Top tips for influencing around volunteering

Selling the volunteering story and highlighting the importance of volunteers can only be beneficial for your organisations, writes our columnist

Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson

Last month I explored the issue of ‘onboarding‘ which one commentator defined as "the conscious process of bringing someone ‘on board’ through orientation, introductions, a bit of training, a few simple inaugural tasks to get started to help figure out how things work around here and assess how people work together." My key point was that processes for getting volunteers onboard are of little value of the organisation isn’t fully committed to engaging volunteers.

I concluded by saying that this month I would suggest some tips for influencing within our organisations to help others ‘get it’ when it comes to volunteering. So here we are, three top tips for influencing around volunteering.

1. Know what change you want to see

It’s surprising how often we may long for things to be different but we fail to properly articulate that change in tangible terms. For example, when leaders and managers of volunteers talk about wanting to be seen as professionals there is rarely any clarity about what they actually mean: more money, more respect, higher standards, more open to public scrutiny, more competent? So what is the actual difference you would like to see that will create a more pro-volunteering culture in your organisation? Spend some time getting really specific so you can clearly articulate and share your desire for change with others.

2. Tell the story, the whole story

Use the data and information you have to tell the whole story about volunteering at your organisation. Just because the senior management team and board want simple KPIs like how many volunteers you have (sigh) doesn’t mean that’s the only bit of data you have to give them. As Susan Ellis is fond of saying, "It’s easier to apologise than ask permission". So share stories of the difference volunteers make to clients. You can highlight how volunteering changes the lives of the volunteers. You can provide all kinds of metrics. Just don’t tell them how much volunteers save!

3. Maximise the opportunities of recognition

With Volunteers’ Week coming up in a couple of months, consider how the way you recognise volunteers can influence how others think about volunteers. Do you thank people for the actual contributions they’ve made or just because it’s Volunteers’ Week and you’re supposed to make a fuss of them? Do you do things that recognise volunteers as a valid part of the staff team (alongside employees), like ensuring they are invited to team meetings and socials? Do people get thanked even though they are troublemakers who don’t add any value to the organisation’s work? Do staff and senior managers get invited to recognition events too?

Those are just three very brief thoughts which I hope help you to influence. Let me conclude with the wise words of Australian colleague Andy Fryar:

"I believe that the leadership of volunteers has now evolved to a point where we need to find the time and space to become a persuasive profession, to influence, to develop key relationships – instead of simply adding another volunteer to the team".

Rob Jackson is a volunteering consultant

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