Investing in Volunteers – is it masses of work?

IiV logo

I was asked this question recently as an Investing in Volunteers assessor, along with other questions around costs, benefits and price.  Investing in Volunteers (IiV) is the UK quality standard for good practice in volunteer management.  It can be gained by any organisation that involves volunteers regardless of size or sector.  This was my response; please get in touch if you want to know more.

What are the benefits?

An impact report on the standard identified that achieving IiV:

  • Raised the profile of volunteering in the organisation
  • Cemented the place of the volunteering programme in meeting the organisation’s outcomes
  • Increased pride in volunteering
  • Developed a more consistent approach to volunteers
  • Gave a sense of achievement to volunteer managers

Other benefits could include:

  • It publicly demonstrates commitment to volunteering
  • Increasing volunteers’ motivation and enhancing their experience
  • Encouraging more people to volunteer
  • Enhancing your reputation in the local community and with funders
  • Minimising potential risks arising from the involvement of volunteers.

Do funders recognise it?

Like other quality standards it can give reassurance to commissioners and funders that you have robust practices in place to manage volunteers.  I have seen one procurement exercise that specified that organisations must have Investing in Volunteers, I would be interested to know whether there are others.

How long does it last for?

Three years.

Is it masses of work?

If you’ve already got basic procedures in place as many organisations have, for example around recruitment, training, induction and support of volunteers, it’s not necessarily going to be a huge amount of work, it depends how much organisations want to put into it. Unlike other quality standards, we don’t rely heavily on policies and procedures but focus more on you demonstrating how you meet the requirement in various ways – speaking to volunteers is a key part of the assessment, so for example if you don’t think you need to have a written support or supervision policy you don’t need to have one, as long as you can tell us what you do, volunteers confirm this, and if you say that there is paperwork to support this then you do produce it (e.g. supervision notes).

We ask you to do a self assessment against the practices in each indicator, which then identifies what steps you need to take to meet the standard.  Your assessor or adviser will talk you through this to help you to decide what you should and shouldn’t do.  Areas that organisations often need to do more work around are:

  • Demonstrating how volunteering delivers their strategic plan
  • Monitoring and analysing actions to take to increase equality and diversity
  • Risk assessments and ensuring that volunteers know about risks and how to avoid them
  • Ensuring that there is a mechanism for volunteers to feed in their views / participate in decision making

How much does it cost?

The question that everyone wants to know of course, and the answer is … it depends.  The cost is worked out based on the number of your volunteers overall, number of roles and location of volunteers.  You can fill in this form for a no obligation quote.

You may be able to find funding to cover the costs, for example Lloyds TSB have identified that IiV is eligible for their Enable grant for IiV if you meet their guidelines.

Finally, if you do decide to apply for Investing in Volunteers as a result of this, please mention me in the “other” box!

Becky Nixon, Investing in Volunteers Assessor

No Community Cafe in Welland Park but we have a vision that could be used elsewhere….

CaféplanA group of Harborough residents came together a few weeks ago to look at whether we could take over the running of the cafe in Welland Park to retain it as a community facility with continued opportunities for the people with learning disabilities who were volunteering there.  We put together a business plan and got down to a shortlist of four and were interviewed by a panel of Harborough District Council councillors and officers.

We found out yesterday that Harborough District Council is in discussions with another bidder about the cafe in Welland Park.  This is disappointing, but we achieved a lot in a short space of time with various members of the community coming together to share our visions and ideas to create the business plan, which just shows what the community can do working together – thank you to all involved.

We did talk about the possibility if this doesn’t come off of finding somewhere else instead that might be more suitable for our aims, so this is still a possibility if people are interested.  Below is what we said we’d do.


Our vision is for a Community Café in Welland Park that uses the best of local food to produce high quality meals, brings together members of the community, particularly those who are at risk of isolation or disadvantage, is a focus point for community events, and provides volunteering and work experience opportunities for all sections of the community.

Our added value

A group of around 20 Harborough residents and organisations have come together in response to the request for a new body to run the café, some attending a meeting and some contributing by email and telephone.  Our intention is to set it up as a social enterprise, run by a representative board from the community, including local food producers, voluntary organisations and Harborough residents. We would also welcome public sector involvement.  We already have many offers of help from people as well as the organisations named in this proposal (see appendix two).  We believe that what will make the café in the park successful is the community involvement that we will bring through our existing work and the new initiatives that we will develop.

The added value that we believe we will bring over a more traditional business includes:

  • It will have a strong ethos of encouraging community participation and social inclusion.  As well as café space we would like to develop meeting space, for which previous studies have demonstrated that there is a need.  As well as letting it out to community groups, we will also develop informal groups where young and old and everyone in-between can meet for a drink and to undertake an activity, for example reading groups, knit and natter, happiness clubs, “Men in Sheds” activities etc.  We want it to be a place where people who would otherwise be isolated can drop in and find someone to chat to, as well as to turn it into a comfortable space with top notch local food and drink for people to meet family, friends and neighbours.
  • We will look at how we can work to reduce demand on public services, such as exploring “social prescribing” with local health services, for example where healthcare staff believe that someone has a low level mental health condition that is exacerbated by loneliness and isolation, then they can be referred to one of the activities that we provide in order to relieve this.
  • We will provide volunteering opportunities for people with learning disabilities and others in the town who need experience in order to gain confidence and skills for employment.
  • We will run it as a not-for-profit social enterprise, putting the profits back into the company to further benefit the community.  We will have a board and volunteers who will give their time for free to further generate profit.  We will generate our own income through sales but we will also raise additional funding through grants, trusts and crowd funding to run our social inclusion projects, as well as working with local charities in the town to raise income so that they can also deliver activities from the cafe.
  • As a social enterprise we will be able to bring money into the town from external bodies such as the Big Lottery or Heritage Lottery Funds and other trusts and foundations.
  • We will have space for local artists and crafts people and other businesses to display and sell their work, thereby supporting the local arts scene.


We will deliver our vision through:

1. Producing high quality food using local produce

Our menus will be designed to appeal to the different sections of the community.  We will source as much of our produce from local farms and other providers.  Partners EdibLE16 and Farrinheight Foods already have many links, and we will develop more.  Food will be freshly cooked and prepared on the premises with options on the menu for vegetarians, vegans, coeliacs, and those with allergies/intolerances etc. We will aim to expand the summer opening hours from 8am to 6pm and winter 8am to 4pm and later for specific events. We will develop the menu over time, some examples of the types of food we would like to do are below:

  • Breakfast: a range of breakfasts including full English Harborough Breakfast, various items on toast, eggs Benedict, freshly baked pastries, cereals and fresh fruit.
  • Lunch: a basic range of sandwiches, jacket potatoes, soups and salads, keeping the prices as low as possible for people who like simpler meals and might be on a limited budget.  We will also provide a range of panini, filled ciabattas, tarts, and salads using different ingredients to appeal more to “foodies”.Cakes and snacks: homemade cakes and pastries, changing daily, will be available throughout the day.  We will also provide toast, teacakes, scones, fresh fruit, yoghurt, biscuits, flapjack bars, chocolate and crisps.
  • Drinks: we will provide a full range of fair trade fresh coffees and teas, soft drinks, juices and smoothies.
  • Evening bistro: this will be run during summer months, and will include “Pop Up” evenings of different themes from local providers and including alcoholic beverages.
  • Mobile kisok: we will run a mobile cart with a range of snacks including ice creams (in the summer), crisps, cakes, fruit, drinks, including hot drinks and soup (in the winter).  It will be responsive to events, and provide refreshments for example for tennis and bowls clubs.

2. Running and encouraging a range of social activities to include and integrate all sections of our community

Just as important as high quality, fresh food will be the environment that we create in the café that encourages community involvement and cohesion.  See appendix one for information about the different sections of the community we will target.

  • Social and leisure groups: through our staff and volunteers and local members of the community we will set up a range of groups and activities for our customers and encourage and support them to set up their own groups.  This might include reading groups, knit and natter, happiness clubs, bridge or other games, and gentle fitness activities weather permitting. Although some activities may appeal to specific sections of the community, our overall aim will be to integrate everyone around common interests to improve community cohesion.
  • Book exchange: we will run a used book exchange in the café where people can come and exchange books for a small fee.
  • Games: we will hold a collection of games that can be played by adults and children.
  • Coffee pending: we will have a coffee pending system so that people can pay for an extra coffee to donate to the next person coming in needing it, we know that poverty is one of the causes of social isolation amongst older people, and this might help to encourage people out who couldn’t otherwise afford it.

3. Providing volunteering and work experience for people with learning disabilities and other community members

We will continue to provide volunteering opportunities for different members of the community.  This will include people with learning disabilities as now through Hft, as well as other volunteers including older and younger people to enable different sections of the community to mix and for people who need it to gain skills, experience and confidence to move onto employment, education or training.

4. Running and supporting local events

We will run events and coordinate our activities with events run by other groups and would seek to provide a comprehensive calendar of events in and around the café as well as complimenting events organised by other organisations.  Events could include:

  • Teddy Bears picnic events on the lawn
  • Outdoor puppy party venue for the local veterinary surgeries to use
  • Sunday afternoon jazz on the lawn
  • Acoustic music nights
  • Mini food festivals
  • Craft fairs
  • Local producer events
  • Childrens swap shop, passing on childrens clothing and toys
  • Arts and craft events
  • Skills events, e.g. willow weaving, textiles shows
  • Themed events, e.g. Easter, Halloween, Bonfire Night, Christmas

5. Providing space for meetings and for people to sell arts and crafts, produce, Fair Trade goods and other items

During the first year we will seek funding to reconfigure the space in the café to provide two separate spaces, the main body of the café for anyone, and a separate space that can be set out as a café or a meeting room for groups to meet (see below for more details).  This will be used for activities that we run some of the time, but will also be let out to local groups for £10-15 / hour (previous feasibly studies have indicated that there is a demand for this).

Our partners, skills and experience

Over twenty people have contributed to this plan and have offered their help in the future. Organisations include:

  • Transition Town Market Harborough
  • edibLE16 Ltd
  • Farrinheight Foods
  • Hft
  • Voluntary Action South Leicestershire
  • Seven Locks Housing
  • Sustainable Harborough
  • Ideas to Impact Consultancy Ltd

In addition we have local residents offering to help, including: the chair of a local company and charity supporting disabled people; a teacher at Welland Park; someone who ran a successful town centre business in Market Harborough for many years; a market trader; a journalist and writer; and other people offering practical help and skills.

Using strengths to improve your performance

Discover your Strengths Text written on notebook page, red pencil on the right. Motivational Concept image

Research shows that in order for people and organisations to improve performance you should play on strengths. This makes sense – working on already strong areas is likely to lead to excellence, but trying to develop areas of weakness is likely to only take you to satisfactory or maybe good at best. However, managers may tend to focus on people’s weaknesses in the belief that this is what is needed.

Jim Collins’ Good to Great outlines research by Gallup speaking to over one million employees and 80,000 managers about how this applies to companies, and emphasises the importance of having the right people in the right roles, getting recruitment right at the beginning and dealing with problems promptly. Marcus Buckingham in First, Break All The Rules discusses it in relation to what enables employees to do their best, with one of the top twelve factors being, “The opportunity to do what I do best everyday”.

For organisations that doesn’t mean don’t provide any support for people to improve to undertake essential parts of their role, but if you are having to do a significant amount of work on people’s weaknesses, it’s probably not the job for them, especially if what you are trying to change is something that is not learnable knowledge and skills but more a talent or aspect of their personality.

Finding your strengths

If you are not sure what your strengths are, there are a number of ways you could approach finding out. Asking other people, colleagues, friends or family could be one way, thinking about what you enjoy could be another – it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will be good at the things you enjoy but it’s a clue. Think about when you experience “flow” – a concept identified by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that describes a state of complete involvement in and focus on an activity where time passes by unnoticed and you are completely absorbed in the present.

Tools that can help you to identify strengths this include the free Values in Action Institute Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS) available from the questionnaire centre at the Authentic Happiness website of the University of Pennsylvania. This contains 24 strengths and a questionnaire enables you to identify your top five “signature strengths”, for example judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness or humour and playfulness.

Marcus Buckingham’s book Now Discover Your Strengths: How to Develop Your Talents and Those of the People You Manage, used research with two million people to identify thirty four strengths, amongst them analytical, empathy or maximiser. This is a book that, unusually, I wouldn’t recommend buying second hand, as it has a one-off passcode in it for you to access StrengthsFinder to identify your strengths. Other tests that you might have come across include Myers Briggs sixteen personality types and Belbin team roles.

One word of caution, many methods use self-reporting, which measure your perception of your behaviour rather than your actual behaviour. Once you have identified your strengths yourself, it might be worth checking them out with people close to you to see if they think they are a good reflection.

Using your strengths

So how can your strengths or those of your employees be used once you have identified them? In Now Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham outlines how to manage people differently according to their different strengths, for example, who might need time to think things through, who is more concerned with the here and now than planning for the future, who can stir a team into action.

You can also analyse your team to identify which strengths are present and lacking. Think about who is best for which task and what gaps you have in the team, bringing in new people or if this isn’t possible being aware of how strengths and gaps might affect the dynamics of the team. Talk to your team individually and collectively – you can undertake the strength finding exercises together.

For yourself, does your work or other activities allow you to use your strengths everyday? If not, are there things you can change to allow you to use your strengths more? For any goals you have identified or projects you are involved in, work through each of your strengths and think specifically about how that strength could be useful in helping you to achieve them.

To broaden your enquiries, the field of positive psychology emphasises working with strengths for positive change and also offers many ways for people to improve their emotional and mental wellbeing. Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness: A Practical Guide to Getting The Life You Want outlines the evidence about how to increase happiness, and Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project outlines one woman’s journey over a year of taking actions, one month at a time, to improve her happiness.  Doing what you enjoy, at work or outside, is important. In the UK, organisations such as Action for Happiness and Life Squared provide advice and resources.