New ways to volunteer

Categories: Community Engagement.

The nature of charity retail means that we are always on the lookout for new volunteers for our hospice charity shops, and sometimes we need an influx of people to help with a project for a very specific amount of time.

Coupled with the fact that a long term commitment can be a disincentive to signing up, we have been focusing on making our volunteer roles more accessible and flexible.

Six months ago we started advertising for time-specific roles for the first time – these opportunities last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. A huge part of coming up with these roles was thinking about the kind of volunteers we wanted to attract but who would not have been eligible in the past. For example, full time positions which run from three weeks to three months are perfect for European exchange students visiting London.

After taking all these things into account, we launched three shorter term opportunities across our 26 shops and retail head office.

Student work experience 

We accept students, aged 16 and over, who would like work experience in a retail environment. Between June and August we will have placed a total of 55 students, typically volunteering full time for one week to a month. We have even had students who have come over from Europe for a short stay. It is a great opportunity for them because they gain valuable retail experience whilst also improving their language skills when talking to customers.

Benjamin, one of our French work experience students, has just completed a six week placement in our newest shop at Clapham Junction. Reflecting on his experience, he says:

“As a French student, the experience has been a very good occasion to try to improve my English. It is so rewarding when you help people find clothes that they like while raising funds for the charity at the same time. If I had to do it all again, I would without hesitation!”

 “The shop offers so many opportunities – if you want to be in contact with people, you can help them to find what they want on the shop floor or take care of the till. If you are not at ease with customers, you can still ask to accomplish different vital tasks for the shop in the back.”

One of the challenges from my perspective of introducing this type of volunteering was coaching our shop managers to make the most of the time the students are with them for, so they do not view them as someone who cannot have an impact.

These work experience students are able to have a positive effect on our retail operations in a very short space of time, and are often highly motivated and committed to making a real difference.  The manager just needs to tailor their approach and think about what projects are most appropriate for them in the time they do have.

Speed volunteering

Speed volunteering was designed by Do-It.Org and Team London to allow organisations to advertise for short, one-off volunteering opportunities. So far, we have placed 12 speed volunteers in head office roles and an additional six at our Pimlico shop.

We can shape the adverts to fit the specific needs of each shop, such as “Clothing Donations Volunteer” or “E-Commerce Assistant.”

Rachel worked as an E-Commerce Assistant Volunteer for two days in our retail head office, listing products on our Amazon account. She explains:

“Working at a management consultancy means that sometimes I am “on the bench” between projects. When I saw speed volunteering advertised, I felt it was the perfect way to keep busy while doing something worthwhile.”

Speed volunteering is something we are still experimenting with as the take up is unpredictable, but can definitely be a huge help in achieving tasks which have a tight deadline. It can also help inject positivity and new energy in to a team. The downside is that you do not get as much of an idea about the volunteer before they start, as there is not the same process of gathering references and having over-the-phone interviews.

Corporate group volunteering 

Corporate organisations are often looking for opportunities for their staff members to get out of the office and volunteer for a good cause. This June, we hosted over 72 corporate volunteers in different group sizes who contributed over 400 volunteer hours in total.

We also hosted our biggest ever corporate volunteering day to date, with a group of 56 volunteers from AON who were split across the retail head office and 7 different shops. They helped with tasks including clearing shop basements and dropping donation sacks through letterboxes.

Our Clapham Shop Manager Janet commented that the help allowed the shop to concentrate more on sales and put them ahead of schedule by nearly two months.

Roger was one of the AON employees who took part. He said:

“‘There was no way the [shop team] would have been able to sort out the piles of donations they had in storage had we not been there. We had a great day, had fun and crucially felt like we made a difference to the shop.”

Corporate days are also important to us as they help break down peoples’ preconceptions of what charity shops are like. Often corporate volunteers are pleasantly surprised by how the shops look, as they have an old fashioned idea of them being dusty, dingy places.

It is important to engage with the corporate group – as well as the shop managers who will be facilitating them – before, during and after the process so that everyone gets the most out of the day. This ensures that the volunteers go away feeling valued and like they have made a meaningful contribution.

Thinking outside the box can sometimes feel scary, especially when things have been done the same way for a long time, but trying new things has definitely paid off for our shops. It has given me more confidence to explore new volunteering initiatives and try them out, even if we cannot predict straight away what the benefits will be.

 We are grateful for all the wonderful work our volunteers do, and being able to expand our reach and bring even more new people on board more flexibly is what makes it all worthwhile.

For more information visit Royal Trinity Hospice

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