Online Volunteer Coffee Mornings and Walk and Talk With CCVS 

by CCVS Volunteer Amy. January 2023.

Hello! It’s Amy here. I’d like to talk to you about the online Coffee Mornings and the Walk and Talk that I assist Ellie with as part of my volunteering with CCVS. Myself and Ellie decided to organise both of these as an opportunity for people who may be interested in volunteering to meet and talk to people from organisations who recruit volunteers. This is a good way to find out what volunteering opportunities are out there which you may wish to look into further. 

Some people feel more comfortable to meet online (which is where the coffee mornings come in). They’re on Zoom and we usually start with an introduction and a brief chat. Then someone from an organisation does a presentation and participants have a chance to ask questions (perhaps to find out more about volunteering there) or general questions about the organisation. For example, we’ve had speakers from Kettle’s Yard, Safe Soulmates and the Red Hen. 

These online coffee mornings are good because they give people the chance to find out what’s out there in terms of volunteering opportunities (as well as getting a general feel of what’s out there in the community) and can be done in an environment where they feel comfortable. They can also be a good opportunity for people within organisations to connect with each other (if they want to). 

It’s always interesting to hear about what each organisation does and what volunteering opportunities they have. We’ve heard from lots of different organisations in the last year and there’s so much that could have been overlooked if they hadn’t taken the time to talk to us. It also gives the participants a chance to talk about their experience of volunteering as well as finding out what opportunities are out there. 

The idea of the Walk and Talk events are similar to the online coffee mornings (but more active and in the great outdoors) and gives potential volunteers a chance to meet others (including people from organisations who recruit volunteers) face to face. It’s just chat and a chance to talk about your interests in terms of volunteering (rather than a presentation as such). It’s not as structured as the online coffee mornings and always weather permitting!

These walks are different each time and sometimes we get a small group and sometimes big ones. We’ve heard lots of interesting things from both participants and people from organisations (including Cambridge University Museum, Fight Bladder Cancer and more). It’s good when people feel relaxed and want to chat about lots of things (their experiences as volunteers, their goals and aspirations, mental and physical health for example). Of course, it’s up to people themselves what they want to talk about, though. 

Amy out and about at one of the walk and talk sessions.

If you would like to join us for our walk and talk and/or coffee mornings, get in touch with Ellie at ellie@cambridgecvs.org.uk or 07840989719. We are looking forward to seeing you!

6 essential tips when thinking about charity monitoring and evaluation.

No one (or at least almost no one) goes into working or volunteering for a charity or community group to do evaluation, because they love data, or they like filling in forms. But the reality is that as soon as you start delivering a service or an activity you should be thinking about how you will understand the difference it is making and how successful it is.
The chances are that if you are receiving funding it is likely that whoever gave you the money will ask for a report. If you have trustees or a committee they need to know you are doing what you are supposed to be doing and will need to see the ‘proof’. Monitoring and evaluation should not just be a chore that you have to do to get funding, it should be something built into the very bones of your organisation or group.
This blog gives our 6 essential tips, but if you want to know more check out the CCVS training or that offered by other local and national support bodies.

1 - It has to be useful to you not just a chore imposed by others

If monitoring and evaluation is simply something you do because others have ‘forced’ you then it is only ever going to be a chore and you will have missed out on important learning.

Look for ways that allow you to meet the needs of lots of different stakeholders at the same time. But also make sure the process is working for the organisation. It is your opportunity to get information that helps tell your story and to promote your successes. How much better to say that we helped groups gain £10 million in income rather than that 50 people came to our fundraising training.

2 - You have to think about this at the start of the project

If you get to the end of a project and only then think about the evaluation and monitoring it will be much harder or impossible to do.

You need to start thinking about this aspect of the project as you are planning the project. Start thinking about what you are trying to change, how you might measure this and how you will capture the data you need. If the monitoring and evaluation takes place throughout the project then there are opportunities to change how you do things to improve what you offer. Also by making sure you are taking the time to collect data as you go it will give you more to work with when you have to report.

There is also a chance that collecting feedback and data as you go will give you useful quotes etc to help tell your story, and also help you to raise additional funding by helping to answer those questions about need, about clients informing your work as well as about the difference you make. Never under estimate the value of a good quote from someone who has used your services, and more importantly never feel shy about using it at every possible opportunity.

3 - It does not have to be complicated, but there is some jargon

There are some common words that you will need to get your head around so that you can be sure you are doing what will be most useful and informative for you and other stakeholders.

You will need to get your head around the inputs and outputs, the outcomes and impacts, qualitative and quantitative. A good place to start is the NCVO website or the NPC website or sign up to one of our training sessions.

Once you have mastered some of the language, what you are monitoring and how you evaluate it does not have to be complicated. It is important that what you do reflects the size of the project you are doing, and that it enables you to answer the questions you need answering and show the difference you are making. For a small project it may simply be about collecting numbers of attendees and where they are from, but if you can add some feedback in the form of quotes or produce a case study this will help add depth to your report.

4 - There are lots of ways to collect data - be creative

Sometimes it will not be possible to measure what you want to know about. Sometimes there will not be an obvious way to look at the difference you make. This does not mean you can’t evaluate your work and monitor things.

You may have to think about proxy indicators that allow you to show your difference with your time scale and budget. If you work with young people you can’t tell if your project has kept them out of prison, but you may be able to get feedback about how positive they are about their life following your activity.

Also think about how you can be creative in getting feedback in a way that is suitable for your audience. This could involve using technology or art but it does not always have to be a happy sheet or an interview. There are loads of resources on this as well as how to be more creative about how you use data.

NPC https://www.thinknpc.org/resource-hub/the-cycle-of-good-impact-practice-creative-methods/ and from Catalyst https://www.thecatalyst.org.uk/resource-articles/using-data-better-charity#

5 - How you present your findings is important

If your data is not understandable, then there is no point having it. If it is not presented in an engaging way no one will read it.

Loads of people have written about this and there are example blogs from the US and from Just Giving.

You have to find ways to engage people and to tell a compelling story. At the same time, you may want to think about what platforms you will be sharing on and ensure that any reports or slides etc are able to work for you across different platforms and with different audiences.

6 - Learn from the feedback don't just ignore it.

It may seem obvious but how many reports are produced and then simply put on a shelf and ignored.

If you have gone to the effort of doing the monitoring and evaluation make sure you use it. This is about shouting about the difference you make. It is about looking at ways that you can improve and build on the work you are doing. It is about using what you find to demonstrate need if you want to look for extra or continuation funding. The chances are that once you have the data then it will be useful in producing your annual report and review. It will be useful to trustees to enable them to see that the charity is doing what it should. Think about how you can make the information you have work as hard as possible for you.

This is part of telling your story and all charities should be looking at how they do that. Tips on this from CAF and Charity Digital. Also keep an eye out for the CCVS training on telling stories.

Quote from Melissa Steginus "Review is essential to evaluation, which is essential to progress."

Evaluation has to be linked to everything you do. Done well

  • you will be able to find solutions that will address the needs of many different stakeholders.
  • it will tell your story and prove your worth.
  • you will clearly see what was good, not so good and what was excellent and you will be able to deliver better and better projects.

The NPC website has some brilliant resources https://www.thinknpc.org/starting-to-measure-your-impact/ as does NCVO https://www.ncvo.org.uk/help-and-guidance/strategy-and-impact/impact-evaluation/#/  

Free entry to Wimpole Hall for Community Groups

Wimpole Estate have launched an exciting new initiative offering local community groups free admission to the estate and its facilities.

This is a fantastic opportunity to encourage creativity and connection with nature in a perfect setting to promote happiness, health, and wellbeing and also provide much needed respite for your beneficiaries, their families, and carers.   

Polly Ingham-Watts, the General Manager of Wimpole Hall, is passionate that everyone can enjoy all that Wimpole has to offer and recognises that National Trust membership or the standard admission charges are not accessible to everyone. Each pass they issue under this initiative would provide free access for up to 16 people. 

Passes may be used on any day except on bank holidays and the weekends preceding bank holidays.  Those intending to use the pass are asked to email Wimpole Hall. or call the estate before coming, stating the name of your group, the number of people and approximate time of arrival.  Where practical, community groups are encouraged to visit during weekdays as Wimpole can get very busy at weekends when there may be less scope to cater for additional needs.  

If your group would be interested in receiving free admission passes, please return the application form via email. If you’d like to speak to someone, please ring: 01223 206000 and state the best phone number and time for them to call you back.  

Wimpole Estate consists of a historic mansion, beautiful gardens, a show farm and extensive parkland, there is plenty of free parking for cars and minibuses, a visitor reception centre, electric buggies to assist people with limited mobility, as well as cafes and shops.  See website for more information.. 

Wimpole look forward to providing a Wimple Welcome through the Community Group Admission Pass and hope that visits may be life-enhancing, as they have been for the many who love this special place.  

Tips for supervising volunteers

By Chris Trevorrow. August 2022.

Our recent workshop on supervision skills for those managing volunteers, shared tips on how best to manage the supervision. 

Prepare

  • What has happened since the last meeting with the volunteer?
  • Are there any current issues involving the volunteer? If you need to give critical feedback do your homework first.
  • Is there any news you wish to share with them?
  • Have you set aside enough time and space?  Don’t take calls or allow interruptions.  Decide how long the supervision should be and arrange the meeting with the volunteer letting them know how long to allow.  Be prepared to manage the time.
  • Make the setting friendly and informal? Don’t use the desk as a barrier, maybe offer a drink, check the volunteer is comfortable, and check if they have any time constraints.

For first time supervision: explain to the volunteer in advance what the meeting is for:

  • For the volunteer to:
  • give their feedback
  • highlight anything they might need to help them with their role
  • For the supervisor to:
  • give feedback on the volunteers performance in the role, recognising and building on strengths and exploring any areas for improvement
  • highlight any organisational issues that might impact on the volunteer
  • Together:
    • Agree any actions to be taken

Start with the volunteer  ASK & LISTEN

  • What has gone well since the last supervision?
  • What have been the challenges/difficulties?
  • What might you do differently to overcome these?
  • What do we need to do differently to support you?
  • Are there any ideas or questions that you would like to raise about your role or the organisation as a whole?

If you have queries on this, or anything else relating to running a voluntary group, get in touch with us on enquiries@cambridgecvs.org.uk

So, what did we all do in the pandemic 2020 – 2021? – The Cambridge City Community Response 

Back in Spring 2020 when Covid-19 first hit representatives from groups involved in delivering emergency support from each of the 14 City wards were invited to participate in the Ward Cluster Network (WCN) by the City Council. The network created a gateway for communication, collaboration, learning and support. It initially met weekly online, and these meetings were supplemented by emailed updates. 

As part of a wider community group recovery plan, CCVS were asked to interview members from each of the 14 City ward groups in the WCN, together with other contributing groups or individuals identified by the ward participants.  The intention was to capture the key lessons that could influence any future emergency response but also to build on the positives such as increased community spirit and partnerships to support communities moving forward into a recovery phase. CCVS undertook structured online interviews with 30 participants from 26 organisations. Most of the interviews took place in June 2021.  The initial report was drafted in July 2021 

This report has been a while coming as partners have grappled with new and ongoing issues. Whilst both CCVS and the City Council have learnt from this research we wanted to release it more widely as a contribution to the understanding of how the voluntary sector played a vital role in helping communities throughout the pandemic. There is a lot for us to learn, a lot to build on, and a lot that needs doing to make sure that communities and community groups are front and centre of how we move forward to make Cambridge a fairer and more pleasant place to live 

So, what did we find out back in 2021? 

  • A diversity of approach -The ward groups were a mix of spontaneous mutual aid style groups, new groups facilitated by local councillors to deliver emergency support and pre-existing groups collaborating with other community stakeholders, particularly faith groups. All the groups were supported by a City Council community officer and were given online guidance and £1000 to help them meet essential costs. 
  • What the groups did – All the ward groups offered to pick up and deliver shopping and prescriptions to people who were shielding or isolating. A number were also involved in running food hubs and other initiatives to support those who were socially isolated. 
  • A wave of volunteers – During the first lockdown most of the ward groups attracted more volunteers than they had tasks to allocate. Volunteering tapped into people’s desire to help their neighbours; people wanted to be part of something momentous. As the pandemic progressed numbers of active volunteers reduced and the needs of the people requesting help became more complex. More recently many people reengaged by offering to help at vaccination centres, but this activity has now mostly wound down. 

For most of the ward groups a combination of volunteer coordinators and paid community/faith group workers provided the necessary support and guidance for the sustained volunteering effort.  Red tape was minimised, and groups operated on mutual trust.  The sense from the ward volunteer coordinators was that many volunteers had not volunteered before, had time to give and were attracted by how easy it was to offer help and the hyperlocal, flexible, and informal opportunities on offer. The direct interactions with beneficiaries meant that volunteers got instant feedback and could readily see the value of what they were doing. 

  • Communication was key – Effective communication within the wards was crucial in both managing the requests for help and the volunteers but also in helping to disseminate key information to the local community.  Several of the wards were able to capitalise on pre-existing lists of data for people already in receipt of community newsletters or emails. 
  • Getting essential guidance in place – Initially there was a lack of focussed information particularly around data protection, pharmacy protocols, risk assessments, money handling and volunteer protocols. The groups also had trouble identifying other sources of help and support for people because of the lack of any up-to-date directory of services. 
  • Exposing inequalities to a wider audience – In most wards, volunteers identified issues around food and fuel poverty, disability, and mental ill-health. It became apparent to the ward groups very early on that whilst the crisis exacerbated these issues many were pre-existing.  There is also concern about how to address the stigma some people feel around seeking help.  Some minority ethnic communities faced disproportionate health risks from Covid with a high percentage in key worker roles facing even great risk.  Ethnic minority groups were also more likely to work in activities badly effected by lockdown and therefore struggled financially.  Cultural and language barriers added to people’s sense of social isolation and difficulties obtaining help and support.  Including difficulties obtaining culturally appropriate food from food banks and food hubs. 

What did we recommend back in 2021? 

Build on local authority investment in social capital  

  • Continue to invest in building partnerships and networks with the local voluntary sector. 
  • Continue to support the work of the food hubs for as long as they are required and support these organisations to source and provide culturally appropriate food for all clients. 
  • Create seed funding pots under local community control to get new ideas underway. 

Build on cross-ward cooperation 

  • Establish a ward group digital forum where groups can share and develop ideas. 
  • Run occasional network meetings around key topics of interest to maintain connections. 

Create a repository of useful guidance for the future 

  • A toolbox of the detailed guidance, protocols, and policies for use in any future emergency. 

Improving signposting to existing services 

  • There is a need to investigate ways to support effective signposting that is sustainable. 

Support for local communications 

  • Develop a community newsletter for each ward.  Some support and funding will be needed to help initiate these new communications.  

Improve the volunteering offer 

  • Develop opportunities that meet volunteer needs. 
  • Create up to date, responsive online brokerage that allows those looking to volunteer a quick and efficient way to find and apply for local opportunities.   
  • Continue to offer support for those who face obstacles in engaging with volunteering. 

Improved engagement with business 

  • Create digital resources including an online brokerage aimed at business to support their understanding of the needs of the sector. For more recommendations around connecting VCS and business, see CCVS report (2019) 

Focus on improving digital inclusion  

  • Issues around digital inequality have highlighted the need for ongoing action to give everyone access to equal access to information, support and opportunity. 

Recognise what has been achieved  

  • Consider creating a broader recognition of what has been experienced and achieved. The purpose of any recognition event would be to demonstrate the continued value placed on neighbourhood support 

Click here to read the full report