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!
For trustees of many organisations helping staff to navigate their path back to work as we move through the pandemic will be a significant challenge. One key area to think about will be people’s desire to explore hybrid working so they can get the benefits of working both in the office and at home.
We will all be ‘building back better’ and living in ‘the new normal’. After 18 months where staff have discovered some of the joys (and the pitfalls) of working from home, and as organisations asses if they really need all that expensive office space we are going to see a rise in hybrid working where staff work partly at home and partly in the office. This blog will give trustees some questions to ponder as they decide a way forward.
1. Is it right for the organisation?
Home working or Hybrid working will not be suitable for all organisations. Where it isn’t you need to have a clear justification for why it is not possible in case you are asked by staff, you also have to ensure that all staff are treated fairly, but this does not mean there can not be different rules for different roles. But in the case of much desk bound work hybrid working should be considered. Simply because you as trustees or the senior manager don’t like it and are not familiar with it is not a reason to insist on everyone being in the office.
Ann Francke, the chief executive of the CMI, argues that the most successful models of working will be the most flexible ones. “Command and control isn’t the way we work now, the pandemic has knocked presenteeism on its head. Work should be output-focused – about what you do, not where you do it,”.
There is a good chance you will, or have, been asked about hybrid working, and if you haven’t you might well be. It makes much more sense to speak to staff and have a clear proactive answer for when the question comes. And at the same time there are many benefits to choosing a hybrid model. These could include
Increased efficiency – staff are judged on their results rather than on their behaviour – they no longer have to ‘look busy’ when the manager is around but set out to achieve their objectives in their own time. This instils trust in staff and gives them a sense of self-motivation; it will lead to higher levels of job satisfaction and reduced absence and turnover rates
A reduction in costs – With fewer staff in the office at any given time, less office space is required, this will also reduce other on costs associated with being in the office. It’s not just the charity that will save money, either. Staff will see big savings on daily commuting, as well as potential savings on food expenses and those on-the-go coffees.
Improved well-being – Allowing staff to work from home helps them prioritise their wellbeing and family. It’s a chance to focus on staff morale and ensure they have everything they need to work at their best.
2. Is it right for the staff?
Commissioned by London-based startup YuLife, a YouGov survey of more than 2,000 British adults looked into workplace wellbeing. It found that four in five (79%) of those who could work remotely would like to do so at least two days per week.
According to the Charted Institute of Management (CMI) 48% of managers feared that team members would quit if they could no longer work remotely. People have got a taste of remote working and many like it. But not all do, many find it isolating and may not live somewhere conducive to working from home.
If you as an organisation have decided to move down the hybrid working route you must do this in partnership with the staff. It is highly likely that any change from an office based model to a hybrid model will involve a change in people’s contracts, as such you need to consult with them about the change.
Hybrid working will not suit everyone, you need to be flexible and understand different positions.
3. Do we mandate a number of days in the office and other procedural stuff?
The research from the CMI found that about half of managers expected staff to be in the office two to three days a week, but experts agree there is no one-size-fits-all model for hybrid working. While some companies are insisting on a set number of days a week in the office, or even full-time if you work for Goldman Sachs, others such as Tui are stipulating a minimum of one day a month.
At the same time it is essential that you work out travel and expenses policies
For travel, where can staff claim mileage? From their or the office to their destination, and what about travel to the office?
Are you going to pay a working from home allowance towards costs such as heating and internet etc?
Who will pay for kit that is needed at home? Will this also include special kit for those that may have a disability?
What about insurance for any of your equipment that is used at home, do staff have to include this in their insurance?
On top of this you will need to decide if certain staff or teams are in the office together. Are there enough desks and if not do you need a booking system and will there be a space for staff to store personal items. How will rules differ for part time staff, especially if you stipulating minimum days in the office, will these be pro rata?
Hybrid working is probably not the easiest option, but it will be the one that has the potential to reap the greatest rewards. There will be lots of issues that you need to work out including manning the phone, sorting the post and looking after the building if you have one. You will be unlikely to get all these things right straight away and the hybrid working arrangements should be reviewed on a regular basis.
4. How do we make sure people are working safely?
You will need to consider how and where people are working when they are at home. You retain a duty of care to staff but obviously you are more reliant on them completing their own assessment of their working environment. You should look to check each staff members home working environment, this can be done remotely or online. It is also important that you are clear with staff about safe home working, both with regard to their physical workspace but also with regard to not meeting clients or contacts at home etc.
When setting up home work spaces you need to think about reasonable adjustments and providing equipment, this could be proper seats, laptop stands, foot rests etc. there has to be a clear agreement with staff about how your equipment is used and that it remains the property of the organisation.
As well as physical safety it is important that you consider data and digital security. As staff work from home and move from one place to another there is an increased risk of data breaches. All staff must be aware of your data protection policy and taking all steps to reduce the risk of accidental data breaches, this includes not letting any family members use work IT equipment, and staff not using work equipment for personal use.
Finally make sure that any of your equipment is insured, either through your policy or through staff members home policy. Many insurers extended cover for IT to include home use at the start of the pandemic but for most this was a temporary change and has come to an end. Check with your provider.
5. Do people have the skills?
Hybrid working will involve new skills, this will include
learning new ways to communicate,
being more organised
increasing our flexibility and resourcefulness
learning to use new software
But perhaps the biggest learning curve will be for managers without a doubt a hybrid worker’s most important asset will be a good manager. As Ann Franke states the days of command and control are over, managers will need empathy and emotional intelligence. There will be a need for more collaboration, greater trust and space for staff to find their own best way to achieving shared outcomes.
As trustees it is essential that you promote, encourage and model good management practices. How you behave will filter down to all the staff and it may be that management training is need for trustees as well as staff.
Hybrid working will be a journey for all involved and it is essential that you give the space, the tools and the resources to ensure that the whole organisation is able to travel together to the ‘New Normal’.
Hybrid working should be better for staff giving them improved work/life balance and improving mental health.
It will be better for the planet if commuting is reduced (but for those of us who commute by bike it will be worse for our waistline).
It will take work but it will also help to increase productivity.
We need to ensure that we are taking people on a shared journey and that we build trust and collaboration.
We will need to invest in skills as well as in the equipment and software that enable hybrid working.
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. ButI 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.
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
Every year along with our partners from Support Cambridgeshire we carry out a survey of Cambridgeshire charities and community groups, and every year this survey joins the list of surveys that land in peoples inboxes and flashes across their social media feeds. So why do we do it!
Guest blog from Mark Freeman the CCVS CEO and the question master.
Doing the annual survey was one of the first things that landed on my lap when I started at CCVS and it still seems to be there, but why do I bother. Here are my 5 reasons, they are specific to the work CCVS and Support Cambs does but are equally applicable for other charities and community groups.
It helps us to develop our services.
As a member organisation dedicated to supporting charities and community groups it is essential that we are delivering what is needed. A big part of knowing what groups want is found out by asking them as part of the survey. These are Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘known unknows’, in other words those areas that groups identify where they need more training or support. If we aren’t delivering these services then we will not be seen as relevant and groups will go elsewhere for support.
It is a perfect way to demonstrate need.
Funders want to know what the need is for the project you are asking them to fund. This is fare enough as they want to fund work that will solve a demonstrable issue. The survey gives us information on the needs of those we work with and allows us to develop new ways to meet those needs, it then gives us the evidence we need for the funders. Local intelligence is a real boon when answering the need question and fills in gaps that national research and information often leaves.
It gives us invaluable insights.
As well as the support side of CCVSs work there is the championing and advocacy role we have for the wider charitable sector across Cambridgeshire. We want to be able to highlight what the sector does, how big it is and what might be stopping it making an even bigger difference. The survey gives us information on this and helps us to understand the ‘state of the sector’. When we are then talking about the sector we have facts and figures that help us make our point, combine this with stories and examples and we are able to build a stronger case and tell a clearer story.
It gives us feedback on what we do.
We have to get people to fund us and this often means we have to demonstrate that we make a difference. For support organisations this is often difficult to measure and the survey allows us to collect valuable satisfaction data. It gives us an opportunity to (hopefully) shout about how well received our work is, it generates a number of nice recommendations and it shows that we are needed.
It gets me through my ‘why do I bother’ patches.
OK, maybe it is only me that sometimes asks “why am I doing this”; as I write another report, try and balance another budget or try and fix the IT/phone/building problems that people seem to assume that I have an answer for.
We are really lucky that we get some fantastic comments about the team, and the work they do as part of the survey. Every so often I simply look back through these and it acts as my very own fast charger, a couple of minutes re-reading the comments gives me the energy and the enthusiasm to keep going. If we were a shiny tech company we would get these painted on office walls, or made into mouse mats or mugs, or written on the side of busses – but I don’t have time or a budget; simply reading them every so often will have to do for now!
The survey is a lot of work, it is a real team effort to try and get people to fill it in, but it gives us a valuable insight into the local charitable sector, it allows us to do our job better, and it helps with fundraising. I firmly believe that it is one of the most important pieces of work we do every year.