Ceredigion Association of Voluntary Organisations

Investing in Volunteers – an assessors’ view

Fiona Liddell and Lorraine Waumsley reflect on the joys and challenges of assessing an organisation for the Investing in Volunteers award.

Assessing an organisation for the Investing in Volunteers quality standard is a taxing, sometime draining, but usually a rewarding and thoroughly inspiring process. It is always a privilege.   

It requires the assessor to familiarise with details of an organisations practice as well as to meet with a selection of staff and volunteers to talk with them about their experience of volunteering. 

The assessor must plan the logistics of the assessment days, including selecting a balanced sample for interview and drawing up a realistic schedule. They have to write up a report afterwards which is succinct and objective, satisfying the precise requirements of a UK Quality Assurance Panel as well as, most importantly, being useful to the organisation in its process of continuous improvement. 

Most organisations assessed in Wales are small and the face to face assessment takes just one day. We recently managed the assessment of Royal Voluntary Service – for the 2rd renewal of its Investing in Volunteers Award. Operating in 3 UK nations, over the course of a year nearly 20,000 volunteers support the charity aided by its just over 1,000 staff.   

Since the charity’s head office is in Cardiff, WCVA took the lead in managing this UK wide assessment, which involved 7.5 days of face to face assessment, carried out by a team of 4 assessors across Great Britain. 

Lorraine, one of our experienced assessors in Wales, took responsibility for coordinating the assessment and writing the report. I asked her what made this assessment special. 

Royal Voluntary Service is developing an interesting model of volunteering for the future’ 

‘This was a ‘marathon’ assessment, for both the organisation and for me,’ says Lorraine. 

‘Not only because of the numbers of volunteers and staff involved, but also because they were going through a period of major change. 

‘Many Royal Voluntary Service volunteers are involved in volunteer-led projects, with the charity providing a supportive rather than directive role, making it more of a challenging to contact volunteers and arrange interviews. 

‘In the event, many interviews were carried out by telephone, to get wide coverage. These and the fantastic teamwork from colleagues enabled us to get a real feel for the organisation and all its diversity. As an assessor I really enjoyed this collaborative approach. 

‘I was impressed by the willingness of Royal Voluntary Service to devote significant resources, of staff time and money, for the assessment process and how keen they were to take on board learning and development issues that were raised. 

‘I was impressed, too, by the strong vision leading the change process for the organisation, which came across as both determined and respectful of the long and valued history of the organisation, including the long service of many volunteers. 

‘The diversity and scale of the charity’s volunteer offer and the extent of their collaboration with the NHS and the social care sector was so much more than I had realised – and greater than perhaps most people are aware of.   

‘I was particularly impressed for example, to discover that the profits generated by cafes, shops and trolley services within hospitals are used to fund care services which enable patients to have a supported return to home. 

‘Royal Voluntary Service is developing an interesting model of volunteering for the future. For example, Volunteer Led projects are just that. Someone sees a need in their community, it may be befriending, or setting up a lunch club or a community cafe. 

‘All of the organising and recruiting of volunteers is done locally, by the volunteers themselves, and the charity supports the project with compliance issues, insurance, training, resources and advice as and when it is called upon to help. 

‘Other services, such as the Positive Steps programme are funded or commissioned programmes which are managed more closely in order to deliver agreed outcomes. 

‘Another lesson I learned from Royal Voluntary Service, which is worth sharing, concerns the intelligent use of demographic information for marketing purposes. 

‘In London, for example, the charity has identified postcode areas which have a high percentage of younger people and has advertised, on radio and social media, volunteering opportunities which relate to these geographical areas, in an attempt to attract younger volunteers. 

‘There is a central, dedicated email and telephone line for compliments, complaints and comments from volunteers, staff or service users. This helps to identify good news stories as well as identifying potential problems at an early stage.’ 

‘This award is even more precious because it recognises how much we appreciate and value our volunteers’ 

The Royal Voluntary Service assessment decision was validated at the October meeting of the Quality Assurance Panel and we are delighted to be able to congratulate the charity on their success. 

Jennifer Codman, Volunteer Partner at Royal Voluntary Service said ‘Coordinating the Investing in Volunteers renewal was a challenge at times given the size of our organisation and the multiple sites, staff teams and volunteers I had to liaise with to set up assessment visits and interviews. But it was also massively rewarding and we got some fantastic feedback from all of the people involved. 

‘This has allowed us to make some positive changes to how we do things and we have established a number of projects as a result, that we hope will further enhance and improve the volunteer experience here at Royal Voluntary Service. 

‘I would encourage any organisation thinking about going for this award to take the first step and enquire about it – the process has really helped us to review the way we work alongside, manage and empower volunteers to give the gift of time and support our activities in local communities.’ 

Laura Morgan, Head of Volunteering for Royal Voluntary Service said: ‘Royal Voluntary Service is delighted to maintain its Investing in Volunteers (IiV) status for a further three years. 

‘For over 80 years our volunteers have been at the very heart of the organisation and this award is even more precious because it recognises how much we appreciate and value our volunteers. 

‘With mounting pressure on public services, now more than ever, we need people to step forward to lend their support and we have an ambitious target to grow our volunteers’ numbers. 

‘But to achieve this, it is imperative we offer volunteers the best possible experience, meaningful roles and introduce newer forms of volunteering to make it easier for people to play their part, whilst also attracting people from a diverse range of backgrounds. 

‘As well as recognition of our extensive knowledge and expertise, the re-assessment process for the award and feedback from volunteers and staff, provided us with invaluable insight that will enable us to further perfect our volunteer offer.’ 

Lorraine Waumsley is an Investing in Volunteers Assessor. 

Fiona Liddell is Helpforce Manager Cymru. Helpforce is working with Third Sector Support Wales (WCVA and 19 County Voluntary Councils)  and other partners to develop the potential of volunteering in health and social care services. She is also a Lead Assessor, with responsibility for overseeing the quality of IiV assessments including that of Royal Voluntary Service.