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  • Marvellous volunteers (Weekly blog, 12 August 2018)

    Posted on August 12, 2018
    A blog by Catherine Leonard, Secretary-General

    I’ve been thinking about volunteers this week.  Firstly, I received a report back from the team we sent to advise the National Trust for Georgia.   Secondly, I’ve been visiting properties and met, once again, some truly amazing and dedicated volunteers.   And lastly, we’ve taken on a new volunteer in the INTO office, Emily Knurek.

    Recruiting volunteers

    For many Trusts, whether small or large, volunteers are crucial to the delivery of their objectives.  When we researched the From Start-up to Sustainability Handbook, we learned that volunteers were recruited in different ways.  By word of mouth, through social media and notices in neighbourhood gathering places such as social clubs and churches.  One Trust held a property open day to invite interested members of the public.  Without exception, INTO members reported that there are never quite enough volunteers. It is a particular challenge to recruit volunteers when many retired people continue to work or help with grandchildren. Perhaps the most serious challenge is to recruit young volunteers, who are too busy working or bringing up children.

    Volunteers in China

    Rempart volunteers meeting locals at the Ruan Yisan Heritage Foundation project site

    Engaging volunteers

    The question of why people volunteer is dealt with nicely in The New Alchemy Report.  Everyone volunteers for different reasons but we can group them into three broad categories: altruistic motives, instrumental motives and obligatory motives.  Or more simply: to give something back; to improve your CV or ‘because you should’.

    The report authors talk about volunteering transforming both the giver and receiver.  Volunteering brings out the best in people.  And is therefore a kind of ‘alchemy’, turning donations of time and talent into the equivalent of human gold.

    Retention poses a challenge for many Trusts – either because of competition from other charities or scheduling difficulties. One National Trust is promoting flexibility for its volunteers: they can volunteer digitally, bring their family for a working day or make an arrangement that suits their other commitments. Developing systems that recognise the contribution of volunteers is another important strategy to keep volunteers.

    With our INTO team at the Conference

    Six tips for engaging volunteers

    • Brains over brawn: Make sure your volunteer roles are innovative, engaging and personalised – not just menial tasks
    • Embrace the ‘selfish volunteer’: People are just as interested in what they can get out of volunteering as what they put into it
    • Volunteering creates vital community links and social capital
    • Giving money and giving time are two sides of the same coin
    • Market the product and the mission – not ‘volunteers needed’!
    • Lastly professionalise and empower volunteer managers but remember that everyone needs to nurture volunteers

    From The New Alchemy Report.

    National Trust of Georgia project

    “Donald and Kevin were sterling workers. Didn’t stop for ten days!” reports Peter Nasmyth of the National Trust of Georgia.  We helped arrange the visit by a conservation architect and structural engineer in June.  Their role was to advise on conservation planning for the NTG’s first property in Tbilisi.   They very kindly volunteered their time and considerable expertise to the project.

    National Trust of Georgia HQ

    Furthermore we have just been asked to find a photographer and buildings surveyor for an interesting project in Kampala.  The Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda received EU funding to produce a guide of historic buildings.  They needed to organise a training session for local researchers and photographers by the end of August.  We were thrilled to be able to help them find the engaged people and skills they needed!

    Busman’s holiday

    Last week I visited several NT properties on the way to and from the Lake District.  The one that really stands out was Dunham Massey.  Not just because of the amazing story the property tells of the Stamford Military Hospital.  But for the particularly friendly and engaging volunteers we met.    Just incredible.

    At the NTEWNI’s Shugborough Estate

    INTO intern

    This summer, we’ve been joined in the office by Emily Knurek.  Emily recently moved to London from the US and is a real estate lawyer by training.   She is now volunteering for INTO whilst looking for a more permanent, paid position in the heritage sector. It’s really great to have Emily with us!  Although we realise that it won’t be for long as she’s completely brilliant and will soon be snapped up!

    As a largely volunteer-run and led organisation ourselves, I particularly appreciate the gifts of time, knowledge and presence given by all our team.  Thank you everyone who volunteers to make INTO what it is today.  We couldn’t do it without you!

    Further Reading

    National Trust for Scotland’s Volunteer Handbook

    INTO Short Guide to Recruiting Volunteers

    National Trust for Historic Preservation Guide to Volunteer Management

    Making the most of the 21st Century volunteer

    National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s Volunteer Managers Training

    Watch a video about volunteering with the National Trust of Australia (Victoria)


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