the way forward. They can then not only engage with it, but help you promote it.

Seek volunteers’ views on the way forward: People are more likely to engage with activities or initiatives they feel they’ve had a hand in shaping.

Consider the age profile of your volunteers: Social media like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram can provide a visual and thus emotional engagement, especially when done consistently.

Get volunteers directly involved: The opportunity to experience the cause first hand, rather than just raise funds at a distance, can elevate the support base for your charity. Make it real.

As an example, the UK charity Two Wheels for Life (formerly Riders for Health in the UK) has operated for 30 years through open engagement with its supporters and volunteers, including inviting supporters to annual planning days to hear how the charity is expanding operations across sub-Saharan Africa.

The charity's founder Andrea Coleman says: “All the dedicated individuals work hard, but volunteering was so much more than a commitment of time. Enduring friendships have been built and even new families created. We have volunteers whom I have seen grow from babies!"

As a strong supporter of Two Wheels for Life, I have been lucky enough to meet first-hand the people the charity’s work serves, the African health workers who benefit, and the leaders of its several African operations. For me, that’s cemented the voluntary commitment of many of the charity’s supporters. They’re impassioned. They’re involved - not merely informed.

Andrew Pincott is director of business development and marketing for accountants and advisers Kreston Reeves. He has been a volunteer in four charities over the years (sometimes concurrently), employed by another for five years, and the director of another for seven years.

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