During December 2014, Volunteer Centre East Sussex (VCES) sent a questionnaire to organisations previously registered with us. The questionnaire asked how groups involved volunteers, what the needs of those volunteers might be and requested feedback on VCES’s current services for volunteer involving organisations (VIOs) and how these services could best be developed to reflect the needs of VIOs.

Thirty-four VIOs responded to the survey and we are grateful for that input. A summary report analysing respondents’ feedback and identifying the main outcomes has been prepared and will shortly be available.

VCES is a county-wide service, so we have been able to gain feedback from VIOs across East Sussex and, in recognition that each group is unique and no one size fits all, the outcomes are indicative of the different sizes of the VIOs that responded.

What is strikingly clear is that recruitment of and retaining volunteers are the main ongoing needs of VIOs. Meeting those needs have to be at the core of VCES services. It appears that VIOs want VCES to provide specialist support in reaching potential volunteers by coordinating events and providing local knowledge about where to source volunteers.

One way that might enable this to happen is for VCES to continue to promote networking between VIOs. The networking forums for people engaging and involving volunteers remain popular with 80% of respondents indicating they would attend regularly. With an increased focus on sharing best practice in terms of recruitment and retention, it might be possible to share more about tried and tested ways of attracting volunteers – highlighting ways that work and perhaps some of those that don’t – and possibly looking at ways in which VIOs could refer volunteers to one another in instances where someone isn’t suitable for one organisation, but could be ideally placed in another.

The survey outcomes indicate a wide demographic in terms of who volunteers in East Sussex and a vast range of needs. Unsurprisingly perhaps, there appear to be large numbers of older and unemployed people currently volunteering in the county. There does appear to be a perception among some respondents that the number of young people getting involved is increasing and an acknowledgement that engaging people from BME communities is difficult. No respondents indicated that they were aware of any homeless people volunteering with them. Although it would not be true to say that everyone who is unemployed and volunteering is doing so to try and get a job, one of the report’s recommendations is that it may be that particular emphasis on creating volunteer opportunities for people seeking employment through volunteering is needed. Are there, for instance, ways in which we can create and design volunteer roles which can best equip someone to volunteer and then go on to secure a job in a related field to the group they have volunteered with?

What is also clear from the survey is how resoundingly important consultation is. It sounds obvious enough but it is so important to get it right and it can be difficult. I am clear that we (literally) cannot afford to try and guess what you, our service users want. Creating an authentic conversation between what we (VCES) have the resources to offer and you (the service user, client, customer or whatever you prefer!) need is not easy. We are all busy and under pressure to deliver services, so we have to time our requests for your time carefully. We have to ask the ‘right’ questions and listen carefully to the responses.

So what next? The plan now is to set up a working group. The group will be made up of people like you who engage and involve volunteers. The group will look in more detail at the outcomes from the survey and discuss how to plan the delivery of VCES services in 2015-16 to best meet the needs of VIOs. Anyone is welcome to join the group and I will be happy to talk this through with anyone who is interested. Please just give me a call on 07535 992 638 or email lee.shepherd@vces.org.uk.

You do not of course have to join the group to give feedback about any of VCES’s services or to talk through any issues you may have in supporting volunteers. Just contact me at any time you would like to. I look forward to hearing from you.

Lee Shepherd
Volunteering Development Officer

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