How can arts organisations best nurture a thriving and committed community of volunteers? Robin Hall shares her experience of gaining accreditation from the Investing in Volunteers standard.

A photo of a volunteer in the research room at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre
A volunteer in the research room

The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre in Havant was this year accredited by Investing in Volunteers (IiV), a UK quality standard. Volunteers have always been crucial to the smooth running of the centre, and it would be fair to say that without volunteers like me it could not offer such a wide range of arts and heritage services. I am one of just under a hundred volunteers, who together are estimated to add an extra £60,000 worth of value.

The assessor was keen to see that volunteers came from all walks of life and that they developed roles of value to them as individuals

So when we first thought about applying for IiV accreditation, we didn’t set out just to win the award. We really wanted to improve the volunteer experience and ensure we were making the most of volunteers’ skills. Whatever the outcome, we knew it would be beneficial.

Volunteer roles range from maintenance and museum research to technical support (such as cinema projection) and theatre stewarding, from working in the café to helping with finance and publicity tasks. In fact, it was a volunteer who steered us through the IiV process.

Assessment and support

Applying was straightforward. We filled in a form, paid the fee and were put in touch with our assessor. He led a workshop to take us through the standard, showing us how we could achieve it. The assessor also interviewed 14 volunteers face-to-face and two by phone. He wanted to see that there was a commitment to the volunteers, and that money, resources and management time were being provided.

Happily, our volunteers reported having everything they needed to carry out their roles. It was important, too, to show that the needs of our disabled volunteers, and those with health problems, were taken into account and sensitively handled.

Preparing for the assessment really focused our minds. As well as looking very closely at our own efforts, we talked to other organisations with volunteers to find ways we could improve.

We devised a survey that volunteers could complete anonymously, and held a feedback exercise, inviting them to tell us what we could do better.

In the run-up to the assessment, there were already role descriptions for most of our volunteer tasks, but they weren't consistently formatted. They also hadn’t been updated for a while, and not all new volunteers had them. So a new template was created, and we made sure we had a description for every role. We also updated the volunteer handbook, and created a new document to help manage volunteers better.

Recruitment and diversity

Volunteers are recruited mainly through word of mouth, or through groups which use the organisation. New volunteers are often brought along by friends. The assessor was keen to see that volunteers came from all walks of life and that they developed roles of value to them as individuals. He also suggested enhancing our written aims and ambitions to help attract a more diverse group of volunteers.

As part of the IiV process, we have looked into attracting younger people, for example, by offering placements through the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme.

In the assessment report, positive suggestions were made about our travel expenses policy, insurance and the provision of more training for volunteers. It was also pointed out that our volunteer policy could be adopted in our next business plan, so that volunteering is seen as an organisational objective.

Retention and pride

Letting volunteers know what's going on is critical to keeping them on board with everything we do, and our monthly volunteers' newsletter is an important part of this. We hold two big parties each year, at summer and Christmas, to thank the volunteers individually.

The Spring is an important asset for the Havant community. A lot of volunteers say how much they enjoy being part of it, and they are also great advocates, encouraging other people to come and join us. Perhaps that's why we all do it. We feel very protective of something we care about.

Robin Hall is a Volunteer at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre. 
www.thespring.co.uk

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Photo of Robin Hall