“It’s a win-win situation for us, our volunteers and the communities they are drawn from,” says Liz Guildford, projects and logistics manager at Inspire: Culture, Learning & Libraries.
Liz is talking about Tickbox Marketing’s Community Makers tech, which Inspire have been using since a soft launch with her organisation during lock down. Community Makers expands the Volunteer Makers‘ platform and can be used across locations and partnerships.
Community Makers helps Inspire attract, manage, organise and provide challenges (which are actions, activities or events) for hundreds of volunteers throughout Nottinghamshire.
Inspire delivers a variety of educational and cultural services in the county and just beyond: These include running libraries, delivering adult learning, running arts projects and even providing music education.
The diverse nature of Inspire’s remit and the varying communities and premises in which they are delivered provided the organisation with a challenge when it came to engaging the community.
“Things were organised ad hoc, with volunteers recruited by local services and usually only working in a specific role,” explains Liz.
“There were no tailored criteria in place for these people and they had to go through the very formal and rigid county council recruitment process.”
Now, Community Makers – run by a dedicated Volunteering Officer within Inspire – can tailor specific opportunities, suggest new tasks and tap in to the micro-volunteering trend with people helping in very specific ways, when they can.
“It’s absolutely brilliant having all our volunteer data in one place. Not only does it help us cut down on paperwork, but there is a cross-pollination with volunteers.
“People who may have, for example, worked helping out in a library on occasions are seeing our challenges to help with the running of a one-off cultural event in the evening and getting involved,” Liz notes.
“Some challenges are big and require regular commitments, but others can be as small as helping publicise some of our work on social media – even a retweet helps!”.
As well as migrating over their regular volunteers, Inspire has found the technology has helped inspire new and more diverse helpers to get involved and participate.
“Whereas traditionally, many volunteers were retired people and more likely to be found in more prosperous areas of the county, we are seeing all kinds of people engage now,” Liz expands.
“We have people looking for work experience to help them get a job, and we can point them to services that support them, and a lot of younger volunteers. We even have some 16-year-olds involved.”
But how are older volunteers finding the new platform?
“I did at first wonder how some might manage,” admits Liz, “But the feedback has been positive and many love using it.”
“The Pandemic has helped many people to acquire new online skills and confidence, and, of course, they can still telephone our Volunteers Office if they want to get in touch that way.”
At present, Inspire’s Community Makers platform is offering 24 challenges for volunteers, but as the various teams within the organisation start using it, Liz hopes this will grow to 50 plus within the next few months.
The take up for the current challenges has been impressive:
“We always believed once we got it up and running it would take off – and it has,” she concludes.
“Volunteers feel like they are really part of the teams they are working with, they are being ambassadors for our services and are bringing in fresh ideas and enthusiasm. It is really bonding us with the communities we serve.”
Housing some of the most valuable and irreplaceable artefacts in Britain, University of Cambridge Museums is a heritage group like few others.
With eight widely different museums and a botanical gardens, all operating in a semi-autonomous manner and tied to one of the world’s greatest universities, UCM has a history of working closely with local communities in innovative ways.
It was following in this tradition that UCM began working with Tickbox Marketing’s Volunteer Makers team a few years ago, unveiling a new volunteering platform driven by Volunteer Makers tech in its website last year.
“Volunteer Makers gave our institutions a joined-up approach, while allowing each museum to set its own challenges and adapt things to its own needs – it isn’t a prescriptive ‘one size fits all’ approach,” explains Nikki Hughes, UCM’s Opening Doors project co-ordinator.
Nikki has championed the Volunteer Makers system at UCM and as familiarity grew with the concept, it is now used by most of the institutions to engage and inspire volunteers and manage their tasks.
UCM now has over 1000 Volunteer Makers, from all walks of life, and these helpers interact with its museums in a variety of ways.
“For some it’s completing a challenge that may only take an hour or so, for others it is helping with a specific task for a day, while others take up front-of-house duties on an ongoing basis,” Nikki notes.
“From our point of view, Volunteer Makers has been a great boon in managing the administration of this. In the past, we might have had bits of paper flying about between museums whereas now its digital, its measurable and we can track precisely,” she adds.
The Covid-19 lockdown has meant UCM’s institutions have had to get inventive in its challenges – but as could be expected – it has risen to the challenge.
Volunteer tasks could be as diverse as recording nature sounds from their own gardens, to getting involved in the Museum Remix project – a way in which the public could get involved in reinterpreting USM’s artefacts, and help redesign displays and layout.
As the doors to the various collections begin to open up again, Volunteer Makers has helped recruit volunteers to work in front-of-house roles, in outreach work and to run specialist tours.
“Volunteer Makers has made filling these roles so much easier and just as importantly it has allowed us to keep the public engaged with us while the lockdown kept doors closed,” Nikki says.
“We wanted to keep the community engaged with and interested in UCM and Volunteer Makers has been an invaluable tool for doing this,” she concludes.
Lesnes Abbey Woods is a green lung in built-up suburban south-east London.
Covering 88 acres of woodland, heath and park, it is centred around the ruins of the historic Medieval Lesnes Abbey.
Run by Bexley Council, the popular site has long had teams of volunteers helping with its maintenance.
The council was interested in getting the local community more connected with this jewel in its midst and expanding the ways volunteers engaged and helped out.
Which is where Pippa Smith and Tickbox Marketing’s Volunteer Makers model comes in.
Pippa is a freelancer who works with various organisations to help attract volunteers and to boost their effectiveness.
She had previously encountered Volunteer Makers during her work with Essex Museum’s Snapping the Stiletto project.
Snapping the Stiletto aimed to counter the cliched view of “Essex Girls” by telling the real story of women in the county. It was aided by masses of volunteers and garnered national media attention.
“With Lesnes, the project is all about getting people to engage with the site and get involved at whatever level they feel they can,” Pippa explains.
“We were working during the Global Pandemic which made things difficult, but we could overcome this by using digital engagement.
“By using what I like to call “light touch” volunteer challenges, we kept people interested in the site at a time when we couldn’t run actual events there and this was very important in keeping volunteer numbers up and in diversifying the kinds of volunteers we have.
“We have volunteers from all age ranges now and from all types of backgrounds: from keen gardeners to housebound people who may not visit the site but are champions for it on social media.”
Pippa firmly believes in the Volunteer Makers’ ethos of micro-volunteering: making volunteering something that can be done by anyone no matter how much or little time they have in their life.
“We began with Twitter. Our social media volunteers tweeting out challenges or retweeting positive messages to do with Lesnes,” she says.
“It gave people a sense of ownership, a relationship with the place, rather than see it as just a big, empty, green space.”
With a Volunteer Makers portal to make managing challenges less admin burdensome, the Lesnes Abbey Wood project team kept up a stream of volunteer challenges to attract all kinds of people.
They ranged from a photography challenge to a daffodil survey, a frogspawn count and participation in the national Big Butterfly Survey.
“It’s good to link Lesnes Abbey Woods with these national events,” Pippa notes, “We can put a local spin on them.”
With lockdowns lifted, the project can now expand to more hands-on roles, such as helping guide school visit groups and stewarding events in the park.
There is also a revamped Friends of Lesnes Abbey Woods group starting, with a good mix of volunteers from all ages investing their time in the park’s future.
Pippa is enthusiastic over how Volunteer Makers has helped Lesnes broaden its appeal.
“I’ve found it a very useful mechanism to revitalise volunteering. It allows people to get involved in so many different ways – it rethinks what volunteering is.” she says.
“Getting people invested in a space like Lesnes Abbey Woods helps not only secure the future of it, but benefits local people in so many ways. It builds a community.”
She does have one regret over the project though.
“Because of the lockdown and my other work, I haven’t been able to go there and visit the site yet!” she laughs.
“I know from my colleagues in Bexley and from volunteer feedback what a lovely place it is. I can’t wait to actually get there.”
History is all around us: It’s yesterday, last month, last year, as well as a century or a millennia ago.
For an archive service, the challenge is making the past “live on” and giving those in the present a sense of place and their roots within it.
Working with Volunteer Makers has helped Suffolk Archives’ goals of community engagement as well as enabling the service to work smarter.
Developed by Tickbox Marketing, who have years of experience of working with the heritage and culture sector, Volunteer Makers is a digital platform which allows charities to maximise public engagement, allowing people to micro-volunteer and participate in specific tasks as well as volunteer on an ongoing basis.
“Volunteer Makers has been a real boon. We can “sell” what we are doing in a much more attractive way and to a wider audience,” says Rebecca Harpur, volunteer engagement co-ordinator at Suffolk Archives.
Despite the challenges of the Pandemic, Rebecca and her colleagues had a busy 2020, moving many thousands of documents, maps, photographs, diagrams and artefacts to a new HQ on the Ipswich campus of the University of Suffolk.
The new base has a visitor centre and space for exhibitions, as well as the usual research facilities that most county archives provide. The team also maintain other collections in Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft.
“The visitor centre helps us tell the county’s story from its founding to the present day,” Rebecca explains.
“We want to engage with everyone in the county: young and old; people who’ve been here for generations and new arrivals – including new arrivals from other countries.
“The archives tell us about the history, geography and economy of the county. It’s everything that roots us in where we are, and that’s an important story to tell.”
Suffolk Archives started working with Volunteer Makers in 2019, and they now close to 300 volunteers signed up to the platform.
“Even when volunteers aren’t active, the system helps us to get our messages out there and spread the word about what we are doing,” Rebecca notes.
“Traditionally, archives have a rather tight base of mainly older volunteers, but Volunteer Makers has diversified our appeal.
“We get lots of younger people looking to fulfil roles with us as a first step to employment, or to enhance their CVs.”
During Lockdown, volunteer engagement has needed some thought, but challenges are still made to those signed up. They can range from simply following on social media, to help with the collection of archive material.
Family challenges have seen the archive collect children’s stories of Lockdown, and challenging youngsters to make Lego representations of Suffolk landmarks. The archives have also worked with schools to tell the story of Suffolk’s WWII Polish community, a story that resonates with today’s children of Polish origin in the county.
“Volunteer Makers has been so helpful in widening our appeal, it’s such a handy tool,” enthuses Rebecca.
“From an administrative side as well, it has made keeping track of volunteers easier. Tickbox has just added a rota function which allows us to note who is doing what, where – without a mound of paper!”
Before the new normal was normal – that is before March 23rd, 2020, when lockdown was announced – we would evangelise about the millions of volunteers. We would note the billions of pounds their work amounted to, if equated to an economic value. We would say:
• It is estimated that in the UK 20.1 million people volunteer to support activities, events and causes. 7 in 10 people, surveyed in 2019, reveal they volunteer.
• In 2015, volunteering was worth more than £22.6bn to the UK economy. This is equivalent to about 1.2% of GDP.
• 1 in 5 (22%) people formally volunteered regularly (at least once a month) in 2017/18 (11.9 million people).
• In 2017/18, 53% of people informally volunteered at least once, and 27% of people took part in informal volunteering regularly.
It’s clear from these incredible stats that we are part of nation of doers and givers (of our time) and how- if this natural resource of people doing good together is part of a national strategy – just imagine… yes, just imagine. Then Covid 19 came and everything stopped and organisations closed and many organisations furloughed their teams. Volunteers were at home.
Now we have a major challenge in sustaining our heritage organisations and charities, keeping volunteering going and making it safe for volunteers.
Research confirms that those volunteering in the last 12 months participate in formal volunteering at least once a month, are more likely to be older, well-educated and from higher socio-economic groups. All generations are affected by Covid 19, but if a primary volunteer demographic is affected by social distancing it makes the drive to diversify volunteering even more important.
With an aging society and Covid 19 disruption, it is extremely important we sustain, value, diversify and innovate volunteering. This will not only sustain current levels of volunteering, it will open-up public participation to wider demographic profiles, benefiting health and well-being, local health systems and the economy.
Feeling connected lies at the core of the volunteer experience.
Tickbox’s Tech for Good product: Volunteer Makers enable “Connected Communities”. This creates greater numbers of volunteers and bigger impacts. It brings to the fore remote and micro-volunteering and diversifies volunteering.
For 7 years, Tickbox Tech for Good products and national pilot training programmes have shown how enabling “connected communities” to be inspired is:
• A scalable model
• A means to help organisations adapt to disruption and economic shocks
• A way to diversify volunteering
Tickbox began operating in 2007 in Somerset and is now based in Bristol, we work with clients across the UK.
Our tech-driven engagement model (Volunteer Makers) helps heritage, arts, charity and community organisations navigate economic shocks, adapt to disruption and implement organisational change. Along with the tech we have evolved training tools and learning.
During lockdown our clients have launched and extended their community and volunteer engagement, because this engagement model and its digital tools work even in lockdown with social distancing.
Learn more about Volunteer Makers in lockdown:
Tickbox (the tech team behind Volunteer Makers) is offering charities, museums, arts and community organisations free online sessions to support new engagement strategies, following the impact of Covid 19 on volunteering and audience development.
Sessions can cover micro and remote volunteering, with non-contact participation in mind, and how to grow your volunteer and supporter community through digital engagement.
These sessions are free via Zoom during June and July. Sessions last approximately 40 minutes.
For charities, museums, arts organisations, community groups, and health and well-being projects who are facing immediate disruption and change, we are also offering support on using the Volunteer Makers platform, and on using digital marketing tools (Mailchimp, social media, Google tools).
If you want to find out more get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The coronavirus emergency has left us with all sorts of challenges, including how to remain connected with others and still benefit from being part of community. For heritage, arts and other charity organisations the question is how do we remain connected to volunteers and supporters? And how do these organisations continue to build their numbers in order to thrive during and after lockdown.
Take Part Oldham’s Volunteer Makers has launched during the most difficult time in our country’s post-war history, but it has hit the ground running and built engagement with local organisations, helped by Volunteer Makers.
Volunteer Makers embodies Tickbox’s “tech for good” ethos: Using tech creatively and strategically to connect communities, building engagement and allowing measurable benefits to flow.
The Arts, Heritage, Libraries and Music services in Oldham have got together to create Take Part Oldham, an online space using Volunteer Makers, that makes it easy to see what community activities local people can get involved in. What is significant is Take Part Oldham launched during lockdown. Take Part Oldham has 37 creative challenges running and has signed up more than 100 people (and rising) to take part remotely.
Music is an important part of the heritage, libraries and art grouping that makes up Take Part Oldham and one challenge asks people to stage an impromptu gig in their gardens at 4pm any day they choose.
The results are uploaded onto social media and as well as keeping up morale (and raising a few laughs) in these difficult times, the initiative links in the community with the arts in Oldham.
Another creative challenge gets people to post online book reviews: a great lockdown idea which not only encourages reading but builds engagement with Oldham libraries, who are tagged in by this virtual book club.
Keep fit meets the arts when Oldham Theatre Workshop’s Craig Harris holds a series of streamed daily warm-up exercises. The public can log on and warm up like a professional actor in a challenge that builds engagement with the theatre.
Lockdown means being inventive with challenges, but lots of people online with lots of time on their hands equals a great opportunity for reaching out and making connections with the public. Connections that should last even when the virus is vanquished. Connections that may last a lifetime.
Tickbox were invited to join a number of museum and heritage organisations based in the South West and South East to share best practice and learning around managing volunteers.
The Museum Volunteer Co-ordinators Forum was held in Swindon on February 27th and the theme was “Tools and Tips for Better Working”. It was organised by South West Museum Development (SWMD) and their South East counterpart: South East Museum Development (SEmuseumDP).
Both SWMD and SEmuseumDP are ACE-funded museum development programmes that enable museums in their regions to evolve and thrive.
Around 50 + delegates joined the seminar to hear case studies, share ideas and best practice and network. It was also an opportunity to hear from companies like Tickbox about tech that can inspire. Volunteer Makers is an engagement model and technology product designed to help organisations establish/grow a supporter/volunteer community. It also provides useful tools to manage volunteers.
Volunteer Makers has been driven by collaborative working with heritage organisations, started around 6 years ago with Luton Culture and Museum Makers. It helps organisations think through and deliver their volunteer strategy.
Engage in Gloucester – Volunteer Makers has been working with Volunteer Makers for the past 2 years and the Engage in Gloucester platform was launched in October 2019. Since then it has gone on to have a significant impact for Gloucester Culture Trust and their 62 heritage partners.
“Engage in Gloucester has shifted the face of volunteering for Gloucester,” said Director of Gloucester Culture Hollie Smith-Charles at the event. “We have got better at thinking through accessible volunteer opportunities and thinking what’s in it for the volunteer. This has led us to effectively reach the people we need to, including younger people – who make up 40% of the population”.
Other speakers sharing their volunteer management experience included:
Paola Palmer, Still Curious Project Coordinator and Hampshire Cultural Officer, The Red House Museum.
Hollie Foskett-Barnes, Membership Co-ordinator, Museum of East Asian Art, Bath.
Joy Todd, Head of Volunteering and Community Engagement, Gardens and Museums (GLAM), University of Oxford.
Tickbox MD and Programme Director for Volunteer Makers Claire Sully was asked to give a brief introduction to Volunteer Makers to further support the case study provided by Hollie Smith-Charles for Engage in Gloucester.
Claire said “Seeing Hollie demonstrating the positive impact of working with Volunteer Makers for Engage in Gloucester was very exciting. We know the tech is great, but the important thing is what the tech enables and for Gloucester this has been something quite extraordinary.”
Getting the community engaged and involved in arts, heritage and culture, has long been an aim of civic bodies in Gloucester.
It’s an approach that both carries economic benefits, and individual ones: letting the city council support events and facilities, and promoting physical and mental wellbeing and social inclusion for residents.
The West Country city has been a successful adopter of a new engagement model and technology – Volunteer Makers – to aid these aims.
Gloucester Heritage Forum and other community groups established Engage in Gloucester a year ago, to pool ideas and resources and use the platform provided by Tickbox, a digital tech company based just down the road in Bristol. Tickbox’s vision is to build technology products that have a positive impact on the world, Volunteer Makers has been rolled out nationally – supported by Creative England and Arts Council England.
The results achieved by Engage in Gloucester, using Volunteer Makers, not only provided community and civic projects with more public participation, but brought younger supporters into the fold – a key ambition for the Council.
“Engage in Gloucester with Volunteer Makers has not only increased the number of volunteers, it has enabled a better engagement with the public and increased the scope of their involvement with community groups and projects,” says Sarah Orton, Gloucester Culture Trust’s Community Engagement and Volunteer Officer.
Engage in Gloucester’s Volunteer Makers platform has been used by nearly 60 groups based in or near the city, ranging from Gloucester City Museum and Archives, to a community gardening group and the Girl Guides.
Larger organisations often write their own volunteer “challenges” (opportunities) for supported participation, while Sarah co-ordinates and helps smaller groups write and manage theirs.
“It has tapped into the changing face of community engagement,” Sarah explains.
“People being able to offer a few hours here and there and dip into what they want to do and where they want to do it.
“We’ve seen a big increase in young volunteers. Sometimes students looking for experience, perhaps to put on their UCCA form or to gain a foothold in the heritage and charity sector; young people doing their Duke of Edinburgh Awards and others who just want to help out, maybe in a gap year.
“The technology suits them to the ground and helps them connect, though of course, we still have plenty of older users as well, including retired people.”
Micro-volunteering is what Volunteer Makers encourages, letting supporters match their skills and interests and give time as and when they can, to help charities achieve specific goals.
“We’ve seen people grow in confidence. One regular volunteer now has paid work in the sector.
“For all, it helps that the volunteer challenges mean it isn’t a case of ‘turn up and do what we ask you’ but supporters know what their role will be, they will understand what they’re doing – and are consequently more enthusiastic about it!”
Engage in Gloucester can list many notable successes: stewarding posts for the city carnival and other festivals are filled “almost instantly”, while data inputting roles at the city archives and local history festival, both in situ and as home-based work, have also proved very popular. A drop-in counselling service filled demanding ongoing receptionist roles thanks to Engage in Gloucester and Volunteer Makers. Environmental challenges have also “flown off the shelf”, as Sarah puts it.
“Flexibility is what makes it work for users – not everyone can give regular commitments, but many want to help out as-and-when.
“Our community groups say they are seeing a very high calibre of volunteer come forward. Volunteer Makers has really made a difference to how charity and community groups and events operate here. It’s been great!”
It’s just worked really well for us” Sarah concludes.