Do you listen to your volunteers? A Volunteers’ Week challenge for volunteer leaders

Posted on the 7th June 2019

Last summer I was challenged by CLIC Sargent’s Director of People who asked me, ‘Do our volunteers have a voice in the organisation? How do we hear from them? How do they feed into decisions?’

They were all valid questions. The CLIC Sargent workforce is made up of just under 500 employees and creeping up to 1000 regularly active volunteers. In other parts of the organisation we have ways of listening to key stakeholders: our staff forum meets four times per year and our Young Person Reference Group and Children and Parents Advisory Group meet regularly – and are gold standard in service user participation. So, what was stopping us doing the same for our volunteers?

Over the past two years we had done a lot of work to cement the value of volunteers in the organisation, including a strategic decision to grow volunteering in our Engagement teams with a focus on long term relationships. The next logical step was to begin to hear from our volunteers at every point in their journey, not just at the end when they decide to move on.

I set myself two ruling principals for tackling this challenge to make sure that volunteers remained front and centre of our decision.

The first is that it had to be an organic growth. The idea of our volunteers’ voices being relevant to conversations in the organisation was going to be a new one for some. To ensure it was properly embedded, volunteers unique input into decisions could not be forced, they had to be strategically slotted into natural places for engagement. Meanwhile the benefit of asking our volunteers for input can be evidenced and more opportunities to do so realised.

My second ruling principle was that this could not be just a listening exercise; this had to be meaningful engagement and action ensuring the voices we hear count.

Take for example our first round of focus groups. The opportunity was born from needing to develop our branded resources for volunteer recruitment – the perfect opportunity to work with Brand team and embed volunteers’ voices into our work.

The focus group was built around the idea of understanding our volunteer’s identity with CLIC Sargent so our volunteering proposition can be developed by volunteers, for volunteers and in partnership with our Brand team.

Organic opportunity based on business need? Tick.

Genuine listening and action based on what our volunteers told us? Tick.

Skip forwards six months and you’ll see a group of volunteers attending our Board of Trustees (also volunteers!) pre-board meeting session, volunteers attending our UK-wide Strategy Roadshows, two focus groups held in London and Bristol focusing on understanding their identity with CLIC Sargent and many consultation phone calls with volunteers from across the UK. There is still a lot of work to do, but we are well on our way to volunteers’ voices influencing decisions that impact them and that impact the organisation they care so deeply about.

So, this Volunteer’s Week, amongst the celebration of your organisations incredible volunteers, my challenge to you is the same as was given to me; how are volunteers’ voices heard at your organisation and what are you doing to do to make them count?

Lauren Smith

National Volunteering Manager at CLIC Sargent

I support staff to engage volunteers in their work and I support volunteers to engage with our organisation. I’m driven each and every day because of the magic volunteers bring to CLIC Sargent. I dare you to spend 5 minutes with one of our volunteers and not be infected with their passion.

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