What Engages Volunteers?
“What engages volunteers?”
This was one of the very first questions asked of me on my return from maternity leave (once the obligatory discussions around sleep, or complete lack of, had come to an end). Within the charity retail sector, the topic of volunteer engagement is on everyone’s lips and, as a company working to revolutionise the way communities connect with charities, we want to join the conversation.
But before we delve in to all that, let me introduce myself …
Who am I?
I’m Rachel, newly appointed Head of Volunteer Engagement for Wil-U – technology that makes connecting with supporters and volunteers easier.
I returned to my role as Head of HR for PXtech (our parent company) in November, leaving behind the demands of my toddler and tackling the day-to-day needs of a 50-ish strong workforce … I’m not going to lie, sometimes they are not that dissimilar!
Soon after, I was offered the exciting opportunity to join the Wil-U team. Tasked with immersing myself in the world of volunteering, I jumped at the chance to get out of the office and meet the people donating their time and skills to such great causes. My aim? To put my HR knowledge and experience to use in a completely new way, helping charities deal with their biggest challenge … their people!
2019 was a summer of celebration: PXtech turned 20 and I celebrated my five year anniversary with the company. Reflecting on my experiences, I can say, hand on heart, that I love my job but there have been many highs and lows over the years – such is the nature of people management.
One of the great things about my role is being able to support people with their personal and career development – travelling the journey with them, helping them through the tough times and sharing their successes.
However, I’ve also experienced the frustrations of recruiting in an increasingly competitive labour market, having to look at what we can offer to attract and retain the best without the budget or ‘Google-esque’ offices of big tech; as well as the impact and disruption a departing employee can have on a team’s motivation and performance.
With this experience in the bag and a hot cup of coffee in my hand, I have been set the challenge of understanding and identifying the issues charities of all sizes are facing – and with my limited research so far, it’s sounding all too familiar:
“We need more volunteers!”
“How do we keep them happy?”
“I’m too busy! There’s too much admin!”
So, what’s next?
Following conversations with some of the country’s biggest charities, Wil-U is looking at ways in which it can help the sector improve the engagement and management of volunteers, ensuring organisations are making the most of the time people are donating.
Over the next few months I will be looking to build on this and get talking to those in the field – volunteers, shop managers and heads of volunteering – listening to them and building an understanding of the current challenges they’re facing. I can safely say (having had similar assurances from my own boss) that this is not a sales role, there is no hidden agenda … I just want to understand what’s going on. I’ve already had some great input from the Charity Retail Association (CRA) and charities such as Air Ambulance and Save the Children.
In addition to this, I will be attending upcoming conferences and networking events, and helping the team get ready for the CRA conference in June. This is all very new to me and a huge step out of my comfort zone, so if you see me loitering around the coffee machine, looking a little lost, please come and say hi!
The hope is that these sessions will enable us to understand whether there are any opportunities to help charities recruit and retain volunteers, taking away the ‘busy stuff’ and allowing them to focus on the great work they do for their beneficiaries and the local community.
So, if you would like to talk about your experiences with volunteers, volunteering or charity retail in general, please get in touch via email or feel free to pick up the phone for a chat, I’m all ears!
… and in response to my original question; what engages volunteers? I’m ready to find out!
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