Volunteers: Friends and Connectors

In this blog, Rhian Airey shares her top tips on how to recruit and retain volunteers and explains our approach with “Mayday Volunteering Cafe” metaphor – of course, this is not an actual location, or coffee shop, but a way of meeting up with volunteers at every step of their journey of volunteering.

5 December is the International Volunteering Day, and we would like to say a big THANK YOU to all of our volunteers who have worked with us over the years, and achieved some amazing things.

At Mayday, we’re proud to be different. We rediscover the person beneath the problem. We want to understand the people we work with as fellow human beings with hopes and fears, dreams and plans.

At Mayday, volunteers are:

  • Friends that have honest conversations with People We Work With about things they love doing, build confidence and resilience by sharing their experiences and reflections on what has helped them through the rough times before.
  • Connectors that identify community resources to achieve people’s ambitions, whether that’s competing in a chess tournament, or learning how to write computer code.

Recruiting and retaining the right volunteers is therefore key to the successful delivery of Mayday Inspire.

Mayday Volunteering Cafe

We invest in our volunteers, have regular conversations with them to identify their skills and aspirations, and support them maximise their potential. Here is what is on our menu – all vital ingredients to retain our volunteers.

1. Welcome Tea

A warming blend of flavours, enjoyed with a new volunteer on their first visit. A great to enjoy while getting to know someone and finding out about their passions.

Pot/cup? Definitely pot! You both need this cup of tea to decide if you are right for each other.

Pro tip: Make sure you understand how they take their tea (and they know how you take yours)!
Find out what their skills, passions are from your volunteers.
And tell what you expect them to do as part of the volunteer agreement.

2. Induction Tea

Not so much a tea, more a lesson in making it! Take time to show new volunteers where the tea making facilities are so that they can visit the Café any time.

Pot/cup? Both, and the creamer, sugar bowl, the fridge where you keep the milk, and the cupboard you keep all your teas, sugar and spoons. Don’t just assume they know how things work, show them what they need to be independent in their role.

Pro tip: Let them know about the biscuit policy
Don’t just assume they know your policies and procedures, take time to explain them so that they can act professionally, and confident in their role.

3. Regular tea

This tea should really come on prescription: All volunteers need regular opportunities to raise their concerns, ask questions, give feedback on their experience; and receive feedback for their good work.

Pot/cup? Depends. Sometimes, volunteers might wish to ask a question, and keep things simple. Sometimes volunteers might want to take time and socialise, and hear your feedback too.

Pro tip: Make yours a regular tea!
Setting aside time regularly to chat will help you get to know the volunteer and draw the best out of them (and vice versa). Regular tea is key to relationship building, which sits at the heart of volunteer retention. Use the time to help ensure they feel part of the organisation.
Giving your volunteers a regular opportunity to talk should mean that problems or frustrations are addressed in a timely manner. And if volunteers know when meetings are, they can prepare for them.

4. Celebratory Tea

Can be served to volunteers at any time and for any reason, to show you appreciate them and care for them. It will appeal to taste buds and never fails to bring a smile!

Pot/cup? It’s a small cup of tea to say thank you! Volunteers don’t expect you to spend too much money or make fuss with speeches, but small acts of kindness can go a long way!

Pro-tip: Don’t keep the tea brew too long!
It is important to stop, reflect,  and celebrate volunteers’ achievements. It is no good waiting a whole month just so that you can thank the person in their ‘allowed’ time slot. Everyday kindness can make a huge difference – and this can also open up opportunities for the volunteers to express their need for some more ‘regular tea’!

5. Goodbye tea

Not our favourite blend – but we won’t skip it!

Pot/cup? It takes two, so it is a pot! Make sure you have a private space, notebook and open mind when you are having the exit conversation – otherwise it tastes bland (or worse, very bitter!)

Pro tip: Review your tea menu with your volunteer.
Really listen to what your volunteer has to say about the decision to leave, and ask them what would have helped them in the process, so that you can get it right next time!

Here’s what one of our volunteers had to say:

I chose Mayday due to a recommendation from a colleague who had undertaken a fairly long placement as part of a post-graduate study program. Mayday was welcoming, pro-active and took an asset based approach to the people they work with rather than the deficit based approach that sees many people remain homeless.

From Big Sleep Out to Big Share

Nikki Atkinson, Asset Coach at Mayday Trust, asks how charities can develop the momentum created by Big Sleep Out and suggests a deliberate city-wide approach to providing resources to promote and strengthen the aspirations of people experiencing homelessness.

As the beautiful autumn leaves are swirling throughout the city, and we set our clocks back preparing for winter, many of us were overjoyed with the prospect of having an extra hour’s sleep in our warm and comfortable beds. But how about those of us who will be sleeping out, in the longer, darker and colder months?

According to the latest figures, 3,569 people are estimated to be sleeping rough on any one night. The number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled in the past five years, with a 30% increase in just the last year.

Last Friday, charities across Oxford organised the Big Oxford Sleep Out, inviting people to sleep out for the night, and reflect on how they can help people move out of the streets. People from all walks of life gathered together in Oxford City Centre. There was music, friendship, and many cold hands and feet. It was a successful event raising awareness, and crucial funds for charities – and we thank every person who participated and donated, for their fantastic spirit and intentions to change our city. The event not only raised money to support the crucial work of local charities but also made the scale of homelessness visible in our city.

For many people, seeing their friends and loved ones on the street, even for one night, and even on a night to raise money for the charities is hard to digest. Luckily, the participants had warm clothes, hot tea, food, and more importantly friends to support them throughout the night, and they had the luxury of going back home the next morning. How about those who do not? And what can we do to help them?

What do we have in common?

“I believe we have far more in common with those people than just the experience of sleeping out (once), and these commonalities can help a lot more to end homelessness.”

As a coach at Mayday Trust, I have had many conversations with people who are experiencing homelessness. Generally, people feel that the ‘homelessness’ label only excludes them further. Most people are fully aware of whatever situation they may be in, talking about it all day creates negativity. People need to be recognised for their skills, qualities and identity in order to feel good and want to move forward and for the right reasons.

So how can we ensure next time, we go beyond sharing the experience of sleeping on the streets, see people for who they really are, listen to their stories, and support their strengths to achieve their aspirations and dreams? And how can we do this together, not just as charities alone, but as a whole city?

Big Oxford Share Day

I am writing this blog to ask for your help to organise a Big Oxford Share Day – where everyone in the city shares their skills, talents, resources and friendship with everyone else.

My vision is a spring day in our beautiful city Oxford, where everyone shares what they have with everyone else, indiscriminately. The high street, the parks, the college grounds, everywhere in the city opens their doors to people experiencing homelessness. People of all ages and from all walks of life bring what they can: music, arts, dance, food, or just good old friendly smiles and chatter. And we use all these assets to discover what matters to people, what support and help people want from us, and to help them realise their full potential.

A day of sharing what we have, to find and grow the spark in people. That will be revolutionary.

Call to Action

You can help us in many different ways:
• Opening the doors of your business, or organisation to people for a few hours
• Setting up an outdoors cinema, theatre, or music hall
• Performing arts, painting, drawing
• Playing football, volleyball, rugby, etc.
• Sharing clothes, books, and other things you think no one should live without
• Donating a fun session, e.g. paintball, go karting.
• Cooking, baking, making tea
• Having a stall offering volunteering, training or job opportunities
• Talking to everyone, and being friendly
• Many many other things that I can’t think of, but you are willing to share

So if you want to join the Big Oxford Share, or if you have any questions, please contact our Oxford Asset Manager for further information, and we will make sure to get back to you!