Volunteers are service users too

I’m often the person championing technology and becoming more digital so jumped at the chance to attend this year’s National Volunteering Forum and it didn’t disappoint.  There was so much great conversation but I'll share a few messages that stayed with me and are ones that we’ll be thinking about here in the next few months.

In a time where voluntary organisations are facing more demand for services but less capacity and income, why wouldn’t we embrace digital?  Sometimes we worry that digital will replace something or take away an important part of our service, but perhaps this worry means that we don’t appreciate the value that digital could bring  to it and how it could add value to what we already do.

Volunteers are service users too

Organisations are, understandably, focussed on the experiences of their service users but are we thinking of our other service users too?  We invest a lot of time and effort into making sure that the service user’s voice is heard in service design and evaluation but do we forget to think about the other voices that could give us vital feedback?  A service may be designed perfectly for the service user but if we aren’t thinking about what our volunteers want and need then it will never be as successful as it could be, if at all.  We need to speak to our volunteers to find out what they think and what they want; what information do they want, which format is best for them, how do they want us to communicate with them?  If we forget this important step our service may not be as good as it could be

We can’t assume we know

Most of us working in the voluntary sector are here because we have passion, whether it’s for the cause we’re working toward, the organisation that we’re working for or the voluntary sector as a whole.  We know our service users, our staff team, our volunteers so well but do we ask them their thoughts and ideas as often as we could?  We may make our application process easier or develop a new system for sharing information with our volunteers but sometimes we forget to ask if it actually works for them.

There are downsides to digital, but do the positives outweigh them?

Of course, digital has its downsides too. Perhaps we’re not confident with our knowledge of digital or don’t have the skills and experience of using it.  It can be hard to change something that has always been done that way or we might worry about the costs.  But change, especially when it comes to digital, can reduce the pressure on us as staff and organisations and enhance the service that we provide.  There is a lot of training available now that can improve our digital skills and knowledge and of course we can’t forget about the power of sharing ideas with others in similar positions.   Not everything has to cost a huge amount of money, in fact there are some great tools out there which are completely free. 

More and more people are getting online, so can we as organisations afford not to?

The number of people using digital is increasing year on year and research shows that even the older generation are getting online when many of us assume that they aren’t.  If our services users, our volunteers, our donors and supporters are getting digital then surely we shouldn’t be asking why should we do it but instead asking why shouldn’t we? 

What could digital do for us?

There are so many benefits to embracing digital including;

  • Digital makes it easier for people to talk to us and support us
  • Where time is so limited being more digital can reduce our workload, freeing up valuable time to spend on other things
  • Digital can save us money to spend on services elsewhere
  • With so many people online now it’s a great way to raise our profile and spread the word about what we do

I want to embrace digital but what happens now?

If the time is right for you to start using digital or finding other ways of doing things there are lots of great places of support and some great tools available.  We’re happy to give suggestions and advice on what we’ve found and tried so feel free to get in touch.  If you’ve found some great digital tools or have something that you think could help others then please let us know so that we can share the knowledge!  Don’t forget to keep an eye on our training programme and the bulletin which will also share great training offered by others.