In Depth features: Volunteering

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Library of articles mainly from CJS Focus on Volunteering.  Articles cover everything from the benefits of volunteering to how organisations can best set up volunteering programmes.

Click on the article title to read. Articles are checked on a regular basis and many have been updated since they were first published.

Browse the full library of articles and in depth features covers a range of subjects e.g. environmental education, working with wildlife and animals, countryside skills traditional and modern, overcoming barriers.  Read all articles here.

Volunteer Articles

The benefits of volunteering

I am the People and Volunteering Manager for Kent Wildlife Trust. I have been working at the Trust since 2021 but have been working in the charity sector since 2011. Working in various roles across this sector has shown me how vital volunteering is to the not-for-profit sector. In 2023 the People Team took volunteering, volunteers and everything that comes with it under their wing. The People Team provide all the HR services to the Trust, and it just made sense to align our processes and procedures, where appropriate to staff and volunteers alike.

Zoo Conservation Volunteering: A Unique and Meaningful Experience

Whilst on a visit to a zoo or an aquarium, you might be surprised to see people volunteering their time to enhance the visitor experience, gardening or getting involved with animal care. In fact, across Britain there are thousands of people, giving their time as volunteers in zoos and aquariums. The wonderful thing about volunteering for a zoo or aquarium is the diverse ways people can contribute their skills and time. Depending on the organisation, volunteers can get involved with a wide range of activities from visitor engagement, youth volunteering, education volunteering, animal and plant care, gardening, conservation action, research, the opportunities can be endless.

GREEN SPACES NEED FRIENDS! - The why, what and how of Friends Groups

Slowly but surely, especially over the last 20 years, an inspirational UK grassroots movement has been arising of people dedicated to improving, caring for, protecting, animating, appreciating and publicising the local green spaces they love. There are now over 7,000 local independent and voluntary ‘Friends of’ groups (involving around 60,000 activists and 800,000 members), each collectively contributing and ‘adding value’ to their sites to a greater or lesser extent, depending on their desire and capacity. This 'added value' has been calculated to amount to the equivalent of over £150m per year. Most groups are in urban areas, but some even span entire National Parks such as the Friends of Pembrokeshire Coast.

Looking after our volunteers – What’s your role as a leader/manager of volunteers?

It might seem obvious to say but volunteers are people just like all your paid staff and in all instances, they need (and indeed expect) leadership, management, and support to succeed in their volunteering– just like the paid workforce. Whilst on occasions the law may apply slightly differently to volunteers than employees (see LawWorks link in Useful Links below) in principle you would be well advised to see your volunteers as an integral and key part of your workforce due a similar duty of care.

Unlocking the Potential: Nurturing Volunteer Management Skills for Conservation Professionals

Volunteers remain a crucial part of the wildlife conservation sector, in the UK and globally (Pagès et al., 2019). In the UK, coordination and management of these volunteers are typically carried out by conservation professionals in Ranger roles (or similar). In my two decade career in conservation, my experience is that management of volunteers is often given to those in entry-level positions, although this may not be universal.

Introduction of Volunteer Awards at CIEEM

Given the demands of holding down a full-time job, plus the potential additions of balancing family and social lives, CIEEM volunteers are already going above and beyond simply to meet the expectations we ask of them in their volunteering roles and for that, we simply cannot thank them enough. Volunteering for CIEEM is usually remote working and semi-autonomous in terms of support from the Secretariat, so the initiative it takes from volunteers to motor on with their role and deliver successful outcomes despite the challenges of daily life is truly admirable.

Managing a mountain

Looking after a mountain as iconic as Ben Nevis, when so many people are connected and invested in its future, is a challenge and a privilege. It can however feel like the mountain’s managing me…. My role as Nevis Manager for John Muir Trust involves working with experienced and enthusiastic colleagues, peers and experts to make sure we can continue to encourage and support access, while retaining the mountain’s essential wildness and important biodiversity.

Volunteering as a route into conservation work Case Study - Lesley Silvera, Groundwork NE & Cumbria

Lesley Silvera has had an interesting, 30+-year career in conservation gained from working in many roles and organisations across the UK before joining Groundwork NE & Cumbria in 2015. Lesley has worked on some of Groundwork’s most high-profile conservation projects including the current Wansbeck project, one of only six in the UK to receive funding from Natural England to trial ways to capture carbon and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Lesley gives her advice and insight to those considering a career in conservation.

The Importance of Membership to Conservation

Take a flick through any conservation charity’s supporter magazine, and you won’t be entirely surprised to find lots of content reflecting the primary cause of the charity: conservation. You may see references, or a page or two about the supporter and how their funding allows the important work to continue, but it’s entirely reasonable to argue that the purpose of the magazine is to showcase the conservation, rather than talk about what makes it possible. Therefore, membership and donor support staff are often overlooked. But these are vital professional roles that need to be completed with skill, accuracy and a determination to provide exceptional customer service on each and every interaction.

A day in the life of a National Park admin worker

I have worked in the volunteering team at the North York Moors National Park since 2020. I returned from maternity leave during the Covid-19 pandemic - when everyone was still working from home - and although I have been at the National Park Authority for 18 years, I still had a lot to learn in my new role!

Young People’s Forum

Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s first Young People’s Forum was launched at the end of last year (2022) and is made up of five local young volunteers aged 16 to 21, with two new members starting soon. The Young People’s Forum was set up to help the Trust work better for young people and champion youth voices, whilst members gain skills, experiences and take action for nature in the process.

Empowerment and action for nature: The BBOWT Community Network

Tackling the nature and climate crisis is a daunting job and conservation charities like the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) know they can’t do it alone. As part of our vision for more nature everywhere, BBOWT has been working with individuals, communities, and volunteer groups to inspire people to take action. Our movement, known as Team Wilder, is about taking steps to care for wildlife on your own patch. If we all do our little bit, that will add up to something greater, something ‘bigger, better, more joined up’, as the Lawton principle so nicely sums up.

Start Making a Difference in Conservation with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV)

Given the current economic and environmental anxiety gripping the UK, we are seeing more and more people and corporations recognise the importance of wildlife and conservation. We bring people together to create, improve and care for green spaces. From local parks and community gardens to Local Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest; from school grounds and hospital grounds to waterways, wetlands and woodlands; we connect people to the green spaces that form a vital part of any healthy, happy community.

How volunteering helped Kent Wildlife Trust staff with their conservation careers

The conservation sector can be a daunting area to break into due to competition from other candidates as well as the vast number of disciplines you can enter. Volunteering allows you to experience a wide range of conservation roles and understand how different organisations work before applying to any permanent positions. Volunteering also allows you to develop a myriad of new skills that can be highlighted when applying for job roles.

Shadow Volunteers: Growing the environmentalists for tomorrow

As budgets get tighter, trends and focus on volunteering are changing. People who volunteer may need to weigh up the value they get out of volunteering and flexibility alongside work or family. For organisations it might be that staff time and resources available to support volunteering are also under review. Tough times, tough decisions. However, for Forestry England and many other environmental organisations, volunteers are more than an amazing extra pair of hands providing skills that support our vulnerable habitats, wildlife and heritage. For many of us, volunteering was the gateway into environment and conservation as a career. Without volunteers we could be missing out on new, enthusiastic and talented people joining, benefiting and growing our sector.

Gaining experience & life skills through volunteering whilst at University and how this improves employability

There are so many other benefits of volunteering including helping students gain access to accredited training that may be offered to them as volunteers, as well as helping them build their confidence in the knowledge they are gaining from their studies. Students can sometimes get paid work in the organisation they are volunteering for, and not only are they building up their network of contacts for their working life, but having a professional reference helps students get the edge over other candidates applying for the same job as them.

How Volunteering Helped me get a job

A clear link can be seen between the time I spent volunteering and my current job as an Assistant Forester Trainee. A number of activities I took part in as a volunteer are exactly the same as the activities I carry out on Harewood Estate in my current role including invasive species control and leaky dam creation. Within two weeks of starting my job I started constructing a number of large leaky dams and my previous experience in this was very helpful.

Supporting the Volunteering offer

Volunteer involving organisations invest a lot of resources into the recruitment of volunteers but it is just as important to keep up their motivations and retain them. Recruiting volunteers is the start of the journey; retaining volunteers is the key to future development. Focussing as much time on keeping volunteers as we do on recruiting new one’s turnover might decrease, which would take away the pressure of constant recruitment.

Digital wildlife recording - reaching a new scale of mass participation

As threats to UK wildlife mount, the need to grow the evidence base for effective conservation becomes increasingly vital and the development of mobile phone technology, gamification and online community building has helped bring wildlife recording to the masses as a form of digital volunteering.

Communication makes volunteers feel appreciated

Traditionally communication has been one-way; information is sent out to volunteers from head office and from team leaders. The volunteer team has recently launched a new BBOWT Volunteers Hub in order to make that communication two-way. It is an online forum where volunteers and staff can discuss issues, seek advice and access documents. The team spent some time researching the various forums available.

7 Ways Volunteering Can Kickstart a Conservation Career

There is no substitute for hands-on experience: volunteering will teach on-the-job skills and give invaluable experience, which will be directly transferable to future employment. Candidates with relevant experience who have demonstrated initiative in getting it are considered more attractive to employers.

What volunteering experiences do employers rate?

Volunteering is often a useful way of gaining experience to get a foot on the environmental career ladder. Volunteering enabled me to transfer from the health to the environment sector and to start a career again after eight years out of the workplace. I have been a volunteer, employee and sat on interview panels for Dorset Wildlife Trust so what volunteering experiences do employers rate?

The role of the Volunteer Coordinator/Manager in the conservation sector

My main responsibilities as Volunteer Coordinator with NWT are to recruit new volunteers, and to support existing volunteers. I manage a small number of volunteers directly, but most of the 450 or so NWT volunteers are line managed by the NWT staff members they volunteer with. We have volunteers supporting us across the organisation, from our Visitor Centres to our Reserves, at our head office in Norwich and out at events across the County. We are very fortunate to have a loyal and hugely motivated band of volunteers who love nature and wildlife and want to ‘do their bit’ to conserve them.

Time to put an end to Voluntary Traineeships?

When many hours of unpaid work are an essential prerequisite to even applying for a job, we end up choosing our workforce on the basis of means rather than talent or potential, and have to question how “voluntary” these roles really are. Defenders of these roles will say: “Our graduates have a great experience”, “Most of our trainees move into relevant jobs” or “We have people queuing up to join the programme”. They are right. Many people do benefit from voluntary traineeships – I know I once did - but that doesn’t necessarily make the practice acceptable

The important role of trustees in setting an organisation’s culture, tone and values

If you’ve ever struggled with a difficult decision in your life, you’ll know how important the advice, support and guidance from members of your family, or a close personal friend, can be. Often a simple conversation can make things clearer and you’re then able to be more confident and decisive in your actions. In a business environment, trustees work in a very similar way. They are there to support executive teams to deliver an organisation’s vision and strategy, to push them forward and create an environment where people feel confident to make ambitious and bold decisions.

Green spaces need Friends!

Parks Community UK was set up by and for Friends Groups activists to enable and help support communities to play a more active role in looking after their green spaces. It is the grassroots service arm of the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces, the umbrella network for the 7,000 local Friends groups throughout the UK.

Connecting people and place

People and the DALES welcomes groups from nearby urban areas of Leeds, Bradford and North West Lancashire into the stunning Yorkshire Dales for health and wellbeing opportunities. Participants include people with a disability, young people, people from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, individuals from deprived locations and those with mental health difficulties. To date, more than 10,000 individuals have taken part in People and the DALES events including walks, lambing, tree planting, conservation work and training.

The Value of Volunteering

Natural England has just over 3000 registered volunteers, without whom we would quickly notice that much of our work simply would not get done.The average value per volunteer is just over £1500 a year and for every £1 we invested on supporting the volunteer programme, we get around £8 worth of time back. Volunteers can assist with office work, research projects, surveying and monitoring, wardening, public events, educational activities and practical works.

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