The volunteering revolution: how managers are stepping up

Written by Rosie Gailor Thursday 23 April 2020
Meet two of the UK-based businesses leading the way to help charitable initiatives get volunteers through the door


All over the country, two forces are at work concurrently: charities are looking for more volunteers; and members of the public are stepping up for volunteering roles. Whether they’ve been furloughed or they have more time available to them now, people are transferring their skills to the voluntary sector. The NHS launched a volunteer responder service, and has had to pause taking applications so it can sort through the 750,000 people who have already applied.

With this sudden influx of volunteers, how are businesses and managers adapting? We spoke to Gus Alston, CEO of Stonegrove Community Trust. He’s working with Time to Spare to run Furlough Go, a site that matches up furloughed workers to volunteering opportunities with charities. We also talked to David Fraser, founder of the public relations agency Ready10, which is helping organisations meet their volunteering needs.

Identifying the need

First to Gus. “My wife and I were speaking about her furloughing staff, and the gaps this then leaves in an organisation. I started thinking about whether it would be possible to have a database where charities could access furloughed staff as volunteers to help us to build capacity in difficult times. I emailed Time to Spare that evening and they loved the idea, so we built it and Furlough Go went national a week later.”

“Our niche (for Time to Spare) is providing charities with access to highly skilled people who know the charity sector, who have references from within the sector,have charity-sector-specific skills, and in many cases DBS checks as well,” says Gus.

Gus said that the key skills organisations are looking for in their volunteer candidates are:

  • Fundraising: many charities are now overstretched and don’t have the time to fundraise. Emergency funding will only go so far - so anyone with fundraising skills and ideas are invaluable.
  • Communications: Sharing the amazing, uplifting stories from the voluntary sector will help to get more volunteers interested in donating their time and money.
  • Volunteer management: skills such as team leading, making decisions, and resource management will hugely help keen and willing volunteers who are unsure where to start.

“Managing volunteers is absolutely entirely different from, say, HR - and a specific, defined skill set,” says Gus.

“Volunteers have chosen to give your organisation their time, skills and expertise. In return, you should be offering them a volunteering experience that meets their expectations and is well managed,” write Lumi in their skills guide for people managing volunteers. “Good volunteer management means: you know what motivates each volunteer volunteers know what their role is and what sort of training they can expect, volunteers and others in the organisation know how their contribution fits in with organisation’s goals, volunteers know who to turn to for help and support volunteers receive affirmation and recognition for their contribution.

“The key role of management is to ensure that the resources of the organisation are managed effectively, including volunteers. Organisations with solid structures, clear lines of communication and good relationships will attract and keep good people.”

Focusing on skills

David Fraser is founder of London-based PR agency Ready10, a business which reshaped its company culture in an employee-led exercise. He says that they decided as a company that they had the skills and time to help in their own way:

“On our last day in the office before the government told people to work from home, we set our objectives as a team for the Coronavirus period. One of those was to ‘assist others’ during this time. We all need each other at the moment and it’s important to do our bit for our communities. If we can, we should,” David says.

Their skillset is marketing and PR, so they played to their strengths and offered free campaign work for charitable initiatives. “Within days, we had a call from Just Park to help them appeal to people to list their parking spaces for free for healthcare workers near hospitals during the pandemic,” he says. “Crucially, 5,000 parking spaces were listed for free to help NHS staff get to work.”

The partnership with Just Park has been so successful that it’s even led Ready10 to launch its own fully formed initiative, Ready to Help. “We offer help to any brand or organisation that is genuinely trying to do good during the pandemic and is helping others. As a PR agency, we knew we could help amplify that message and let people know about it. We set up a simple website and asked people who needed help to get in touch. We had four requests over the first weekend and have several since. We currently have an additional two projects live – one of which is for Mobilise Online, who offer support to the UK’s nine million carers, plus we have another two in the works, including a launch for a major UK charity.”

If you are seeking ways to volunteer, why not check on the National Council for Voluntary Organisations website for local opportunities?

You could also use the time that you’re furloughed to work on your personal development, or start mentoring someone who could use some guidance in the crisis on CMI’s mentoring platform.