In case you missed it, we recently caught up with Head of Volunteering at Oxfam Great Britain, Elena Laguna on The Engaged Volunteer Podcast.
With so many great insights to share, we’ve pulled together some of Elena’s top tips when it comes to volunteer engagement
A little about Elena….
After a chance opportunity to lead a youth volunteering program in Nicaragua, Elena cemented a career in helping others, gaining experience with the likes of the British Red Cross before landing her current role as Head of Volunteers at Oxfam Great Britain. She also currently serves as a member of the Board of Trustees at Peer Power.
Having worked both as a volunteer, volunteer manager and now senior manager for a globally renowned charity, Elena understands the power of treating volunteers as individuals and is passionate about engaging with volunteers through a strategic volunteer management program.
Oxfam’s Volunteer Program
Oxfam is one of the world’s most recognizable charities, with a mission to alleviate global poverty. Oxfam UK’s volunteer database of 20,000 support their charity shops, events and campaigns with a broad range of skills required across each area.
Oxfam has 600 shops throughout the United Kingdom, run exclusively by volunteers who sell donated goods such as homewares, books, clothes as well as ethically sourced products to help raise much needed funds for those in need.
Volunteers run the gamut of ages from 14 and up and come from all different backgrounds. To capture the attention of the diverse community, volunteer roles include social media management, visual merchandising, retail management, volunteer recruiters as well as leadership roles designed to provide real life work experience opportunities.
In addition to Oxfam’s retailers, Oxfam has thousands of volunteers dedicated to working at large events in the United Kingdom including Glastonbury, Latitude, Leeds and Reading Festival.
Volunteer roles include:
- Ticketing. Volunteers are responsible for checking tickets, providing wristbands, managing queues and welcoming patrons into the festival.
- Marshalling. Monitoring crowds, patrolling campsites and ensuring everybody is safe.
- Retailers. Volunteers who manage Oxfam’s shops at events and festivals to encourage donations.
The impact of COVID-19
COVID-19 has presented it’s fair share of challenges for communities worldwide but possibly one of the hardest hit industries remains the charities and the nonprofit sector who overnight had to cease volunteer operations.
For many charities like Oxfam, demand for services increased despite the decrease in volunteer resources to support the cause. Add to that the operational expenses to take everything online, the newness of working remotely and the challenges of lockdown itself and it’s safe to say that the past 12 months have been some of the most difficult in recent years.
Connecting with volunteers virtually
Throughout her journey as both a volunteer and volunteer manager, Elena learned the power of genuinely involving volunteers and the power of communication when it comes to connection.
More often than not, volunteers choose to get involved in a charity because they want to be there and that they want to make a real difference. During COVID in particular, the importance of frequent and personal communications was more important than ever. From a simple phone call to see how volunteers were to updates about Oxfam and how volunteers could still help remotely, the importance of involving your volunteers and keeping them in the know is critical.
Top Tips for Volunteer Engagement
- Treat your volunteers as individuals. Each volunteer is unique with their own motivations behind choosing to volunteer. Take the time to get to know your volunteers and understand what they want out of their volunteer experience.
- Communicate with your volunteers - regularly! Your volunteers are the lifeblood of an organization. Make sure to celebrate their achievements and milestones and keep them up to date on your charities news and fundraising efforts.
- Listen to your volunteers. From surveys, phone calls, Facebook Groups, Whatsapp messaging, newsletters, emails - anything and everything! Talk to your volunteers and listen to their concerns, wants and needs and then do something with this knowledge to frame your volunteer experience.
- Utilize technology (where possible). Technology is an incredible resource for automating some of the more previous manual processes and is necessary in today’s digital world, allowing us to keep in touch regularly. But technology in itself isn’t enough - don’t lose sight of the importance of individual connection.
- Train your team. Ensure your volunteer managers have the skills and knowledge to manage people and that this is at the heart of everything that they do. This will ensure that they are strong leaders who are able to support their teams.