Our Volunteering for All project, supported by Cambridge City Council, works to reduce the barriers many people experience in accessing volunteering. At a recent workshop we shared some of what we have learned from this work and pulled in best practice from providers from around the world.
A significant proportion of the population experience barriers to volunteering; we tend to think of barriers relating to those with physical impairments, but others affected include people with mental ill health, neurodivergent individuals, people from different cultures, people with criminal records, people with caring responsibilities and those unable to afford the time or the associated expense of volunteering.
In addition to physical barriers people can face psychological and organisational barriers. People might have a fear of taking on something new in a different environment, they might fear rejection. They might come up against unhelpful attitudes from existing staff and volunteers or a rigid inflexible approach to how things are done.
There are compelling reasons organisations should seek to be inclusive. To meet their statutory responsibilities and deliver on their equality policies but also to widen the pool of talent, embrace the expertise of volunteers with lived experience and improve their own future sustainability.
Inclusive organisations have:
a welcoming and open culture
a clearly communicated equality policy
volunteer roles that offer flexibility and work with individual need
fair and open recruitment and management procedures
a zero tolerance of discrimination
a demographic that reflects the community they serve.
To be more inclusive here are a few things to think about:
How and where you advertise roles – could you extend your reach to where different groups of people will see your information?
Think about the language you use – is it plain English, would other languages be appropriate. could you offer information in another format such as video or an audio file?
Review your recruitment process and only include what is essential. Think about creating entry level roles that allow people to develop. If you need references can you ask for character references rather than from an employer, can you just ask for one reference rather that two?
Can you more flexible, review the length of shifts, can some tasks be undertaken at home, can people volunteer as a group or as a family?
Can you do more to communicate the environment people will volunteer in taking away the anxiety some may feel in going somewhere new, you might invite them on a visit or send a video or some photographs?
Can you provide information on transport or arrange lift shares?
Think about flexible ways to share information with volunteers, can you set up a system where people share information on the phone not just via email? Can you offer training or handbooks in different formats?
By Ellie Lee, Volunteering Development Worker and Amy, CCVS Volunteer. November 2021
Recently, we, (Amy and Ellie) organised the first online session dedicated to supporting people with disabilities to find out about volunteering.
In preparation we produced some stylish slides to help us remember what we wanted to say and to remind us to introduce ourselves. (It would not have been the first time I, Ellie, failed to introduce myself and just started to talk! 😊)
During the session we explained our roles, Ellie’s as the Volunteering Development worker at CCVS and Amy’s as an incredible CCVS volunteer who has been with the project since it was born. Ellie talked about how she supports clients, inviting them to a 1:1 interview, to help them untangle doubts about volunteering and encourage them to explore different opportunities.
Amy did a great job of explaining how important volunteering is to her and talked about all the roles she is currently undertaking. She volunteers in an EACH (East Anglia Children’s Hospice) charity shop in Cambridge, she assists at two Tai Chi classes, she helps organise the Funky Club (a night club for people with disabilities), and of course, she is a valuable CCVS volunteer and helps Ellie organise events such as the volunteer Walk and Talk and online sessions. Amy also produces articles and media content. Keep an eye out for Amy’s future blogs for more details of her volunteer roles.
We met some very enthusiastic people at our first online session, some of whom are already volunteering, and some who want to begin to get involved with local community projects.
There are many different options for volunteering and attendees shared experiences, and inspiring reasons for getting involved. We discussed the many benefits of volunteering, how rewarding it can be, and how it can improve confidence and skills. People often think that very specific and professional skills are required, but we also discussed how everyone has skills to offer, even though they may not be aware of them. Lived experience, empathy and enthusiasm make a good foundation.
We encouraged everyone to think about how to start their volunteer journey and had a conversation about breaking it down into manageable steps. By the end of the session, we were able to point one participant in the direction of one of our lovely local charities, and by the end of the day a meeting had already been arranged.
We’d like to thank everyone who joined us and for their enthusiasm and interaction.
We were both very happy with the first trial session, and we are looking forward to many more!
Something I have learned working with people with additional needs, mental and physical health issues, and those who are facing isolation and hardship, is that they are the real experts of their condition. They are resourceful and use everyday creativity and innovation to manage and overcome their difficulties.
They might not be aware of their potential and finding the right support often means they are finally able to explore possibilities they could not see before. Once they see that, they are capable of really making a change, for themselves and for others too, involving people with similar experiences on their journey.
We charity workers, are people who have dedicated our professional lives in helping others, giving them the support, but also the choice and the trust that they need most. We believe in their abilities to rise above challenges, because otherwise we would not do what we do.
Every day I see the impact of hard work with clients. I see them embracing a journey which improves the quality of their lives, fights isolation and loneliness, improves skills. I feel proud. Having somebody fighting their corner, the battle is not as bad with an ally. I also see that one of the fruits of that work is for clients to want to give back in a way they received help. They want to volunteer, to be an active part of the community they belong to. They want to use the strength that you helped them to build, to help others. And I personally believe that we should encourage them to take that path as far as they can, because they can really make a difference.
Many groups already understand how having people with lived experience of the issues their clients face, on the board of the trustees, is an incredibly positive asset for the organisation. They can deeply understand the needs of the people the charity wants to help, assessing how things are done from their perspective, but also appreciating the work that everyone is doing behind the scenes. Most importantly, they can bring a creative, innovative, problem solving attitude that is a powerful features for a trustee. They will be the advocates, the champions and the example to look at for your service users.
Undertaking such a role can be incredibly rewarding, but also challenging. The board of trustees and staff should value and recognise the unique knowledge that comes with lived experience. This, although different from professional knowhow other board members might have, is just as important. It will be a sustainable and efficient way to make sure the group is achieving the best possible results, with a board of trustees that really can represent the heart and soul of the group.
This week is Trustees week and now more than ever I would like to thank all those who are giving their time and sharing the knowledge and skills of their lived experience in Trustee roles in our groups. I would like to encourage those who have not yet recruited trustees who can really empathise with their clients, to consider the option.
Taking part in this joint event with our colleagues at Hunts Forum has been one of the highlights for me, of what has been a challenging year. The Question Time panel was diverse, informed and inspirational and they sent out some clear messages in response to the varied questions put to them.
On diversity; we can’t sit and wait for it to happen we need to get out there and talk to people, let them see who we are, what we do and how they could make a difference. We need to ask ourselves:
Do we look like somewhere that welcomes people from different backgrounds and experiences?
Are we advertising our opportunities in places that a more diverse audience will see them?
Are we removing unnecessary barriers to encourage people to find out more? Are we set up to recognise people’s potential, offering support and mentoring where needed?
Do we know about the motivations, skills and interests of our fellow trustees? What are the gaps in our knowledge bank, how will we plug these gaps?
Is our culture open to difference? When are meetings held? Do we encourage trustees to claim expenses so that those on low incomes are not disadvantaged?
Can we take advantage of the help on offer? For example, the Young Trustees Movement exists to help develop a relationship between organisations and young people so that they can contribute their leadership skills within an open and supportive environment.
To lead our organisations through this crisis we need to be willing to learn and to listen to all our stakeholders. We need to
Think ahead to plan effectively
Look for evidence to demonstrate the impact of what we are doing
Seek to mitigate the impact of increased stress and isolation on staff and volunteer teams
Collaborate with others
All this needs to happen as we ensure that we keep our charitable purpose at the heart of what we do.
To discuss any of these issues further feel free to contact the development team at Hunts Forum or CCVS. You might also be interested in upcoming online training our organisations offer, free to the voluntary sector, as part of our Support Cambridgeshire project particularly:
Effective Business planning which includes developing a theory of change planning model and putting together a business plan. 26th November 9.30 to 12
Essential skills for trustees. A two-part event will take place over 2 evenings one week apart aimed at giving trustees from community organisations and small charities the essential tools to perform their role safely and effectively. 18th & 21st January 6pm to 8pm
Virginia Henley, Head of Charities, Education and Social Enterprise at Hewitsons LLP Northampton. She is a school governor and a trustee. Virginia specialises in advising charities, universities and schools, and a wide range of not-for-profit organisations on the core legal, regulatory and governance issues they face.
Monica Brown, Head of Charity Advisory and Programmes at the Charities Aid Foundation. She is an experienced senior charity executive with extensive experience of working in and with the voluntary sector including 12 years as the National Head of England for BBC Children in Need.
Anthony Wheeler, East of England Ambassador for the Young Trustees Movement and Chair of Trustees of Cambridge Student Community Action. Anthony first became a trustee at 20 and is passionate about empowering young people and breaking down barriers. He’s part of the 1% of trustees under 26 and 3% under 30.
Patricia Rose, The Diversity Trust – Pat Rose is part of the Windrush generation who came from the Caribbean to the UK as child in the sixties. The challenges of growing up in a predominantly white working-class background inspired a lifelong commitment to Equality and Social Justice. In 2014 Pat won the Mental Health Professional Award in the BBC radio 4’s “All in the mind” National Awards.
Some thoughts on our survey, the work we do with groups, and the future.
There has been an explosion of volunteers and community spirit across Cambridgeshire as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Across the county people are coming together to help others in their community by collecting prescriptions, by doing shopping and by donating to foodbanks. From nowhere new groups have set, old groups have found new activities to engage with charities and community groups have adapted and changed. So, what does this mean for the future of organisations and volunteering?
We have surveyed over 100 local charities to ask them how the pandemic is affecting them and have worked with many more to help them adapt and survive. This has raised a number of questions that I think will be important going forward as we entre a recovery phase, and find out what the new normal is.
We found thousands of staff, volunteers and trustees raising to the challenge to find new ways to support people in these difficult times.
“We have moved all of our services to remote delivery and are offering 1-1 support to LGBTQ+ young people by phone/text/email/video call, and weekly online groups by video call. We have also been distributing relevant books and DVDs to young people by post. We have been investigating how we can move our training delivery online.”
Yet, at the same time some charities are no longer able to deliver services safely and have had to close
“Our small staff group of six are furloughed. The site is closed to co-workers, volunteers, staff and customers.”
Many charities are losing money as they are unable to carry out their usual fundraising, or they are losing income they earn from entrance fees, charity shops or for selling services. We estimate that across Cambridgeshire registered charities will lose over £34.5 million due to the crisis. The total will be even higher if community groups and unregistered charities are included.
Whilst the government has promised charities extra funding this will not plug the gap which NCVO estimate to be £4Billion in England and Wales. Charities that have furloughed workers but are still incurring other costs are not eligible for much of the government support, and we know of groups that will be closing their doors, possibly permanently, when their reserves run out in the next few months.
We know that many charities have benefited from local fundraising, and that many funders including are continuing to support charities. This will not be enough, and most charities do not seem to be eligible for the grants that are being offered to small businesses.
Yet there is still a high level of optimism amongst charities about their future, with 42% being totally confident they will be operating in six months. (These figures should be viewed with a little caution as many of those charities struggling would have furloughed workers, and as such may not have been able to respond.
We also saw that 59% of charities were still using volunteers to deliver services, but only 16% were looking for volunteers. We have heard that many of the local support groups currently have more volunteers than they have roles, and that some are struggling to keep them engaged. What this shows is that volunteers continue to be key to charities delivering services, and that there is an appetite for people to volunteer if they can see a way that they can help.
As we move towards recovery, and as lockdown changes, charities will become even more essential. They will need to be there to support people who have money worries, who have lost relatives, who have mental health problems. They will need to help rebuild communities, and find new ways to bring people together.
“We are very aware that we will experience a significant surge in demand for our services once lock down restrictions have been eased. Many survivors of sexual violence and abuse are unable to reach out to us at the present time due to lack of privacy at home, caring for children, living with abusers etc. So we are trying to plan for how we manage what we will be a significant increase in demand without additional resources or capacity.”
In order for groups to continue to deliver we need to find ways to answer the main concerns that they identified.
As face to face work becomes harder or impossible groups are looking at how they can move their support on to digital platforms. For some this has been a painless experience, but for many it has proved much harder.
Groups are struggling with out of date IT systems and a lack of funds to replace these or invest in the software packages they need. Groups are also struggling with the skills to move to digital delivery and to update their systems.
There are also serious issues with many communities of a growing digital divide, with many people that groups could help digitally not having the technology, skills or data to engage.
As previously mentioned many charities are losing money, however even those that have benefited from new funding support worry about the longer term future. As funders open their coffers to address the crisis this will inevitably impact on the funds available going forward. At the same time the public has dug deeper into their pockets to support local and national campaigns but Caf report that fewer people are saying they will donate in the next months as people are concerned about their own income.
Funding as we move into the recovery phase of the pandemic will be equally as important as it was to meet the initial emergency. If funders have seen endowments reduced, and have offered additional funding immediately then there will be less money available than normal, this will be compounded by local authority and government belt tightening as they seek to address the extra spending they have had to make during the crisis. This will be further compounded as charities continue to lose income from events and activities that will not be able to start for a while, and as the country moves into a recession and donations are impacted.
Volunteers have played a massively important role in the current pandemic and many more people would have had serious problems if it hadn’t been for the army of good neighbours who have stepped forward to help. But there have been problems, locally there have been more volunteers than roles, but also volunteers have been asked to carry out roles without the proper training and support. Nationally the plans to have volunteers run the testing stations went quiet after uproar from the sector, but it is important that volunteers receive the support and training they need.
What the pandemic has shown is that people will volunteer given the right opportunity and a way to do it. Moving forwards if we as a sector are to make the most of this we are going to have to adapt the volunteer roles we have and allow people to volunteer on their terms and not ours.
Mental health services, both those provided by the voluntary sector and those provided by the health sector have done an incredible job in moving their support online or to the phone. Despite this there is a recognition that the mental health impact of the pandemic is likely to last much longer than the physical health impact. The BMJ state
“Early research has brought attention to the psychological impacts of such viral epidemics and protracted physical distancing measures, including those that are expected (such as loss of identity, disruption to usual activity, increases in feelings of loneliness) and those that may be unintended (including increases in domestic violence, child maltreatment and cyberbullying). For many, several coping strategies to deal with this psychological impact can be detrimental to mental health; including alcohol and drug misuse, and online gambling.”
This will impact on staff and volunteers as well as the clients and organisations have to recognise this and adapt to it.
Coming out of lockdown and the immediate crisis charities and community groups will become even more important. As individuals and communities struggle to find their ‘new normal’.
The CAF Coronavirus Briefing shows that in April there was a mixed reaction to this question with only 1 in 4 charities reporting an actual increase in demand. Our research saw charities that might have reduced services due to the virus recognising the fact that there was likely to be increases in demand as they reopen. This will coincide with organisations potentially having reduced capacity or having to find new ways of working. It is important that where possible organisations address this before any surge in demand.
There are two issues here, the first around those organisations that have formed as a direct response to the pandemic, and the second for those organisations that have had to furlough staff to be able to survive.
In the first case groups of well meaning volunteers have suddenly had to think about health and safety, safeguarding, and other issues that keep both the volunteers and those they are helping safe. No one signs up to volunteer around these things, but they have to be there and they have to be understood and acted on.
The second area is where trustees and volunteers are suddenly trying to keep an organisation functioning without staff input. This can be very hard as they are often not connected enough with the operational side of the charity. We have spoken to trustees that have stepped up to take on staff roles and groups where services have been turned round and adapted with little staff input. It is essential that trustees are given the support to do this, but that they also have the time to keep staff on board.
The ‘New normal’
Charities and community groups are doing fantastic work to make a real difference to individuals and communities, I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. Times are hard and confusing, again this is a given. Charities don’t need support because they need to survive, they need support because of the work they do with people and communities across Cambridgeshire and the country. There is no ‘right’ to continued existence.
But charities will need to adapt, and those that do will come out of this pandemic stronger and able to make a bigger impact.
I believe charities need to think about
Volunteering – It has been proved that people want to and will volunteer, it needs to be on their terms and that means we need to offer more flexible, short term, local opportunities that fit with people’s lives and passions.
Technology – We have all become more digital out of necessary. This will impact on how and what we deliver, but this has to recognise that not everyone has, or wants, access to digital tools or data. Whilst working to incorporate digital delivery we have to reduce the digital divide, and this includes working with our staff and volunteers to give them the skills and confidence to embrace and champion technology.
Partnership – This is going to be increasingly important as we struggle to address complex issues, but also as resources get scarcer. We are going to need to find ways of learning from others as well as thinking about joint work. Organisations that think they can ‘go it alone’ will find themselves being marginalised by funders as well as excluded from policy making and delivering solutions.
At the same time there will need to be a recognition that things have changed for who we work with. We know that behaviours will change, research is showing that inequalities are growing because of the pandemic, and simply winding the clock back to February isn’t, and shouldn’t be, an option. Organisations like CCVS will be there, we will be able to act as a sounding board, we will be able to bring people together, but we don’t have all the answers. I believe that the local charity sector can emerge