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Effective volunteer management
FROM THE EDITOR: Ensuring that the involvement of volunteers in the operation of charities works to its full potential is a challenge which hasn't always been met successfully in the past and definitely is still a problem to some extent today. The charities appearing in this special feature are very obviously aware of the need to meet this challenge and they explain how they are doing so in their own situations as well as offering advice to others. While common themes do emerge there are different nuances and emphases, and certainly different perspectives.
In this feature on effective volunteer management we have comments from management, including volunteer managers, from Volunteering England, Birmingham Voluntary Service Council, Tenovus, Breast Cancer Care, the Churches Conservation Trust and St John Ambulance. There are comments from two UK volunteers, both working for World Wide Children Farms, and from a charity which supplies executive volunteers, Impetus Trust. Finally, when you have read these comments, you should click onto the next article which appears where there are comments from the volunteer agency Khaya Volunteer Projects on the subject of making volunteering work successfully.
Attracting and keeping volunteers
DAN SUMNERS, senior policy officer at VOLUNTEERING ENGLAND, comments: The reasons for having a good strategy for volunteer involvement and management are the same as for any plan. If you don't know why you want to involve volunteers, what roles you want them to do, how you're going to recruit them and the support you'll offer, it's likely you'll invest a lot of time and energy but have little to show for it.
In recent years managing volunteers has become increasingly professionalised, with many resources available on the topic of good practice in volunteer management. At the same time, organisations are becoming more creative about how they engage volunteers.
The implication for all organisations, whatever their size, is that their volunteer programme needs to be well organised so volunteers feel valued and appreciated. With thousands of opportunities to choose from, volunteers are able to pick and choose, so those organisations which don't create rewarding and interesting volunteer roles may miss out on a large pool of talent.
RECRUITING VOLUNTEERS. The best way to attract volunteers is to develop attractive and engaging volunteer roles. You should think about how you can cater for people with different interests, skills and availability. There are many ways to find volunteers, but your first port of call should be your local Volunteer Centre. Not only can they help you with recruitment, they can also offer advice on creating attractive and effective roles, and generally supporting volunteers.
Other ways of finding volunteers include: the Do-it online national database; your local Council for Voluntary Service(CVS); advertising in local press and on community websites; holding or attending a recruitment fair; and websites catering for specific groups, e.g. young people, professionals.
However, one of the main ways people find out about volunteering opportunities is by word of mouth. Therefore encourage your colleagues and existing volunteers to talk about the organisation and its work to friends, family and colleagues.
THE APPROACH TO MANAGING AND RETAINING VOLUNTEERS. For any arranged activity there are legal issues to think about, such as health, safety and insurance. These may seem a burden, but they can be vital. Not only do they protect the health of volunteers and the public, but they may help protect your organisation should anything go wrong.
However, where there is a burden, as far as possible it should be on the organisation, not the volunteer. Heaping paperwork on them could contribute to them choosing another organisation to help. Most importantly, you should ensure your volunteers feel valued and supported. If people feel appreciated they are more likely to continue volunteering with you.
Ensure volunteers have a named point of contact they can approach for information and support. Regularly ask them how things are going and if there is any additional support or training required.
Provide training and development opportunities in addition to the basic training required for the role. This will help keep their skills fresh and enable them to develop within the organisation and to take on further tasks.
Offer volunteers extra responsibilities as they develop, such as buddying up with new volunteers to help them feel at home and learn the ropes. You should, of course, always discuss this with the volunteer first. Involve volunteers in the life of your organisation. Not only can they can bring a fresh perspective and new ideas, but the more they feel part of what you do the more they'll be willing to take on.
Identify ways in which you can say "thank you" to volunteers, such as presenting them with a certificate, a thank you card or a small gift. You could even organise a small event during Volunteers' Week, which runs from 1-7 June every year.
DAN SUMNERS of VOLUNTEERING ENGLAND continues: There are particular issues to bear in mind. Even though volunteers are not paid for their time, they're not cost free. It's important to ensure you know what resources you have available before you start recruiting so you can be honest with yourself and potential volunteers about what's possible.
When you reimburse expenses incurred as a result of volunteering – and it's good practice to do so – you should only reimburse actual out of pocket expenses. This ensures there's no risk of it being seen as payment, which could have implications for tax and any state benefits a volunteer might receive. It's okay to provide expenses payments in advance, as long as receipts are provided once the money has been spent and any remainder is returned.
You need to consider whether or not your volunteers need a Criminal Records Bureau check. Only certain roles are eligible, so you shouldn't simply check everyone in the organisation because it seems easier – you could be breaking the law by asking for information you're not entitled to. And remember that CRB checks are free for volunteers.
Creating volunteer sustainability
CAROLINE ANSON, programme manager at BIRMINGHAM VOLUNTARY SERVICE COUNCIL, comments: In this time of reduced financial capacity, third sector groups are relying ever more on volunteers to deliver the essential services their clients depend upon. As result, we are being increasingly challenged to answer the question: how do you recruit, reward, and retain great volunteers?
Unfortunately, there are many examples of poor volunteer management in the sector. Most organisations realise that volunteers are not the same as paid staff, but when they translate this into a belief that volunteers require less encouragement and little direction, they run into trouble – and so do their volunteers and service users.
My job involves running a Volunteer Centre, which focuses on delivering services that create positive experiences for volunteers and the organisations which host them. I encourage charities to see volunteers as valuable a part of the team as paid employees, whilst acknowledging that their management requires some specific considerations. Here are some suggestions:
The process starts with publicising positions. The simplest way to achieve this is to advertise vacancies on the national Do-It database. Not only is this quick and easy, but as well as providing an online repository of volunteering opportunities for applicants to access, it also links you, as potential host, with your local Volunteer Centre, which in the case of Birmingham, is based at BVSC. The centre can then give you support in filling your positions.
Next, as any human resources manager can tell you, it's important to supply an accurate and detailed role and skills specification. Everyone who volunteers has their own reason for doing so, but rest assured that each one wants to feel positive about their contribution and know they are working in a role which they enjoy and are able to do well. This becomes more likely if would-be volunteers know the details of what they are applying for and can therefore tell whether it will suit their individual circumstances and attributes.
Then, when interviewing or selecting a volunteer, take your time to understand not just what abilities the volunteer has to contribute to your organisation, but what they want to achieve from the position. Volunteering should be a quid pro quo situation. You gain willing workers complete with their expertise, at little or no cost, and in return, they gain something valuable.
CAROLINE ANSON of BIRMINGHAM VOLUNTARY SERVICE COUNCIL continues: From self-confidence to enhanced employability, or new skills to fulfilling challenges, your job as a good volunteer manager is to ensure that you can support a volunteer along their own specific pathway – or else be honest with them at the outset that the opportunity you have on offer doesn't meet their needs. Not only is this fairer to them, but you'll guard against high volunteer turnover.
Once you've chosen the most suitable volunteer for your opportunity, the time comes for them to start. I believe that the best investment you can make to create volunteer sustainability is to give them an in-depth and well thought out induction process. Make it relevant to their role and capability, and convey to them how valuable their contribution is to your organisation.
As we all know, first impressions are vital. When looking around a prospective new home, we know within 10 seconds of stepping inside whether it is for us or not. Starting a new job, paid or not, is no different, so stack the odds in your favour, and help your new recruit to settle in and to become quickly effective at the same time.
If you've followed all of these measures, then you're off to a good start, but that's all it is – there's more work to do! From here, to create ongoing buy-in you need to ensure that your volunteers are integrated into your organisation. If possible, allot them with organisational emails and include them within organisation-wide correspondence.
Think about how you can include your volunteers' insight and knowledge into your organisation's development. Can you invite volunteers to staff meetings (we do at BVSC), or do you need to find more flexible ways of gaining their input, such as remote access? What else can you do involve them? To retain volunteers they need to feel valued and you are likely to reap the rewards of their insight.
Consider what measures you need to put in place to review your volunteers' activity, supervise them and provide them with support. Assign volunteers with a responsible member of staff and be careful not to take their time for granted.
Make sure you build in a system for identifying when volunteers need training or additional support. Clearly this can be difficult as training costs money, but see it as an investment – and remember there's value in offering access to in-house training sessions, work-shadowing opportunities and a mentor.
CAROLINE ANSON of BIRMINGHAM VOLUNTARY SERVICE COUNCIL says: A challenge for the third sector, which is on the increase, is the spectre of short-termism in volunteering. Shorter term positions are harder to manage and require more administration. My advice here is to inspire volunteers to want to expand their commitment into a longer term one. It doesn't need to be arduous and assure them that even a role of one or two hours each week would be valuable to you. This should hopefully not scare them off, and if the placement works out, you've always got the opportunity in future to increase these hours.
Now we come to remuneration. The rule to be followed is that volunteers should not be out of pocket on your behalf. This means that reasonable travel expenses should be offered, whenever possible. Make sure you pay based on the actual cost to the volunteer (they should keep receipts) rather than a set "allowance", because the latter has been interpreted in case law as an implied salary and therefore part of a contract of paid employment. This is a complication you don't need, and can easily avoid with a robust expenses procedure.
Lastly, one can never discuss volunteer management without touching on legalities. Clearly each situation is different, but as a minimum rule of thumb it is imperative that you have liability insurance, robust health and safety policies and appropriate safeguarding and CRB procedures in line with your organisational delivery and client group.
It may seem daunting to manage volunteers, but remember that support exists. Not only can you access your local voluntary sector support organisation, but you can gain advice from the volunteer management portal administered by Volunteer England.
Volunteering can reap rich rewards for your organisation and its beneficiaries – but only if you lay the right groundwork first.
Here are five volunteer management tips:
1. Access support from your local Volunteer Centre to develop your volunteer recruitment policy and procedures.
2. Write a clear role description and skills specification for each vacancy.
3. Integrate your volunteers into your organisation.
4. Provide support and supervision for each volunteer.
5. Celebrate your volunteers' contribution – let them know that they are valued!
results required for them to attend higher education.
Being able to make a contribution as a volunteer
VOLUNTEER VIEWPOINT: Ollie Smallwood has volunteered with Samrong Children's Farm in Cambodia and its European partner organisation, WORLD WIDE CHILDREN FARMS, for the last three years. The project provides a home and all-round education for 70 orphans and children from a poor background, many of who will be supported through university and graduate to professional jobs thereafter.
Volunteer OLLIE SMALLWOOD of WORLDWIDE CHILDREN FARMS comments: It has always been a privilege and a pleasure to volunteer with WWCF (World Wide Children Farms) and at its pioneering project – Samrong Farm in Cambodia. It helps that I believe in the type of sustainable development which the project supports and have great admiration for all those involved in the organisation.
The volunteering ethos runs throughout WWCF from the inspirational founder, Sjef Philipsen, through board members, corporate sponsors and onsite volunteers who work on the farm and teach the children at the heart of the project. Quite simply, without volunteers the work of WWCF would not be possible.
Initially, I was able to contribute to the project as a native English speaker, teaching English in Cambodia and then translating newsletters and annual reports for Dutch based WWCF. As my knowledge of the project has grown so has my enthusiasm and involvement to the point where I now help to co-ordinate volunteers in the UK and sometimes worldwide, assist with fundraising and promote the project wherever possible.
My full-time job as a freelance photographer and writer is of occasional use when it comes to translating newsletters, copywriting promotional material and producing posters, flyers etc. I also have a background in development management in the property sector, which helps in terms of working as part of a team towards realising a long term goal.
However, it is my English language skills and passion for the project that I believe to be the most useful attributes. Such heartfelt enthusiasm for Samrong Farm is a great bonding experience for many of the volunteers involved.
I like to think that the ongoing work of Samrong Farm shows how much can be accomplished by committed volunteers, although such effective contributions rely upon a universal understanding and patience. Early on in my involvement, board member and WWCF secretary Simone van der Putten passed on the useful advice that "to develop slowly is to develop successfully".
WWCF is able to achieve a great deal with volunteers because the organisation understands that everyone has busy lives and can therefore only give so much of their time. However, this necessary slowing down allows for a more measured pace of development, which helps to create a sustainable organisation.
WWCF also excels at embracing different nationalities, ages and backgrounds with the varying skill sets that they can bring to the project. The organisation has always been exceedingly grateful for voluntary contributions. As a volunteer I don't expect any financial reward, but a sincere thank you is always well received.
Volunteer OLLIE SMALLWOOD of WWCF continues: I've recently been working with WWCF on improving the communication between volunteers. Due to our worldwide network of Samrong supporters the use of email, Skype, Facebook and other social networking platforms has proved invaluable in keeping volunteers updated and involved.
No matter what your level of involvement is, most people like to feel appreciated and part of the team. Newsletters recognising volunteer contributions, integrated fundraising schemes, and sharing news through a Facebook page have proved successful methods of keeping volunteers engaged and enthused.
My experience of volunteering with WWCF and Samrong Farm has been a hugely enjoyable one. Through the organisation I have met like-minded people and made many good friends. But if ever I have second thoughts about my involvement I need only to think about the incredible children who the project supports. With such fond memories I'm reminded that Samrong is undoubtedly a cause worth giving my time for.
ANOTHER VOLUNTEER VIEWPOINT: Davina Patel spent one month teaching English at Samrong Farm in January 2011 having taken a three-month sabbatical from her job with the CSR team of Royal Bank of Scotland.
Volunteer DAVINA PATEL of WORLDWIDE CHILDREN FARMS comments: During my time in Cambodia I was taken aback by the warmth of the children, which has inspired me to continue my involvement with the Samrong Farm project and its counterpart in Europe, WWCF.
Currently I am working with Ollie in appealing to the global support base to take part in a fundraising initiative, titled "80 Steps for Samrong", which hopes to bring together previous volunteers of Samrong Farm in aid of a common cause, namely the further education of our former Cambodian students.
Due to the success of the project, many of the children at Samrong are achieving the academic results required for them to attend higher education. However, this success comes at a cost of approximately $1100 per student. Next year the project aspires to send 11 students to university or technical college, and hopefully the 80 Steps fundraising scheme will pay for some of their fees.
In my day job with the CSR team at RBS I recently ran a similar global fundraising scheme to raise money for Oxfam. Through working on this project I learned how to manage a team of fundraisers, providing support and motivation along the way. I hope to use these skills with WWCF to assist it in raising money for the university fees in Cambodia
Having built a strong relationship with the children of Samrong during my visit last year, it was important for me to find a way to contribute further from the UK. By using my professional skill set to raise money for the project I am able to do this. I find I have to be organised to fit my volunteering commitments around a busy working day and patient in working with other volunteers, as it takes longer to achieve anything.
It's certainly a different culture to working in a bank! But, ultimately it is rewarding because I am working towards making a difference to people's lives and a project I passionately believe in.'
A lot depends on the volunteer manager
KERRY MARLAND, volunteer development manager at cancer charity TENOVUS, comments: Without volunteers charities could not function. This statement is particularly true of my own organisation, an organisation established by ten volunteers in 1943 (hence our name) and who rely on the dedication and support offered by our near 2,000 volunteer force. Volunteers lead at board level, driving the direction and ideas for the charity, and right down at grass roots they are running our shops and supporting our service delivery, holding the buckets and putting on the coffee mornings.
The role of the volunteer manager, co-ordinator or similar position is increasingly becoming a part of a charity's framework, a significant role to meet charity objectives through the recruitment of people looking to make a difference, build CV skills or support the cause. Yet who decides to become a volunteer manager? And what makes a good one?
Rob Jackson, a leading consultant on volunteer management, has noted that volunteer management is becoming more of a career choice with people now dedicating their professional lives to the field. Traditionally a field that people can fall into¬ (I include myself in this bracket), the development of a volunteer manager position is largely dependent on the person fulfilling this role.
Strategically, volunteers are a significant part of the make-up of our charity, which has provided me with a number of opportunities to influence how volunteers are involved to meet our aims and objectives, while also benefiting the volunteers themselves. Did I imagine I would be doing this from the outset? Not at all, but the skills and experience I have had over the last two and a half years have been second to none.
A good volunteer manager has to wear many hats, often at the same time. Good people skills are a must, along with project management, communication, marketing, coaching and leadership skills. The motivations of volunteers have significantly changed and it is important for the volunteer manager to monitor these trends and respond to them. The need to just make a difference is becoming rarer and volunteers need a lot more to get them through the door. It is the responsibility of the manger to tap into these motivations and attract and keep the right volunteers.
What are some of the ways that this can be done? Well, a good start is to ensure that your materials – from poster to leaflet, volunteer handbook to application form – recognise these motivations and, importantly, state how they can be met in your charity. For instance, as follows:.
"Want to build skills and increase employability? We offer personal development and training."
"Want to feel you're making a real difference to the lives of people affected by cancer? We offer opportunities to directly offer support."
We need to ensure all opportunities have a clear role description (please never use the term job description) and an agreement so both parties know the expectations. Once your volunteers are in, a good induction, comprehensive training and ongoing support through one to one or group supervision are essential. Plus there should be a recognition scheme to really celebrate the commitment you are being given by people who really do not have to.
Here at Tenovus we have introduced a trial period so volunteers can "try out" their role before committing to it at a later date. This has been a fantastic way to engage volunteers and to ensure that they are not scared to say "This isn't for me, do you have anything else?" rather than to disappear, never to be heard from again.
Appropriate grievance procedures also need to be there, because inevitably things can go wrong. This of course leads me to the exit questionnaire, when a volunteer has the opportunity to feed back on their experiences and impact on your programmes for the future.
This may seem a lot to go through and some of you may be wondering, won't this turn volunteers off? Won't it turn me off?
KERRY MARLAND of TENOVUS continues: I am a passion believer in the impact volunteering makes on an individual and, therefore, the investment a charity, and a volunteer manager, should make in this. Tenovus supports people affected by cancer, yet there is a whole other diverse group of people we support, our volunteers.
I recently met a volunteer in one of our shops who had come from Iran to study, was suffering from depression and felt isolated and alone in a new, strange country. Her decision to volunteer, she told me, completely changed her life. She has improved her English, made friends, gained confidence and no longer feels alone.
As volunteer managers, we have a unique opportunity to really impact the lives of people, people who may never be known to your charity otherwise, but for whom their four hours with you a week have led to a more fulfilling life. This is something to be really proud of and the least we can do is ensure that we are maintaining the highest standards possible for them, even if it results in a bit of extra paperwork.
Understanding the purpose and motivation of your volunteersr
LISA HOLLAND, volunteer manager (North) at BREAST CANCER CARE, comments: Breast Cancer Care has evolved from very humble beginnings (when a group of people who had experienced breast cancer met in our founder Betty Westgate's front room) to a UK-wide charity with over 500 volunteers. Volunteers are essential to everything the charity does to support people with breast cancer.
Since 1973 they have made it possible for us to deliver support services to people across the UK, have told us how we can improve, and are vitally important in our fundraising efforts. Volunteers are also pivotal in raising awareness of the charity in local communities and are champions of our key messages.
As a volunteer manager it is, in my view, of paramount importance to understand, from the outset, the purpose and motivation of your volunteers; what it is about your organisation or cause that engages and empowers them to want to donate their time and skill. At Breast Cancer Care, many of our volunteers have experienced breast cancer or know someone close to them who has, so the decision to become a volunteer is not just about wanting to make a difference, but is also a very personal and emotional choice.
There is a common misconception that you cannot decline an offer of volunteering. I have in the past, to my bitter experience, accepted anyone who has approached and seemed vaguely suitable. The recruitment and selection process is the most vital responsibility of the volunteer manager in any organisation.
As the decision to volunteer is very impassioned, it is so important there is an opportunity that suits the skill set of the applicant, and their expectations are managed and met. This can lead to disappointment if an application is declined, and communicating this can be challenging, but in the long run the decision can be beneficial to both parties.
For those volunteers who do join the organisation, acknowledging and recognising their contribution is essential, as is highlighting how their contributions have enhanced the charity. Also incredibly important is the need to assess, and invest in, the development of new skills for volunteers. This can reap dividends in terms of securing long term engagement, commitment and motivation from a volunteer.
It is satisfying to see the potential in a volunteer and encourage them to "step out" of their comfort zone and enhance their experiences. As a volunteer manager I see it as my ongoing responsibility to ensure we never lose sight of a volunteer's original passion to join the charity and to make sure they continue to get personal satisfaction from their role, which includes skills updates. Skills development also acts as a further incentive to attract new volunteers.
In an ideal world, volunteers would be included in all decision and policy-making but, in reality, this isn't always possible or appropriate. Nonetheless, organisations should encourage an open and honest dialogue about policy decisions with volunteers. In my experience, volunteers appreciate that their views are valued and appreciate honesty and openness.
While some decisions may be unpopular, by informing volunteers of the process that led to a decision, they have a better understanding, which can make changes easier to digest. Conversely, I also think that if, on reflection, an organisation has made a wrong decision, it is important to acknowledge this to reinforce a culture of transparency and learning.
LISA HOLLAND of BREAST CANCER CARE continues: All volunteers want to belong to, and be associated with, a respected, trustworthy and transparent organisation. In a charity, the relationship between paid staff and volunteers, therefore, has to be mutually beneficial. All parties share a common goal, and if the organisation is to be efficient, one party cannot exist without the other.
It is therefore important to foster a culture of mutual respect. Breast Cancer Care's volunteer induction provides volunteers with an overview of the regional office staff roles and responsibilities so they gain a better understanding of who does what, and all new paid staff members attend an induction with volunteers to discuss their roles and answer questions.
Ongoing support of volunteers is also incredibly important. At Breast Cancer Care this comes via a volunteer manager and the regional service teams. Many roles have a mentor scheme with an experienced volunteer and there are also network groups which meet regularly and opportunities to attend regional volunteer conferences. An ongoing and significant challenge is how we support our volunteers in rural and isolated locations, where they cannot attend network meetings or service events and can feel isolated.
This issue is just one reminder that communication between volunteers and the charity is vital and a key part of any volunteer management role. As Breast Cancer Care has evolved, we have had to develop our volunteering opportunities and practices to reflect our clients' needs and ensure our resources are managed effectively, which has, at times, meant difficult decisions have had to be made.
We have learnt, though, that volunteers want a charity to succeed and frequently returning to the organisation's ethos, core values and culture, reminding them that we all share a common goal, is one of the most powerful tools a volunteer manager can use.
Giving the necessary support to executive volunteers
SARAH YOUNG, a director at IMPETUS TRUST, comments: Through executive volunteering, whatever the organisation which facilitates it, the strength of the business sector and the skills of its professionals can complement the needs and ambition of the voluntary sector. However, in order to maximise the impact of this valuable resource, charities need a well thought out plan to effectively manage these volunteers.
Impetus has a long history of working with executive volunteers who give their time to use their day job skills to support ambitious charities and social enterprises. Last year alone, volunteers in our extensive pro bono expert network donated more than £2.8m worth of skilled time to Impetus and the charitable organisations which we support. Areas of work include financial modelling, mentoring management teams, strategic consultancy, marketing, HR and IT.
Scarce resources and limited capacity mean expert volunteers are in demand in the voluntary sector. Strategic reviews, financial modelling and business planning are often the sole remit of boards and senior management and are kept from even the most able volunteers. But why should they be? Expert support for this type of work, done every day in the business sector, could help put your organisation on a path for growth. We obviously want our volunteers to be used effectively.
Strategic volunteering is not new. For the last ten years, our trust has relied on a growing network of executive volunteers who give what they're good at and complement the work of our investment directors as we help turbo-charge the growth of smaller charities and help move them from being "good" to "great".
Charities are missing a trick if they don't make efficient use of this kind of valuable resource, wherever there are executive volunteers – both to optimise the impact on their organisation and to ensure the volunteer feels they have made a difference and remains committed to social action.
The first step is to determine which area of work would be most valuable to your charity. A "nice to have" project which isn't on the critical path may turn out to be an irritating drain on the limited availability of your key staff. By having a longer term plan for the change you would like to see in your charity to deliver greater impact, you can identify where an extra hand would be most valuable.
The next step is to put together a clear brief of what the project will entail, with very specific deliverables so both sides know what is involved. The timescale is key – support with writing a marketing strategy could require an expert to give two days a month for six months to put a plan in place and to skill up your staff in the process.
On the other hand, building a financial model may work better as two weeks of concentrated input. You also need to be sure the proposed timing of the project will work – will your team have enough time to dedicate to getting the best out of the volunteer?
SARAH YOUNG of IMPETUS TRUST continues: In terms of the actual volunteer, it is critical to ensure they have the relevant skills and expertise. A CV and track record isn't everything, though. Working cultures can be different and you need to ensure a volunteer is sensitive to the values and ethos of your organisation and has strong communication skills to get the most out of the project.
A well planned induction and set of briefing materials can go a long way in ensuring a volunteer has the necessary grounding to get the job done efficiently and effectively.
Once the project is up and running it is important to ensure your team resources the project adequately. Setting checkpoints to review progress will allow you to refine your approach if necessary. The demands of "business as usual" can mean it is tempting to neglect a project which is strategically important but may have no urgency. This would only be to your cost in the longer term.
Finally, after the project, ask for candid feedback from your volunteer to harvest any learnings for next time. The expert volunteers we work with are keen to understand the impact of their work on the charity. Staying in touch will keep them engaged and more likely to remain committed to volunteering and adding value to another project for you.
You have to give as well as receive
CRISPIN TRUMAN, chief executive of the CHURCHES CONSERVATION TRUST, comments: Successful volunteer recruitment, management and retention require an organisation and its leadership to be clear about two things. As paid staff and managers we need to understand the emotional and psychological forces which bring people to give up their time for our cause; and we need to be prepared to give them power as well as responsibility.
There are of course lots of important things to get right in order to be a great volunteering organisation: clear and consistent policies and procedures, regular training and properly funded support amongst them, but in my view these first two principles are fundamental to a successful volunteering programme.
One of the best ways to understand motivation is to experience being a volunteer yourself. I'm a paid charity CEO, but in many other contexts I'm a volunteer. I've been chair and trustee of several organisations; I'm a school governor and have given my time over many years to community projects and environmental campaigns. So I can put myself into the position of one of our volunteers and think: would I want to do this? Would I feel that I'm being given the respect, support and autonomy which I need to volunteer well? Charities need volunteers at all levels of the organisation if they are to call themselves volunteering organisations, and that includes leaders who themselves volunteer.
Volunteers must feel they are recognised for the contribution they make and that they have a say in the work they are asked to do. Too often organisations feel they can impose responsibility on volunteers to deliver services without giving power in return.
The top-down, highly structured model of volunteering might be OK for the Olympics, where you have a burst of intense excitement and 'once in a lifetime' opportunity, but it's not sustainable for those with a tiny fraction of the resources and international prestige. We've got to give people something else: a sense of control and of feeling part of the organisation, not just free labour at the end of a long chain of command.
CRISPIN TRUMAN of the CHURCHES CONSERVATION TRUST continues: At the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) we are on the journey to getting volunteering right. We run 342 historic church sites all over England, but with only 50 staff in total, volunteers are critical to our ability to care for, open and promote our wonderful buildings. CCT's volunteers range from individuals who open up each day, to volunteer teams running a number of sites and autonomous Friends Groups managing events and community use. We've recently restructured our small staff team to better support – and significantly increase – volunteering across our estate.
We had to make the difficult choice between a small number of effective, but very localised paid project staff and a more consistent and universal volunteer management team. We've moved paid staff into volunteer recruitment, support and retention roles, and out of direct delivery. We've invested more in the frontline, at the expense of some management roles, and expect huge returns through a comprehensive, properly managed volunteer force with high satisfaction levels.
Holy Trinity Goodramgate in York is our most highly visited tourist church which had over 60,000 visitors this year and last. It is now run by a team of volunteers who open to the public almost every day of the year, provide tours and information and manage what is a VisitEngland award-winning visitor attraction. It's one example of how volunteers can take on a wide range of roles and responsibility and how, with the right training, they can be trusted.
It also shows how volunteering done right can increase the capacity of your organisation to deliver. It adds huge value not just in terms of person power, but in the range of skills and services which you can offer. But it is not the cheap option; you must invest in support and professional staff if your volunteers are to stay.
CRISPIN TRUMAN of the CHURCHES CONSERVATION TRUST says: Volunteering also needs investment to get going. In South Yorkshire's disadvantaged former coalfields, where five CCT churches were well preserved but closed to the public we raised funds from trusts for a part time three-year development project worker to work with local communities and to engage them in the use of these buildings as well as to build capacity to take on its management. Three years later all the churches are open, on local tourist trails, linked to schools and colleges and three are being run by their own community groups. The paid role was a vital catalyst which can now move up to support more volunteers over a wider area.
Most powerfully, we're also giving volunteers complete control of some important historic buildings in our care. With professional support from us, properly funded by forward-thinking bodies such as Tudor Trust and Heritage Lottery, young people in Langport, Somerset are forming a social enterprise to determine future uses and run our church there.
Likewise the Asian community in Bolton have, with support, set up a local charity which will ultimately take on the running of a £4.5m Lottery-funded project to reuse our huge Victorian church. Both projects have required high levels of support in the early stages, but the dividends in terms of transformed communities and sustained local heritage are significant and long term.
There is loads of excellent advice and training out there for charities on how to design and deliver effective volunteer management. NCVO, Volunteer England, ACEVO and DSC are all good places to start. There's no substitute for doing the work on these things but if you really want a thriving volunteer body to make your charity shine, it is motivation and power you need to think about most deeply.
Making your volunteers feel valued
CHRIS REEED, head of volunteering at St JOHN AMBULANCE, comments: Volunteers form the backbone of many charities. Without them, much of the charity sector simply could not function. Yet ironically, the very fact that they provide their skills and time for free leads many charities to overlook the fact that they, like any other workforce, require recognition and motivation.
A group of volunteers can be a formidable workforce at the best of times, but when they're managed correctly and believe that they are truly valued, they can be a real force for change.
Charities across the UK face growing demand for their services, particularly in the current economic climate. As such, it is very tempting to succumb to the view that volunteers are "assets" within a "workforce" to be deployed in whatever way is needed to "get the job done".
I believe that while this approach might work in the short term, it will prove counter-productive in the long run. Volunteers do not want to feel like they are simply making up the numbers. They want to feel valued by their charity as an essential part of the services they deliver.
In a traditional business this can be quite straightforward, with promotions and pay rises acting as useful tools through which to show appreciation. With volunteers this is a little more difficult as not all of these tools are available. Instead, charities need to develop a culture of volunteer recognition which ensures everyone understands that their contributions are understood and valued by the organisation as a whole.
The role of the volunteer manager is key to this. They need to support and direct their team by providing the necessary encouragement and motivation to enable them to achieve their goals.
In some charities, the volunteer manager is the only person in the organisation who has any direct contact with volunteers, and as a result they can often see their role as that of a lobbyist rather than a manager, campaigning on behalf of their volunteers and acting as the mouthpiece through which they speak to the organisation.
CHRIS REED of St JOHN AMBULANCE continues: However, effective volunteer management shouldn't begin and end with the volunteer manager. If volunteers are the lifeblood of the charity sector, then people at all levels of the organisation should engage with them, including directors and trustees – after all, the majority of trustees are volunteers themselves, albeit at a strategic level.
Volunteer managers need to work closely with these senior figures to make sure that communication with volunteers takes place at all levels of the organisation. Not all volunteers would want to be involved in the intricacies of reporting to the board, but if they are willing, placing volunteers in high profile positions makes this much easier and demonstrates very publicly how much the role of the volunteer is valued.
I look to my own organisation now as an example of how this strategy can work well. Many of our volunteers take great pride in holding senior and influential positions within the organisation, and actively manage other volunteers.
With over 40,000 volunteers, compared to less than 3,000 employees, this sort of integration makes it much easier to ensure that everyone understands each other's role, helping to reduce volunteer/employee friction and leaving St John Ambulance free to focus on what we do best – saving lives.
Whether volunteers are managed by a fellow volunteer or a paid employee, the best results are achieved if everyone understands what their role is within the wider context of the charity's mission. This process should start from day one. In the end, both volunteers and employees are in the same boat and need to work together towards the same goal. It is only by actively demonstrating how the volunteer role aligns closely with the delivery of the organisation's goals that volunteers will feel truly valued.
Volunteer vacations are growing increasingly popular and have become big business these past few years. Specialist agencies pop up everywhere and send volunteers to all four corners of the world. However, "voluntourism" is a trickier business than volunteering locally and should be managed carefully. Many things can go wrong for both participants and the charities. There are common complaints you hear of, but they're all preventable.
TAME THOSE "GREAT EXPECTATIONS". Thomas works as a teacher in a township high school in South Africa and is terribly frustrated. He thinks the local teachers are lazy, counter-productive and indifferent. They don't show up at appointments and use wrong teaching techniques. As a result, Thomas feels he hasn't changed or achieved anything!
"This is a typical complaint from western volunteers," says Martijn van der Put, manager of Khaya Volunteer Projects. "Volunteers tend to forget that they are in Africa. The African work mentality and culture is completely different to that which volunteers are familiar with. There is no point in going off the deep end about it; it's better to be flexible with cultural differences.
"Don't be upset because someone didn't show up to a meeting – ask why it happened. Maybe he was ill and had to wait in line for hours at the local doctors office, maybe he had to fix his tin roofed home after poor weather. If you don't want to accept cultural differences, you will find it hard to settle down."
A fixed mindset
This sentiment is confirmed by Sonja Wiekenberg, volunteer co-ordinator for Izizwe Projects in South Africa: "A bad volunteer arrives with a fixed mindset and is only willing to work according to their own methods. Such a person will inevitably be disappointed, as things just don't work that way in Africa. If this key element isn't realised they lose their motivation and that mindset hinders the whole experience."
Martijn van der Put traces a lot of problems back to one common trigger, unrealistic expectations. "Some volunteers are naïve, think they will change the world in a week and want to see immediate, physical results. This isn't realistic. Good charity projects are characterised by a slow, gradual evolution, where the smallest change is a miracle on its own. Volunteers have to understand what the real situation is, what daily life looks like and how a project functions."
There will be a culture shock for volunteers, but it doesn't have to be experienced in a negative way. Good co-ordination shows volunteers how to deal with differences and how to make the best of it. This guidance begins with tempering wild hopes. It is the responsibility of an agency to warn potential volunteers of the dangers of unrealistic expectations and to make them aware of the reality.
This process should start early in the application. Provide a pre-departure document with information about the country, its culture and the charity project. Try to point out important cultural differences and highlight the importance of thorough preparation. Encourage volunteers to seek extra information themselves, provide them with useful books, websites and testimonials from previous volunteers.
When volunteers arrive, the volunteer co-ordinator is one of the most important contacts in the agency running the project. The co-ordinator needs to act like a mentor welcoming newcomers, showing them around and sitting down with them to discuss every aspect of volunteering.
"This guidance is to be kept constant during their stay at the project," Sonja Wiekenberg adds. "Take the time to chat with them about their experience, ask them how they are doing, if they are encountering any problems, if they have new ideas, or need advice." The co-ordinator will know both the local and the western culture, will have personal experience with international volunteering and so should be flexible about cultural differences. They should act as an intermediary between foreign and local workers and teach the volunteer how to handle the local mentality.
INTEGRATE VOLUNTEERS INTO THE ORGANISATION. Eva wanted to work as a nurse in a community centre, but to her own dismay was also charged with other tasks. She has to distribute food at the food unit, attend a support group for local housewives and help sort out the chaotic clothes unit. This is not what she expected; she is qualified for other, "better" work and does not understand why she has to carry out "silly assignments".
Not an unknown complaint. "Volunteers easily have the impression they are not doing anything useful, only the 'annoying' jobs and are kept away from the real stuff," Martijn van der Put confirms. "This can indeed be caused by bad project management, but also by poor preparation. As an agency, you can prevent both."
A project which wants to bring in foreign support should have a clearly defined place within its organisation for volunteers. Both Sonja and Martijn are agreed on this. The volunteer co-ordinator and project director should discuss in advance who the volunteer is, what their abilities are and where they can be put to best use. There needs to be a clear organisational structure with tasks that will benefit both the project and the volunteer.
Such a structure enables the volunteer to bring in new ideas, fresh views and new methods and make the people at the project understand how useful this can be. A volunteer should be involved in the entire project, attend meetings, argue new ideas, create new initiatives and be involved in extra activities. At the end of the day this can only work in a project's favour.
Assignments explained clearly
At the same time the assignments have to be explained clearly to volunteers. Clarify the history and methods of the project, which jobs need to be done, and why they are significant. Explain responsibilities and which goal they serve. Some volunteers feel they are "above" certain tasks, and this is purely because they don't understand what is necessary to the cause.
For instance, Eva's co-ordinator could explain that AIDS patients need to be fed well in order to take in their medication, hence the importance of the food unit. Mothers need to learn how to provide basic nursing to their family members, which is why a nurse should attend their support group. These tasks are the basis for a sustainable growth of the community and are by no means "silly assignments".
NAIL THE PRACTICAL STUFF. Laura works as a social worker in child care; she loves the job but is disappointed by the practical arrangements of her stay. She sleeps in an "uncomfortable student home", has to arrange her own daily transport to the project and is responsible for her own meals. Furthermore she lost one suitcase at the airport and the agency couldn't help her with that. She feels ripped off and wants her money back.
As an agency, you have to decide what service you want to offer. Will it be an all-inclusive package (with airline tickets, visa, accommodation, meals, transport, the works); will you simply connect a volunteer to a project and let them make the additional arrangements; or will it be something in-between?
Clarify in advance
Be a realist. If you send someone to the middle of the rainforest, it speaks for itself, you will have to organise their additional support. "Whatever you choose, clarify in advance what people should expect for their money. Make practical arrangements and calculate them in the volunteer fee," Martijn van der Put advises. "Provide the pre-departure document with a detailed description of what the volunteer will receive and how much it will cost. This way you prevent misunderstandings and complaints."
Also describe what the volunteer has to take care of: what they have to bring, visas, passport, vaccinations, insurance, the list can go on. It sounds over the top, but by emphasising this information you prevent confusion.
Saying this, things can always go wrong, which is why a local agent is important. As well as a co-ordinator, it is wise for an agency to work with staff on the ground, who are familiar with the local area and can intervene at any time. If you can't do this, partner with another agency in the country that will handle this for you.
Give a good introduction
"A common complaint is that volunteers aren't welcomed properly, they feel lost and don't know where to start," Sonja Wiekenberg adds. "The co-ordinator should give a good introduction, show them around and provide a booklet with useful information (contact numbers, a map, a code of conduct). It's also useful to have a home-grown mentor on the project who helps a volunteer to get started.
LIVE UP TO AN ETHICAL POLICY. Matthew is a construction worker and was helping build a school in a small village. After a week the local doctor says that the neighbouring town has an excellent school. The only thing the village children really need is a bus to drive them to the existing school; the new one will take years to build, gather study material and find teachers. Furthermore, Matthew meets fellow volunteers who pay a lot less for the same experience. Where does this extra money go?
Volunteering can lead to wonderful things, but the opposite is also true. Agencies that serve the wrong goals and offer slack co-ordination can cause harm. It is the duty of a volunteer agency to follow the rules of ethical volunteering.
Doctor Kate Simpson, who specialises in international volunteering, sums up some of the basic rules on her website ethicalvolunteering.org. She says: "Only offer projects that you personally know and have thoroughly screened. A good project pursues a long term commitment towards the local community, works according to sustainable principles and involves locals in its organisation.
"Check if your projects achieve solid, long term results, deal with relevant problems and offer rational solutions. Make sure your volunteers really contribute to something valuable." According to Martijn van der Put, "an agency which only thinks about making profits and sending as many volunteers as possible isn't focused on the ethics."
Avoid overly positive depictions
Be honest! "The biggest lie agencies tell? Their marketing tale," says Martijn van der Put. "Of course you want to make your projects sound attractive, but be aware of overly positive depictions. Slogans like 'change Africa' or 'save this child's life' are exaggerated and mislead potential volunteers. You should give potential volunteers the chance to make an educated decision by providing correct information."
That honesty also concerns the financial stuff. It is normal that part of the volunteer fee goes to administration and practical arrangements, but a big share should directly go to the project. Martijn van der Put agrees, and advises future volunteers to really insist on this when choosing an agency.
"Some organisations use roaring terms in relation to themselves such as trust fund and NGO. So yes, in theory they send some of the fee to the project, but which
part is that? 1% or 70%? Be as transparent as possible on what part of the volunteers' fee goes to the project. An agency which won't answer this is a bad one and should be avoided."
"Some volunteers are naive, think they will change the world in a week and want to see immediate, physical results."
"Try to point out important cultural differences and highlight the importance of thorough preparation."
"A project which wants to bring in foreign support should have a clearly defined place within its organisation for volunteers."
"Clarify the history and methods of the project, which jobs need to be done, and why they are significant."
"It is the duty of a volunteer agency to follow the rules of ethical volunteering."
"You should give potential volunteers the chance to make an educated decision by providing correct information."
As public funding for charities continues to fall, a situation unlikely to be remedied in the short term as evidenced by the announcement that the UK has fallen back into recession, many charities are being forced to cut costs once again through reconsidering their staffing levels. But spending a little more up front on the right resources can save a charity thousands in the months that follow.
Making somebody redundant is one of the hardest things for most charity bosses to do. In many cases, directors and CEOs have reported that they felt personal guilt towards the members of staff affected. And where particularly drastic cuts have taken place, it can sometimes take years for the charity to recover.
The legalities of handling redundancies are well-known, and many of those who run charities will bring in specialist help and support to ensure that their obligations towards employees are fully met. But more often than not, this takes the form of supporting the charity rather than the employee.
Whilst this is important in order to protect the charity from future legal action, it won’t actually stop a disgruntled employee from trying to bring a case which the charity would still have to defend or settle out of court. In such situations, the mistake that many charities have made is in failing to provide external support to their employees, usually in the form of an outplacement specialist.
What is outplacement?
Outplacement is the name given to the efforts made to try to help employees find new work, and can vary hugely in terms of both cost and efficacy. Services consist of immediate or longer term support delivered one on one or in a larger group or workshop format, and often combine elements of job search, career guidance, CV help and confidence building.
How does it work?
A good outplacement provider will want to take a brief from the charity, so that they can tailor their services accordingly. When a charity calls in an expert to deliver outplacement services, the consultant should start by asking questions. If they are going to be of any service to the charity’s employees, they need to know everything about both employees and the situation, including why the redundancies are happening, what percentage of staff are affected, what stage of the process the organisation is at, and so on.
Once they have built up a picture of the situation, they will then want to know about individual members of staff, in order to tailor support accordingly. Outplacement is similar to recruitment, and just like recruitment should never be "one size fits all".
Members of staff at different ages, different levels of experience, different lengths of service or even different skill sets will all bring their unique fears and insecurities to the table, and if these are not dealt with separately and effectively, those members of staff will feel that the organisation is failing to provide them with the support they need.
What makes good outplacement?
The corporate sector often tries to market its services to charities making redundancies, but outplacement only works if the consultants used fully understand the market in which they are being asked to operate. Many practitioners claim to provide outplacement services, but the only way to really understand if they can deliver benefit is to interview them, and to follow up with references from a charity similar to yours.
One of the key things to look out for in a good outplacement service provider is a commitment to and understanding of the sector in which you operate. Ideally, your outplacement provider will also have a strong understanding of recruitment and the current market if they are likely to be of extra help to the staff they are brought in to help, and will be able to advise on issues ranging from where and how to look for jobs through to top tips for interviews. They should be able to advise on everything which a job seeker needs, and deliver it in such a way the individual feels fully supported.
What are the benefits?
There are many, much subtler benefits to outplacement rather than just the obvious ones, to both charity and employee. Good outplacement services can actually help an employee to understand why the redundancies are happening. If the employee feels fully supported by the charity, then the redundancy stops being a personal issue. They are more likely to be happy, will develop more confidence and optimism, and start to re-engage more with both their work and their colleagues.
Once employees stop feeling anger or betrayal, they are more likely to focus on the positives that a "fresh start" can bring. And as soon as one of the employees affected secures a new role, it has a knock-on positive effect of both encouraging their colleagues to do likewise and lessening the "survivor guilt" mentality of other colleagues unaffected by the redundancy.
Outplacement can also help in situations where the outcome of the consultation is not so clear cut. For instance, where staff are asked to reapply for their jobs, the charity is likely to know which members of staff it would ideally like to keep, and which it would prefer to allow to leave. A good outplacement consultant can help in such an instance by encouraging the former to apply for the available jobs, and the latter to start thinking of life outside the organisation.
The result in such instances can often be that the only candidates who apply for jobs are the ones which the charity wanted to keep in the first place, and each party gets what it wants as a result.
The knock-on effect of well handled outplacement services is that externally, it appears "business as usual", which rarely happens where staff are worried about looming redundancies or uncertainty over the future. Also, staff in a second round of redundancies are more likely to accept the news much more calmly if they have seen how well provided for their colleagues were first time around.
Why can’t it be handled in-house?
Charities which consider an outplacement provider to be an expensive waste of precious resources would be wise to think again. Human resources are often seen as the enemy because they are in charge of the consultation period, and often the deliverers of the bad news itself. To ask them to provide the outplacement as well is a mistake, since most employees will not believe that the very same people who are making them redundant are also looking after their wellbeing.
Such attempts usually backfire, and by the time an external consultant is called in, there is often hostility and mistrust on both sides.
Another advantage of employing external outplacement experts is that they are seen as independent by the employees they are helping, and as such can accurately gauge staff morale in a way that mistrust of human resources will never achieve. Also, specialist support for more difficult cases can be offered in a confidential manner, in a way which, were it offered by human resources, would be seen as biased towards the individual, and lay the charity open to charges of ‘preferential treatment’ of some employees.
When should you engage a consultant?
The best time to engage an outplacement service provider is at the very time that a charity is considering making redundancies. If support services are offered to charity staff at the beginning of their consultation, they are more likely to engage positively in the process. A good consultant can also alleviate some of the fear at this stage, and encourage those affected to start preparing for the worst.
The only downside is that whilst the consultation period is still ongoing, some of the staff who might not necessarily be affected might feel inspired to move on – but it’s surely a small price to pay for keeping morale good, productivity high and services unaffected. Realistically, as in most things, the earlier you bring in an expert, the easier life becomes for all involved!
The National Council for Voluntary Organisations predicts that by 2016 charities will lose a further £3.3bn due to spending cuts. Over the same period further reports suggest demand for charities to provide services are likely to increase as local authorities have to make their own cutbacks.
It is little wonder therefore that research, conducted with New Philanthropy Capital earlier this year, found that 90% of charities believe they face more financial risk in the current commissioning environment than before. Over half (62%) said they were seriously considering using their reserves to keep going. Some charities are in danger of closing down entirely and others will need to innovate to survive.
New funding mechanisms such as payment by results contracts, and the ongoing reform of public services in general, are creating financial uncertainty within the sector and many charities are negotiating increasingly complex delivery arrangements. 49% of the charities surveyed in the research are subcontracted to other organisations to deliver public services and nearly half operate within consortia arrangements.
This widespread change is in some cases triggering opportunities for charities to generate new income streams and to innovate, but like any new and untested waters there is a certain degree of risk and the potential for stormy times ahead.
The devolution of services to charities will mean increased accountability and transparency for the third sector. Their success and resilience will be scrutinised not only by local authorities and the community, but also by other charities and peers.
Good communication and understanding across all parties will therefore be key to fostering effective partnerships. Equally this will ensure that such contracts and new ways of working do not become financially disadvantageous in the long run – necessitating charities to dig even deeper into depleting reserves. Charities working in crisis and emergency situations for example, where activity is varied and often unplanned, are the most likely to rate payment by results contracts as having a potentially negative impact on the bottom line.
To succeed with new service delivery models, charities need to hone their commercial awareness and understand the dynamics of the supply chain partnership they are entering. In some instances they will take the role of lead provider subcontracting out to other charities and organisations and in other instances they will become the subcontractors themselves.
This requires strong management practices, an understanding of where responsibility starts and stops, as well as clear exit strategies. A charity’s reputation is its guiding light and the potential for this to become marred is an increasing risk in the current commissioning landscape, if partnerships are not managed well.
As the new world of public service commissioning becomes mainstream and local authority funding dries up, charities have little choice but to innovate. Charities have a key role within local communities and their closure would create a significant gap. By taking a measured approach to risk and innovation however, it shouldn’t have to come to this.
The Charity Commission is investigating over 700 leases where agreements entered into by charities appear on the face of it to enable landlords to avoid business rates while the property is, or appears to be, empty. The Charity Commission is aware that landlords are approaching charities, and charities are actively marketing their willingness, to enter into tenancy agreements of hard to let property, thereby relieving landlords of the requirement to pay full business rates.
The Charity Commission has warned charity trustees about the potential risks if they have not followed a proper and reasonable decision making process before entering into tenancy agreements for empty premises and if their charity does not physically occupy the premises. It is alleged that some charities have occupied commercial property but have only put up posters or installed Bluetooth equipment. Local authorities consider that such arrangements may amount to business rates avoidance by landlords.
Charities which have entered into such arrangements should be made aware of the Charity Commission's investigation and may wish to seek advice on any legal, financial and reputation risks should local authorities or the Charity Commission challenge individual arrangements. In particular, charities should consider whether there may be a risk of arrangements falling foul of the new tainted charity donation rules and whether there is a risk of a charity's claim for business rates relief being challenged.
The Charity Commission is examining whether charity trustees have properly discharged their duties when entering into these arrangements and is concerned that charities may find themselves involved in allegations of business rates avoidance.
Before entering into any tenancy agreements to occupy empty commercial properties charity trustees must:
• Be assured that the tenancy offered is for the exclusive benefit of the charity; will further the charity’s purposes and be in its best interests;
• Ensure that the property is genuinely required and fit for purposes.
• Consider the potential liability of the charity to pay any outstanding business rates.
• Be mindful of any maintenance and repair obligations set out in the lease.
• Ensure the charity is not being abused for commercial benefit and there are no adverse reputational consequences for the charity.
Whilst it may be beneficial for landlords and developers to consider all of the options available with the aim of reducing their empty-rates liability, they and charities should also be mindful of the fact that the Government has reserved its right to introduce anti-avoidance legislation.
In any particular situation the basis on which empty premises are being occupied may become an issue. There may be a risk that the charity's claim for business rates relief could be challenged, due to the perception that it is not actually using empty property wholly or mainly for charitable purposes. Arrangements may be investigated by the rating authority, HM Revenue and Customs as well as the Charity Commission.
Ensuring charity mergers are successful
The merger of the charities running two separate care homes, Nightingale and Hammerson House, brings important lessons for the charity sector. Fortunately, the news is all good so far and the prospects for the new entity, known as Nightingale Hammerson, are favourable.
Nightingale was the largest care home for the elderly on a single site in the UK and provided care for elderly members of the Jewish community. The charity had a 170 year history, originating in the East End of London. The Lewis W. Hammerson Memorial Home Ltd (known as Hammerson House) was founded in North London in 1961 for older people in need of care, attention and a real home environment . Mrs Sue Hammerson donated the site in memory of her late husband, founder of one of the UK's largest property companies. Hammerson Home Charitable Trust was a charitable company operating as a grant-maker to Hammerson House.
The transaction involved complex structuring to achieve the merger of a charitable trust where there was a scheme of the Charity Commission, an industrial and provident society, and a company limited by guarantee. Owing to the scope of the charities' work (in effect three of them) it also involved interaction with a significant number of regulators, including the Charity Commission, the Financial Services Authority, the Care Quality Commission and the Tenant Services Authority. In the circumstances, it was quite an achievement that the merger was completed in approximately nine months. The two homes continue to operate on their separate sites but now under one organisation.
Law firm BLP (Berwin Leighton Paisner) acted for Nightingale and IBB Solicitors acted for the Hammerson entities. Here two of the lawyers involved describe the merger and reflect on charity mergers in general in the light of their experience with this merger project.
Getting the focus right in a charity merger
JO COLEMAN of IBB SOLICITORS comments: In May 2011 the chairman of Nightingale House, a 100-year old charity which cares for the Jewish elderly from its site in Clapham, picked up the phone to the chairman of Hammerson House, a similar charity based in Hampstead, and suggested that they meet up to discuss how they might work together. By 1 May 2012 the full merger of the three related charities had been completed and Nightingale Hammerson was born.
I have worked on many mergers over the years and I have been spent a good deal of time considering what makes the merger process run smoothly. To be honest, I am still not sure what the magic formula is. I have seen many mergers where all the right ingredients are present but the merger process is difficult, protracted and costly.
However, my recent experience on the Nightingale Hammerson merger suggests the following:
A merger needs to have a strategic rationale which in turn needs to be clearly articulated. Through the more difficult moments of discussion, everyone needs to hang on to the reason why the merger is proceeding.
A merger must always be focused on delivering more to the charities' beneficiaries.
A merger needs to be driven by the trustees. Senior management, professionals and project managers need to work alongside, but the trustees have to want and drive the change. Sometimes this means that they will have to be prepared to stand aside to ensure that the new board has the right skill set for the future.
Don't be afraid to spend time planning the merger properly. There are usually legal and accounting issues that will need to be addressed. If they are considered early in the process you have a better chance of achieving the right result.
Make sure that you identify any deal-breakers at an early stage and spend time ensuring that they don't derail the process.
The senior management team have to be committed to the process. They have to be given the necessary resources to enable them to focus on delivering the merger successfully. Never underestimate the distracting effect of the merger process on the senior team and the sheer number of management hours that will have to be spent on the process.
Sometimes difficult questions will find a way of resolving themselves. You don't have to solve all the hard questions at the outset. Communicate clearly at the right time with all stakeholders – funders, contractors, staff, donors and supporters.
JO COLEMAN OF IBB continues: Make sure that everyone knows what they are doing at each stage and why they are doing. Once announced, make sure that you communicate openly with staff.
Use the process to enable the new merged board to work together and to get to know and understand each others' concerns. Once the charities have merged, they will need to hit the ground running.
Set deadlines which are realistic but be prepared to challenge your professional advisers on timing. A drawn out process is not helpful for anyone.
The real work for Nightingale Hammerson has just begun. There is still a long way to go in bringing the charities together culturally and organisationally, but the way in which the merger process was managed has given it the best possible chance going forward to deliver more for their beneficiaries and their community.
The lessons to be learned from a charity merger
NEASA COEN of law firm BLP comments: Are you contemplating a charity merger? If so, I could tell you that in my experience there are a number of key issues which help to make the legal process run smoothly and efficiently. I could tell you that the regulatory backdrop will be complex; I could tell you that due diligence warranties and indemnities might be involved. But that would be the wrong place to start. If you spoke to me I would say:
Why do you want to do this? What is the vision? What are your key goals? Have you considered how your stakeholders will react. How will your volunteers and donors react? How, if pressed, would you persuade them that the proposed merger would enhance the organisation's effectiveness, impact and the achievement of its long term goals?
To address these issues you might prioritise a list of what matters most. Consider sensitive issues such as the attitude and ethos of your volunteers, your brand, your donors – even, most importantly, your name and how these matters would be handled in the future. Is this a takeover or a merger? Issues such as these must be debated at an early stage and resolved.
Perhaps you might form a project team and plan how those people are going to manage the merger activities which will be required in addition to their day-to-day work. Make sure that there will be availability to meet with advisers, regulators, the proposed merger partner. Make sure that the team knows how these "change related" responsibilities are going to fit with their day to day roles. Communicating effectively within and beyond your organisation about what is happening at each stage is critical.
Experience shows there are a number of factors which make mergers run smoothly and efficiently. Be realistic about timescales. With the right approach relatively short timescales, perhaps nine months to a year, are achievable and generally desirable because change can be destabilising for all and can distract from mainstream activities. The Nightingale Hammerson merger was completed in nine months as against perhaps other more typical tales of two years or more for major mergers. But this requires real determination, meticulous planning and excellent teamwork.
Of course, you will need to be alert to the regulatory backdrop. However, as with any other project, planning the relevant steps and the order in which those steps need to happen is the key to success. So, for example, in the Nightingale Hammerson merger it was necessary to have a valid Care Quality Commission registration in place for the newly merged entity at the time of completion.
Whilst of course the relationships with the various governing and regulatory parties needed to be managed, the appointment of a project manager by the charities meant that one could be confident that the merger steps were being implemented in an appropriate sequence by all concerned. In addition, and most importantly, charity staff were able to focus on the delivery of high quality frontline services.
NASA COEN of BLP continues: Of course, the journey towards the merged entity was only begun once the trustees of Nightingale had decided that a merger was the right course of action. Charity mergers operate in an odd landscape. In a commercial transaction money is likely to be changing hands and private individuals often benefit. This is not the case with charity mergers.
Nonetheless, the charity trustees need to explore the proposed transaction in detail in order to be satisfied as a collective group that they will be acting appropriately and properly in merging with and assuming responsibility for assets and liabilities of another entity.
So whilst lawyers might then be talking about due diligence, warranties and indemnities, for the trustees it is also about knowing and understanding the entity with which you intend to merge. If the vision, the ethos, and the people have a common thread; if the passion and enthusiasm for a similar cause resonates when each group of trustees talks to the other, you can obtain considerable comfort that this is the right way forward.
Why is there an issue? This is because typically under a commercial lease a landlord requires a tenant which transfers the lease to an incoming tenant to guarantee that the incoming tenant will pay the rent and perform the other tenant obligations under the lease and itself pay or perform those obligations if the incoming tenant defaults. This guarantee is known as an Authorised Guarantee Agreement (AGA).
If the incoming tenant is not an organisation which is within the charity tenant's objects to benefit such as another charity with similar objects, and if the landlord can insist on the charity tenant entering into an AGA, the charity trustees run the risk of exposing their charity to meeting the obligations of an incoming tenant which it would not be within their charity's objects to benefit. In that case the AGA is likely to be unenforceable against the charity and may expose the charity trustees to personal liability.
How could a charity trustee incur personal liability? The primary duty of charity trustees is to ensure that their charity's assets are applied solely for the Charity's specific charitable purposes as set out in the objects clause of its governing document. If charity trustees allow their charity's assets to be applied in breach of this duty, they may be personally liable for any loss the charity suffers as a result.
What can charity trustees do to avoid this? If negotiating to take a new commercial lease, try and agree with the landlord in the Heads of Terms that the lease will state that no AGA will be required from the charity on a transfer of the lease.
If either the landlord won't agree thIs on a new lease, or if the charity is tenant under an existing lease and an AGA may be required by the landlord on assignment, then the charity should consider whether this is likely to restrict its ability to transfer the lease. On a new lease it may be worth trying to negotiate a tenant right to determine the lease, though this could have other implications, for instance on rent review.
Subletting the premises rather than transferring the lease would be another possible option if allowed to do so under the terms of the lease.
If the charity does plan to transfer the lease and is required to enter into an AGA, then before doing so the charity trustees should consider whether the charity's governing document gives it power to provide guarantees, and whether that power can be exercised in furtherance of their charity's objects, in the best interests of the charity.
Make sure you obtain specialist legal advice!