Volunteering: developing relationships on Dartmoor
Dartmoor National Park Authority has a long tradition of working with longer term volunteers using a Voluntary Warden scheme. Where we had, until recently, been less successful was in responding to ‘out of the blue’ requests. This article describes a change in the way we managed these relationships – turning from a reactive to proactive stance.
Some of the issues
Many countryside professionals will be familiar with the super-keen volunteer – you know the one with loads of skills,
In addition, like many in the public and voluntary sectors we have suffered funding cuts which in a service organisation translate into job losses. This meant that remaining staff had a degree of anxiety about volunteers within the workplace.
One way to crack the nut…
We thought about how we were responding, or rather not being able to respond to volunteer offers, and how we could help alleviate staff anxiety and introduced the following web-based scheme.
Tell me what you want, what you really, really want?
Our starting point was to ask staff what they really would like to do but given limited capacity could not hope to tackle – these projects should be ‘icing on the cake’ – those nice, extra mile add-ons that were important but which the urgency of everyday busy-ness cast aside. We developed a very simple volunteer offer template – a little like a job description that would help our staff be clear about the nature of the task, the time commitment, any necessary skills, any potential physical demands and, importantly, who would ‘line manage’ this volunteer. This last was to ensure that staff did not feel volunteers being thrust upon them. Once a few of these templates were completed we uploaded them to our website …and volunteers started to roll in. the scheme has been running for 18 months or so and has helped us undertake a number of projects such as:
What is important is that many of these ‘new’ opportunities stretch far beyond the traditional work parties undertaking gorse bashing, bracken clearance or path maintenance. Some volunteers have joined us for a short period of time – a task and finish relationship whilst others have contributed to more than one project.
Much of my time in the early phase of this change was spent writing resources that would help my colleagues with the processes of recruitment, induction, training, mentoring and monitoring. Some of this was the slightly bureaucratic exercise of producing induction checklists, monitoring forms and process flowcharts but also included a revamped ‘Volunteers Welcome Pack’. This was particularly to help both sides of the volunteer ‘contract’ understand roles and responsibilities.
Is this enough?…searching for the win-win
on a wide variety of tasks. Perhaps win-win-win!
To see some of the volunteer offers current and the signposting to other groups take a look at the volunteering pages on our website at: http://www.dartmoor.gov.uk/aboutus/vi-volunteers
Orlando Rutter, Senior Learning & Outreach Officer (and Volunteer Co-ordinator)
Dartmoor National Park Authority