Friday, 7 June 2013

Getting it right for volunteers

June 1st to 7th is Volunteer's Week the annual celebration of the fantastic contribution millions of volunteers make across the UK. It is also to encourage more people to become volunteers. Last night Children North East thanked our own volunteers at an event in St. James Park, Newcastle.

Since our similar celebration event a year ago we have set up two new volunteer projects for young people in Newcastle. We now have five of these 'Youth Link' projects - the others are in Tynedale, Blyth and Sedgefield. They all recruit and train young people as volunteers to mentor other young people in some kind of need. That could be difficult family relationships, social isolation due to disability or illness, difficulty joining youth clubs, sports activities or work experience - the list is as long and varied as there are young people. The training is approved by OCN the National Open College Network and for those young people who complete it, leads to a level 2 qualification.

Our whole 'Youth Link' model is approved by the Mentoring and Befriending Foundation as meeting their standards for mentoring. The standards are exacting and the process of becoming approved is exhaustive involving staff and volunteers in all the Youth Link projects so we are very pleased to have achieved it. Voluntary sector organisations are not subject to inspection or external review so applying for and gaining approval from national bodies such as the Open College Network and Mentoring and Befriending Foundation are important to us because they reassure us that our practice is excellent, encourage us to constantly improve and enable others to judge us against a fixed standard.

With all that in mind we are also delighted to have been awarded the Investors in Volunteers standard for the first time this year. Investing in Volunteers (IiV) is the UK quality standard for good practice in volunteer management.  It is the benchmark of quality for volunteer management and involvement. Achieving it proves the effectiveness of our work with volunteers and enhances our reputation. We are one of 650 organisations that have achieved the IiV standards. This was a very demanding process that involved the whole organisation in a review of everything about our volunteers - not only young people but also adult volunteers who support parents in need as well as all the people who volunteer their time to fundraise for us. An external assessor read all our policies and procedures in relation to volunteers, interviewed staff at all levels as well as a selection of volunteers. We we were required to do some additional work in relation to volunteers for fundraising to satisfy the assessor, but in the end we met the standard and achieved the award.

There is a view that voluntary work is straightforward and cheap. It ought to be simple for willing people to find out about volunteer opportunities and apply and they should expect to receive a helpful and timely response. But they also deserve to be kept safe from harm while they are volunteering and for it to be a satisfying experience, those things don't happen without planning, training, supporting, celebrating, in short Valuing volunteers in the same way we value and manage our staff. Furthermore organisations have the same duty of care for volunteers as they do for staff or services users - for example to be healthy and safe while they are volunteering.

So let's thank, celebrate and encourage volunteering but at the same time let's make sure that volunteers get the best possible experience through good quality management.

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