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The New Alchemy


How volunteering turns donations of time and talent into human gold


A tribute to John Ramsey

This report is dedicated to the memory of John Ramsey, co-founder of the Association of Volunteer Managers, who passed away in September 2014.

John Ramsey was a pioneer of professional volunteer management for 20 years, and imparted to us some of his understanding and experience in the writing of this report. Below are some of the quotations from our interview with him.

Brilliant volunteer involvement isn't the preserve of money rich organisations, it's the preserve of people rich organisations.“

“The image 10 years ago I think was pretty poor, it had a real do-gooding element to it. I think part of that was that it wasn't being sold properly....you wouldn't do it, because you'd be seen as a do-gooder etc. I think what we see now, and I have to go back to the Olympics again, that volunteering is seen as something different now, something a lot more special.“

“It's important that dialogue is a two way relationship and you've got to keep that two way relationship going. People will want to leave volunteering at some point in their lives, and it's important to understand when that point is. If you miss that point, they're going to get unhappy and at some point they might just walk out one day and never come back.”

“We talk about removing the volunteer glass ceiling, so we’re quite good at involving high numbers of people in relatively low skilled roles, what we want to get better at is also involving small numbers of people in higher skilled roles - so things like the consultancy are a good example of that, people who might have a particular expertise or specialism and want to support property operations.”

“What we try and do as well as possible is understand why they volunteer for us, what they expect from us, and how that changes over time... If they're not honest with us about that then it makes it difficult for both of us. I would say that I don't mind what your reason is for volunteering with us, I don't mind if it's for a purely selfish reason. As long as you're achieving what we ask you to achieve and what you wanted to achieve, brilliant, absolutely brilliant. So yes - be honest, be respectful, and I guess trust us.”

“During the Olympics a lot of the news items were about how brilliant they looked in their uniforms and people would speak to them. Volunteers were seen as real people, whereas a lot of organisations try and mould volunteers into what they want them to be. I think what we need to learn from that is that we want to positively encourage volunteers just to be themselves, to show their personalities. I don't think we as a sector do that at the moment. We're kind of scared that volunteers will say the wrong thing.”

“The product we're selling isn't competing against other volunteer opportunities, it's competing against people's spare time. So many people would say they can't volunteer because they've got no spare time. They did have spare time, but they value it so much higher than volunteering, that's the simple truth. So that's why we need to be much smarter about how we sell our volunteering product.”


The New Alchemy Volunteering report March 2015
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