Bryony Darke tells how, and why, Age Cymru partners streamlined their approach to volunteering.
At the beginning of 2022, Age Cymru and our five local Age Cymru partners were awarded a WCVA Strategic Volunteering Grant for us to collaborate in developing streamlined, inclusive and consistent procedures, including common resources and a common volunteering policy. We wanted to undertake this work to make it easier for volunteers to move between partners’ volunteering opportunities without having to redo training and paperwork. We hoped this piece of work would help us create long-term Age Cymru Partnership supporters.
FIRST STEP: PLANNING
The first step was to plan. A part of this was undertaking a stakeholder analysis, in which we determined how stakeholders should be involved in the project. This was to ensure we were bringing people with us, through the change. We pinpointed the staff and volunteers from across the partnership who would have high influence and a high interest and they were invited to join working groups to help develop the resources co-productively.
We firstly wanted to create a volunteering framework which not only set out our vision for working with volunteers, but guidelines and best practice for staff across the partnership. We looked at examples of other volunteering frameworks within the sector and held focus groups and questionnaires with staff and volunteers. From this we drew up a table of agreed good practice, informed by staff and volunteer feedback and by good practice from elsewhere in the sector. The ways of working set out in the framework became the foundation for everything we created after this point.
DIVIDING THE WORK
We divided the remaining pieces of work into ‘volunteer recruitment’, ‘volunteer training’ and ‘ongoing volunteer support’. Each strand was delegated to a working group . Stakeholders from across the partnership worked together to evaluate existing documents, resources and policy and to explore possible improvements. They developed draft documents and gathered feedback before finalising them.
Here are examples of some of the changes we made:
- As well has having paper forms, we utilised Microsoft forms to develop online application forms, reference requests, equality and diversity monitoring forms;
- We made simple changes to forms and processes to make them more inclusive, for example asking volunteers their preferred pronouns at the point of application and adding an accessibility statement onto volunteer role profiles;
- We made all of our documentation bilingual so that we can welcome more Welsh speaking volunteers;
- We used the Age UK eLearning platform to develop online core induction training for all partnership volunteers, so that they can move between opportunities across the partnership easily.
ENGAGING VOLUNTEERS IN THE PROCESS
We were clear as a group that we wanted to create new resources and policies with volunteers rather than for volunteers so that they would be fit for purpose. Knowing that volunteers usually need to know the levels of commitment required from the outset, we provided them with a detailed outline of what participation in the working group would require, including a timeline. However, uptake of working group membership from our volunteers was minimal, due to other commitments they had outside of their volunteering role.
To overcome this challenge, we asked our volunteer team how they would like to participate. They suggested we could send them surveys to complete and draft documents to give feedback on. Both of these mechanisms for volunteer participation proved successful. Our survey about the volunteer framework received over 60 volunteer responses, which is a greater level of feedback than we could have obtained from working group participation or holding focus groups. All of this helped us to refine the resources we created.
STRENGTHENING THE PARTNERSHIP
One of the key highlights of the project was working with staff from across the partnership. Before the project, only a few members of the group had met one another – at Age UK networks or as part of other collaborative projects. So this project was the first time many of us had worked together.
Representatives from the partners came from a range of backgrounds – some from HR, others working directly with volunteers; others were project managers. The breadth of expertise and skills allowed us to learn from one another and bring different ideas to the table.
- One partner had experience of using Microsoft forms for application and reference forms – we adopted this across the whole partnership, to make the application process simple;
- One partner found a way for us to ‘passport’ volunteer data between partners using our volunteer database Charity Log, in a way which is GDPR compliant;
- Other partners introduced the group to networks, training sessions and events which ensured we were learning from outside expertise as well as our internal sources.
Learning and sharing together was such a highlight, that we have started a Partnership Volunteer Managers Network to continue collaborating beyond the lifespan of the project.
Throughout the time working together on this project, we discussed the need for training and resources to build confidence and to support volunteer managers within the partnership. So we’d like to build a suite of training to support Age Cymru volunteer managers when they join our organisations. This will equip staff in how to work with, communicate with and support volunteers effectively and will ensure that our newly established framework of practice is embedded naturally, within the work we do.
You can about the work of Age Cymru and how to get involved.
For further details – or to request a copy of the report, contact Bryony: email@example.com