How many Volunteer Managers does it take to freeze time?

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By Donna L on
everything volunteering, ttvolmgrs and volunteer management 221 views 0 likes 2 comments

Time is the most valuable commodity I know- said Michael Douglas in the recent sequel to Wall Street and whilst I am not advocating taking everything that is said in the movies as a life lesson, as a Volunteer and a previous Volunteer Manager I do not question this statement.   

Working in the charity sector, we never have enough time; funding cuts definitely put an end to that. So in our day-to-day lives we often having to prioritise the essential ahead of the aspirational or innovative ideas we may have. 

How many of us have a list full of ideas we would like to explore given more time?

Ok and how many of those ideas have you managed to look at in the last year?

Any more than 5 then please get in touch and share your secret, but I am guessing most of us keep adding to our list rather than finding the time to explore any of it. 

So, what is the answer? Put our collective brainpower together and create a time stopping device (which I don’t doubt we could do!) or involve volunteers.

OK, so I am preaching to the converted here, we all understand and promote the involvement of volunteers, but the key is the ways we involve volunteers in our work to manage our time better.

Do we

Create volunteer opportunities to explore some of our ideas?


Create volunteer opportunities based on the more routine areas of our roles, like data inputting, filing, mail-merging?

From the roles I see advertised and the surveys I read it would seem the majority take the second approach and involve volunteers in the standard processing areas of their work, which are easy to quantify, write a volunteer role on and advertise, but is that really always the best solution?

At my first charity role, I always wanted to explore more routes for community engagement activities. Fortunately every time I had an idea about a new venue (Football Stadiums) or group (factory workers/ fire-fighters) there was a passionate volunteer with a background in training, account management and presenting who would just say, -great idea and then present me with a booking and contact details. I was also fortunate enough to have an amazing Volunteer Manager who enabled me to support this volunteer involvement to develop organically from the original peer support role he had started on. Left to my own resources I think I would have written 101 places I would love to organise a community health event –given the time! Hardly a best-seller but you see my point.  

Think of your own ‘if-I-ever-have-any-spare-time’ list.

How many things on the list could be explored better by someone else? Maybe someone with a different skill-set or range of expertise or just coming at it from an external viewpoint?

Maybe 60% even 80%

The volunteer in my story not only had the time I didn’t, but he also had more experience in contacting companies out of the blue and made a better job of it than I would have if I had had the time! 

We all know there are great people out there with the time and skills that they want to use to benefit our organisations in more specific or innovative ways we have asked them too before- so where do I go from here?

For this week’s #ttvolmgrs I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on how you involve volunteers to explore new ideas?

What have been the benefits/ drawbacks to this?

And how did you convince staff to involve volunteers in this way?



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Top answer

so... I love task descriptions so much I thought I'd just make one for fun. Ideas Person Volunteer Task Description written in response to this article only and for discussion purposes - not road tested! (Thanks Donna for a thought provoking piece)

Role Description: Ideas Person

Meet regularly with volunteer co-ordinator: work strategically together create a timeline of tasks needed to complete project ideas that come up
Attend occasional staff meetings and make a note of ideas that appear with no obvious home
Mini-project-manage new ideas; by recruiting new volunteers with appropriate skills or spotting opportunities and skills already in the organisation

Needs to be:
Flexible and available
Understand the organisation
Experience of negotiation and project management
Ability to break ideas down into very specific tasks, and delegate those tasks effectively

Too much to ask?!

Well, you pilot your new idea for an identified period of time. Staff then know that it's not forever (perhaps!), and volunteers too, come to that. Consult properly, and use some simple outcomes to measure success; involve staff, volunteers and other stakeholders in feeding back. Styling it 'a pilot' signals that you're being very sensible and testing the waters before launching into anything too drastic.
On the issue of lack of time to think, I'd like to put a word in for action learning sets for VMs, which Greater London Volunteering has - yes! - piloted recently. A key feature of action learning is time to reflect on actions, thereby completing the learning cycle which is so often left incomplete in our sector as we rush on to the next task.