|3 Dec 2020|
On 24th November, AROPS hosted a networking meeting on the topic of “Getting the best from volunteers”. Over 20 members of the AROPS community joined, sharing stories of volunteering through lockdown and what has been most helpful to their associations and societies throughout this year. Thank you to George Bunting, Chairman of Wellensian Association and member of our committee for hosting brilliantly, and to everyone who participated and shared their thoughts, it was an extremely insightful event and there was lots to learn from everyone.
Bristol Grammar School - Virtual Lecture Series
The session began with a presentation from Peter Jakobek, our Co-Chairman and the Alumni Relations Manager for the Old Bristolians Society, to discuss their recent virtual lecture series with notable alumni. Several societies and alumni associations have undertaken some form of virtual event this year, many for the first time, so Peter discussed the advantages and disadvantages of running events in this way. Advantages included the ability for members to join from anywhere in the world, and for the speaker (and attendees) there was much less time needed to present for one hour, rather than make the trip to the school or location. However, virtual events can lack the personal touch, and it can be difficult for older alumni without the right technology or IT skills to join. While there are positives and negatives for virtual events, it’s likely that many will choose to host a hybrid for their events programmes going forward due to the international accessibility and time saving for guests and speakers.
Sharing knowledge through careers talks
One of the main themes of the session was helping to further younger alumni or student’s careers, either through university or industry talks. Many who attended the session, including Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham School, spoke of their initiatives to bring back alumni working in a wide variety of sectors and job roles into the school. From talking in an assembly, to helping out with careers fairs or university applications, there is a range of volunteer activities taking place that are providing real value to the school and students.
Bringing year groups together
Another popular theme for volunteers is to ask a few alumni from each year to be their cohort’s representatives. This often works well when organising events, as these ambassadors can spread the word and encourage more attendees to sign up. The Guild of St Mary and St Anne’s has a representative covering a few years each, and they attend a biannual meeting to discuss activities and how to involve their cohorts. This means they get a broad view of what’s working from recent leavers to those in their 80’s, and they are keeping the community alive across their spectrum of alumni.
Finding the right time to ask
Finding a good window of opportunity for engagement through volunteering is key, as getting the best from volunteers isn’t just about finding the right roles and activities, but also asking strategically in your community. As Vijay from the Old Roffensian Association mentioned, age is an important factor and while there are exceptions, alumni tend to have more time to volunteer and give back later on in life when they are more settled in their careers or have retired.
Maintaining engagement is key
Another excellent point that was raised was that associations or societies asking for volunteers needed to be able to maintain the engagement of their volunteers, to encourage lifelong participation in their community. It can be difficult to predict how many people will volunteer, and often more people will volunteer than are actually needed (The Old Salopian association had over 200 alumni volunteer to talk to sixth formers about university options!), so planning ahead to ask a few select groups can work in your favour and keep engagement high.
Volunteers as committee members
Some associations, such as St Alban’s High School, have an in-house development team alongside their Old Girls association. The Old Girls committee is made up of volunteers, and the development office has formed a great relationship with the association, and often use them as a sounding board for new initiatives. For example, during lockdown they consorted over how to communicate and help their older and more vulnerable alumni, and provided support for them during this period through a combined effort.
Bridging the gap between association and development offices
Branding is an important element to bridge the gap between in-house development offices and alumni associations, with some offices such as Wrekin College including the alumni association logo in communications to their alumni. This helps alumni to feel members of their association, and builds the trust between the development office and alumni. More and more associations are working directly or in parallel with the school in a partnership, and are building strong relationships that can bring out the best in volunteers through new creative initiatives.
Thanks to all for your participation in this forum, it was great to see so many of you attend and share your ideas and experiences as we navigate the challenges of this year. We look forward to meeting with you all again soon!