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Rob Jackson

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Making The Most of a New Beginning

On March 17, 2004 I will be running a half day "working with volunteers" seminar in London, England, for people who are thinking of working in the non-profit sector. The seminar is part of a conference organised by Working for a Charity ( who exist to promote the voluntary sector as a positive career option and to encourage new people, resources and skills to join and strengthen the sector.

When I was invited to run this seminar I asked myself "How often does a chance like this come along? A chance to positively influence how people outside our sector view volunteers before they take the step of working for a charity?". The answer was, to my mind, "very rarely" and came to me about as quickly as it took for me to say "yes" to the invitation.

Of course, there is a danger I could scare them off working for a non-profit when I talk to them, but I don't want to entertain that thought! What I hope to do is give them a feel for the size of volunteerism today, the impact it has and some short ideas about how to effectively work with volunteers should the delegates go through with a move into the voluntary sector.

Now, if my earlier thinking is right, few of us will get such a chance as I have. We are more likely to need to influence staff colleagues after they have started work for our agencies. Here are some ideas about how we can do this:

  • Get a slot on the orientation programme for new staff
    Talk about the impact of the work your volunteers do and the added value they provide to your agency. Get them to think about their own volunteer work, what it means to those agencies and draw parallels with the importance of volunteers to your organisation. This will help to root their understanding of your volunteer programme within the context of their own experience.
  • Choose your words carefully
    At this stage, steer clear of anything that might worry new starters about volunteers replacing staff e.g. "our volunteers do all this and only cost us 10% of what it costs to employ people!". Don't intentionally mislead people but don't go down alleys that will turn people off before you have a chance to get started.
  • Face off
    When middle and senior managers start with an agency they normally have a series of one-to-one induction meetings arranged with other key managers. Make sure you are one of them. Avoid using this meeting to find out what that manager does -- do your homework first and spend the time helping them see how volunteers could make a real difference to achieving those objectives.
  • And now for something completely different
    Give new starters something out of the ordinary that will make them sit up and take notice of the volunteer programme. At my agency, one of the things a new starter isn't short of at the end of our corporate induction course is handouts on paper to read "at their leisure". When it comes to volunteering, they get an audio CD, produced to a professional standard by volunteers, that features real volunteers talking about what they do, why they do it, what they get out of it and why someone else should do it -- in under 10 minutes!

There are four ideas to get you started. How else could you influence new people so they become supporters of your volunteer programme?

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