I feel honoured to be part of the organisation, by Flóra Raffai. Trustees’ Week 2021.

Tell us a little about yourself and your work and/or volunteering experience.

My name is Flóra Raffai and I have spent my career leading charities and non-profits, predominantly in the health and education sectors. Alongside work, I have volunteered as a mentor for small rare disease charities and I am currently working towards becoming an accredited transformational coach. I am driven by my passion to help people live their best possible lives and to make the future a brighter place.

Why did you become a trustee of CCVS?

I became a trustee of CCVS three years ago, in November 2018. At the time, I was the Chief Executive of a local charity that was a member of CCVS. I had greatly benefited from the membership, having attended useful training events and networking sessions. Working at a small charity, it can be difficult to know where to get information and who to turn to when you are stuck. CCVS provides that trusted, supportive guidance you need so that you can do your best in working with your community. When I heard that CCVS was looking to recruit new trustees, I jumped at the opportunity to give back to the organisation that had given me and others like me so much.

What does your role as a trustee entail?

Along with my fellow trustees, it is my role to oversee the charity’s management, administration, and strategy. The board of trustees has ultimate responsibility for the charity, to make sure it fulfils its aims and creates benefits for our community. From a practical point of view, this entails attending our quarterly trustee meetings to review the charity’s strategic and financial position, working closely with CCVS’s excellent CEO Mark Freeman to give advice on new initiatives and funding bids, and taking on additional responsibilities to support the team when needed. At the moment, I am also coaching two members of the lovely CCVS team.

What do you most enjoy about the role?

I most enjoy seeing the impact of CCVS’s work on the Cambridgeshire community and voluntary sector. I love reading our annual report, which summarises all the work done across the year to support hundreds of small groups and charities. I feel honoured to be part of the organisation and play a small part in making sure the charity continues to act as a multiplier for the community.

What would you say to anyone thinking about becoming a Trustee, particularly if they are unsure whether it is a role they could undertake? What do they need to consider?

The most important thing to consider before you become a trustee is whether you have enough time available to do a good job. A trustee role comes with legal responsibilities, so you want to make sure you have enough time to review papers, attend the board meetings, and respond to support requests. Talk to the charity to find out what time commitment they are expecting and when those time commitments take place (e.g. during the workday or outside working hours). Be honest with yourself and the charity about what you can take on.

I would highly recommend becoming a trustee, especially of a small local charity. If you have benefited from a charity’s services and support, then you have valuable lived experience that can be hugely beneficial to the charity’s board of trustees. If you have a background in finances, legal, people management, strategy, communications, service delivery, all of these skills can enhance a board of trustees and expand the knowledge within the team. If you have passion for the cause and time to help out, then you can make a real difference to a small team who need more hands on deck.

The importance of having an inclusive and representative board of Trustees, by Ellie Lee. Trustees’ Week 2021.

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.

Happy trustees week everyone!

My Trustee Story by Sally Page. Trustees’ Week 2021.

Finding my motivation

I have volunteered on and off, in some shape or form since I was nineteen, generally in creative, learning roles with young people. Volunteering for me has always been a way to put my strengths forward, develop skills and confidence, whilst supporting a cause I care about.

As someone who struggled with, but stubbornly pursued, academic qualifications, I care about organisations that offer individuals ways to learn about themselves and their community, outside of a classroom and in a way that suits them. This saw me volunteer with museums, galleries, and youth organisations.

A few years ago, I took the decision to take a career sidestep, from the heritage to the charity sector, to work in volunteer management. After settling into to my new role, I found myself wondering how to maintain a connection to heritage, a sector that I had always cared about, but no longer worked in.

It’s all in the timing

After some time, I saw an advert for a Volunteer Lead Trustee with the Museum of Cambridge and that got me thinking.

I would often, apparently like many women, discount myself from roles, that I didn’t seem to tick all the boxes for or have the extent of experience that I thought was needed. I saw this mirrored in my female friends and colleagues and it became something that I wanted to challenge, at least in a small way. After talking to trusted friends, I decided to make a change and put myself forward for something out of my comfort zone, becoming a Trustee.

I got told off by my Mum, but it was worth it

It was a strange and risky time to get involved as a trustee, as we headed into the first Covid-19 lockdown, however I quickly saw the difference I could make, supporting staff and volunteers, reviewing policies, and planning for the future.

I won’t lie, as someone who works full time, it took a few phone calls to convince my Mum that I wasn’t going to burn out after taking on this responsibly – turns out early 30’s is not too old to get told off by your Mum!

I’ve worried that I don’t have enough time or expertise for the role, and I have definitely questioned my decision, after spending the odd Sunday working on a volunteer policy, rather than sitting in a pub – but these have all been fleeting thoughts.

The reward and sense of achievement from being part of a team, who all care deeply about the museum, are supportive and experts in their fields, is hard to describe. I am continuously learning and as I head towards my third year as a Trustee, I have no regrets.

So, if you’re on the fence and looking for a new challenge, find the right organisation for you and go for it, it’s not as scary as it first seems!

#TrusteesWeek #Trustees #NeverMoreNeeded #Volunteers #SmallCharities

Conversations about Volunteering

Volunteering can be fun for children! (And adults!)

By Ellie Lee, Supported Volunteering Project Coordinator. September 2021.

My 10 year old came to me a few days ago and asked: “Mum, so, why do people volunteer?”

As an adult I know so well, all the ethical and civil reasons, the personal and professional gains, the social and political importance of people’s involvement in community projects. However, when it comes to explaining to a young person, things seem more complicated. How do I explain to somebody who is only at the beginning of their journey as a citizen, why volunteering will be a valuable option when they come to an age that will allow them to take part independently? Is now the right time to have this conversation, or should I wait until they turn 16 when opportunities may be available for them to get involved?

My son is not new to volunteering, and that may be why he is thinking about the reason people volunteer. Since he was very little, he either saw me, his stepdad, or our friends, taking part in community projects. When he was 3, he came with me to volunteer in an art project for people with learning disabilities. He is well aware of the existence and importance of the voluntary sector, and he knows there is a need for mutual formal and informal help in our community. He is aware of things around him, and he wants to understand how community works.

At first I talked to him about the same reasons that I usually discuss with clients, about benefits for volunteers as well as for the community. He listened and I could see he was really trying to connect all the dots and make sense of what I was saying, but I realised I should have used examples that he could relate to.

So, I told him: “Volunteering is like helping one of your classmates to become better at one of the subjects you are good at. It’s that warm feeling inside, after you work together, struggle, laugh, get frustrated and then happy because you finally succeed. Your friend would understand something he didn’t before, but you would actually be the one who got more out of it. You would have learned how to explain something to someone else, how to be patient, and happy about other people’s achievements. You would have used your skills and built your own confidence. You ultimately had a lot of fun. And you are also aware that tomorrow you might be walking in your friend’s shoes and be the one needing help, and you would know that somebody would be there to support you if you did”.

Volunteering is a deeply rooted part of being together, we might not realise it, it might be as informal as helping each other casually, occasionally, or it might be more organised and managed within an organisation, but it’s about being there for one another, struggling and working together to become a better community.

We should all have this conversation with our children, because volunteering and helping others is empowering. The exhilarating feeling children have when they help each other does not fade in time, it accompanies us as we become involved in the community.

I’d like to rethink, and talk about volunteering from a new perspective, as an experience, an opportunity, a need, and a responsibility for all. I’d like to share what I have learned about volunteering. I would like to have a chat with everyone, just like I did with my son. But I would also like to learn from you – what made you become a volunteer? What stopped you? What barriers have you encountered and where were bridges built to overcome those barriers? Please share your thoughts and experiences with me in the comments

The Supported Volunteering Project and beyond

Hello! My name is Ellie and for those who don’t know me, I worked at the Supported Volunteering Project (SVP) for 6 years.

I recently came back from maternity leave and found many changes to the sector, and to my role, so I often feel I am starting a new job altogether.  From the tools we use, to the ways we communicate – working from home rather than at the hub in Arbury Court, to the needs of the community, and a new inspiring willingness for the voluntary sector to work together.

The SVP was set up in 2012 by Cambridge and District Volunteer Centre (CDVC) to help those needing extra support to get involved in volunteering. When the CDVC closed, CambridgeCVS recognised the need for the support and took over the project.

It has been a beautiful journey so far enabling me to witness people from all backgrounds, putting their hearts into new challenges and helping create a more just and balanced community. I’ve had many opportunities to grow and learn, both personally, and professionally.

What I particularly enjoyed in my role was the ability to listen to people and their stories, being inspired by them and working out how to best utilise their lived experiences, their skills (that often they did not even identify as skills) and their passions. Working together with professionals enabled us to discover as a team, that the prospective volunteer often had the best answers themselves all along, and encouragement and guidance was all they needed to reach their potential and in turn to encourage and teach others to do the same.

Being passionate about community and people, I am full of admiration for the projects and people I meet every day. Cambridge is a melting pot of cultures and skills and people can, with the right support, achieve incredible results once they connect with their community.

During my years at the SVP, people came to us, to some degree, in waves, responding to events in the community, or in their own lives, that made them feel increasingly isolated or unable to connect with others. I have worked with people struggling with poor mental health, those who were new to Cambridge and the country and people who had been unemployed long term, as well as people with disabilities, stay at home parents, carers, and young people considering a gap year.

When the pandemic hit, I was on maternity leave and trying to get along like everyone else during such an upsetting time. But I was amazed by the community response to the emergency, and my heart was full of hope and wonder how people just got on and helped each other, getting to know their neighbours and community in time of need.

For some, it was the first opportunity to volunteer. I interviewed several residents and found that people who had never volunteered before, did so during lockdown, as “a way to keep mentally healthy and feel useful”. Others, who had volunteered before, found their role had changed as had the needs of their clients, some just started helping neighbours and built connections, albeit socially distanced, that they “should have made years before.”

At CCVS, we realised we need to rethink and reshape our volunteering support, to respond to needs and changes that the pandemic unearthed. Volunteering is for all: everybody can volunteer, and everybody needs the voluntary sector and its army of volunteers. It is our intention, as a community development organisation, to work towards accessible and barrier free volunteering opportunities for all.

It is very exciting for me to be back at work with a strong and caring team of colleagues, who, like me, believe in community and its potential.  We aim to support long, mutually beneficial, meaningful relationships with local community groups and volunteers.

For now, we have restarted 1:1 support by phone, email and online. We have begun a new activity: “Walk and Talk about Volunteering” which is a chance for people (potential volunteers, volunteers and voluntary organisations) to meet, walk, and chat about all things volunteering – such as opportunities, projects and application processes.

We already deliver training, currently online, and facilitate volunteer manager forums. We give advice to those in support or caring roles who would like to become volunteers. We work with organisations and offer guidance with volunteer recruitment and management and encourage recruitment from all parts of the community. We plan to restart group presentations and participation in events promoting volunteering. Finally, we encourage the care and kindness that our sector best represents and push for change where needed to empower everybody to become the volunteer they want to be.

If you would like to know more please get in touch with me ellie@cambridgecvs.org.uk or call 07840989719.