Our guide to reviewing your volunteer programme

It’s been 10 weeks since the flurry of activity around Volunteers’ Week and even longer since The Big Help Out back in May. For many charity retailers, the summer provides an ideal time for reflection and planning, before the busy autumn leading up to, what we hope will be, bumper Christmas sales.

With lots of external pressures facing our volunteers, including the cost of living crisis, we need to make sure our volunteering offer is as strong and robust as it can be. Here are some key areas you may want to consider when conducting your review:

1. Speak to peers

Are you part of any volunteer manager networks or do you have any counterparts in other charities you could reach out to for a coffee and a catch-up? Peer-to-peer learning is a great way of stress testing your theories and practices; are they seeing similar things as you are? Are they making any changes to their programme? What can you learn and implement within your own charity?

2. Review your technology

Are you currently using a volunteer management system, or is now the time to explore investing in one? There are many suppliers out there and we know our members use a diverse range of technology; we’ve recently heard about Rosterfy, Salesforce, Better Impact, Assemble, TeamKinetic, or for those of you with less budget, making sure you’re using an excel spreadsheet. How can you make this technology work harder for you? Recent conversations with volunteers revealed that members are exploring further digitalisation, such as texting volunteers prior to a shift to remind them to come in, to automated thank you emails after every shift (or every week) for their continued support.

We’re lucky to have some suppliers within corporate membership:

RosterfyRead their white paper here


Please do reach out to either of them to find out more about how they might be able to support you with your volunteer management.

3. Consult your volunteers

Do you send out an annual volunteer satisfaction survey to ask for feedback about your volunteering programme and their experiences? It’s a great way to annually benchmark enjoyment, engagement and garner suggestions for improving your volunteering experience.

You may also want to take this one step further and set up a volunteer voice or forum, where volunteers can directly input into the volunteering strategy and programme. These are traditionally run once a quarter and provide an opportunity for volunteers to provide feedback on the charity’s work or give their thoughts on any new initiatives you’re hoping to implement.

Volunteers are often your biggest champions, and word of mouth is still the most successful recruitment tool for shop volunteers. Focus on how can you keep existing volunteers happy, fulfilled and with purpose so that they can’t help but shout from the rooftops about their amazing volunteering with your charity.

4. Speak to volunteers who leave

As well as consulting current volunteers, it’s also vital to seek the views of any volunteers who decide to step back, pause or finish volunteering with you. A short survey or questionnaire can be used to capture any suggestions they have for improving the volunteering experience for others.

This might also be a way of finding out if they still want to be involved in other aspects of the charity or would consider a different volunteering role – or if it’s more appropriate for them to stop volunteering with you completely. Shop managers may be able to do these on a one-to-one basis in a face-to-face catch-up, or you could send out a survey from your central volunteering team.

5. Review the data

There is a lot of data within the sector at the moment that you may wish to brush up on, including NCVO’s Time Well Spent Survey 2023. There are some trends coming from the data which, as a charity, you may be able to mitigate against. For example, 14% of those who haven’t volunteered in the last 12 months are worried about out-of-pocket expenses (up from 9% in 2018), so if you’re able to provide volunteer expenses, you could help alleviate any concerns potential volunteers might have about volunteering with you.

6. Look for guidance and resources

Did you know the CRA has a comprehensive and detailed volunteer toolkit, specifically developed for charity retail, covering all areas of volunteer management?

Created by Engagement Consultancy and commissioned by the CRA, the toolkit is divided into recruitment, induction, recognition and conflict chapters, as well as separate FAQs, signposting sections and exercises. Simply log into the members’ area to download a copy.

Here, you’ll also find copies of volunteer management case studies from other members, including ones on corporate volunteering, training and Investing in Volunteers.

There are also two specific presentations from our ‘People First Retail’ conference back in June you may wish to look at:

Plenary: Volunteering postpandemic; trends, challenges and opportunities – Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive, Royal Voluntary Service

Developing and operationalising your volunteering strategy – Jo Wright, Volunteering Experience Manager, British Heart Foundation

7. Consider third sector quality standards and frameworks

There are a couple of different third sector view processes and accreditations you could consider implementing within your volunteering team:

Investing in Volunteers – An in-depth UK quality standard for good practice in volunteer management. It’s a great framework to access the quality of your volunteer management and help you to improve the effectiveness of your work. It can enhance your organisation’s reputation and shows both current and potential volunteers how much they are valued.

Volunteer Charter – Volunteer Scotland have refreshed their Volunteer Charter, which sets out the ten key principles which help to underpin good relationships within a volunteering environment. They also have a list of Charter Champions on their site who have already pledged their support.

Reviewing standards like this can help to sense check your own programme and make sure you’re considering the bigger picture when it comes to volunteering.

8. Read, read, read

It’s always useful to read around the subject as much as time allows so you’re up to date with any trends, new theories or the views of other experts and leaders in the sector. Below is a round up of resources, research, websites and tools you may find useful:

Engage Journal: The global voice of leaders of volunteer engagement

The Power of Connection toolkit: A toolkit designed for strengthening meaningful connections between people from different backgrounds

Vision for Volunteering: A 10-year collaborative project designed to create a better future for volunteering

Youth Volunteering and Wellbeing: A challenge paper on exploring the benefits on engaging in civic action

Hands in the Air Like You Just Do Care: Paper on sector analysis of volunteering and trends from 2022