Friday, 14 October 2016

Good Deeds to find love: a new take on volunteering

This post is the latest in our (very) occasional series of guest articles. Hannah Whitehead is our contributor this time. I met with Hannah in early September, intrigued by her organisation, Good Deed Dating, I invited Hannah to explain the concept for the readers of the Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd blog and that's just what she does here.



As volunteer managers, we are all on the lookout for exciting and innovative ways to engage new audiences in our volunteering opportunities.  It’s a constant battle between getting the core work achieved and providing people with one off, commitment-free opportunities.

The challenge

What people want is an easy way to volunteer.  We all know that.  We’re not talking about the incredible volunteers who keep us all going on a day to day basis; those stalwarts who have volunteered every Tuesday morning since 1994. 

We’re talking about those people who would never volunteer.  The word doesn’t even enter their vocabulary.  They don’t want to commit, they don’t want to fill out endless forms, and they think opportunities are going to be boring or only available while they’re at work. 

And here’s the problem for volunteer managers: none of that suits our needs.  Not only do we have to make time and space to run these special activities, we also have to recruit the volunteers.

So what does that mean?  You end up with a team of volunteers who are dependable and reliable, yes.  But where are your new members and supporters going to come from next year, and the year after that? 

We need to find exciting ways to pull in that next generation of supporters. We have to start listening to those people who don’t volunteer.  Why aren’t they volunteering?  Just because they don’t do it now, doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t.  We just need to give them the incentive and an easy way to dip their toe in.

It was exactly these challenges that I was facing as a volunteer manager, which spurred me on to create a social enterprise that would not only support charities to access that tricky non-comital audience, but more importantly, engage them on a level that would speak to their needs and interests. 

Enter Good Deed Dating

Good Deed Dating works with charities in London to co-ordinate volunteering events for single people.  We combine good deeds with great dates; providing single Londoners with the chance to meet someone who shares their values whilst they do something positive with their spare time. 

Our website provides information on our brand and our story.  It also showcases the work of our charity partners with their own profile pages.  Our customers can purchase their subscription and set up their account details.  The main element of our website is our events page which lists all the upcoming Good Deed Dates, where people can purchase tickets.

But how did it all happen? 

One morning last year I was reading an article entitled “Forget Tinder, Volunteer Instead”, scoffing to myself, “of course volunteering is an amazing way to meet people, everyone knows that”.  When it dawned on me that although those of us who work in the third sector know that volunteering holds the power to introduce likeminded people to each other, the rest of the world might not think that way.  Volunteering is still seen as a selfless act where you give and you don’t get.  When in fact, we all know that volunteering should always be a mutually beneficial process where you gain as much as you give.  All I needed to do was to re-brand volunteering as something appealing and relevant to single people.

For starters, don’t call it “volunteering”, call it “a good deed”.  Stop talking about “volunteers”, our customers are called “Deeders”.  Make it all about meeting people, doing something fun and getting out there.  What you end up with is the good deed being seen as a by-product of the date.  Imagine that, volunteers who want something out of their experience.

The result is a group of people engaged in your charity, who would never have been involved otherwise, and you, the charity, have three or four hours of golden time to convince them that your cause is the one they should support.  This is your opportunity to engage the next generation of your supporters, on their level and at their pace.

Following a significant amount of market research and several focus groups, the idea of Good Deed Dating became a reality.  We launched our website in June 2016 and have been blown away by the response.  People love the idea.  We’ve found that over 70% of our Deeders wouldn’t have considered themselves a volunteer before their first date.  And when asked whether their experience of a Good Deed Date has encouraged them to continue their involvement with the charity hosting their event, over 85% said yes.

Our success so far has led to significant seed investment recently and the expansion of the team at GDD HQ.  We will soon be looking to diversify our offer, developing new products and services.  We are looking forward to running events for LGBT groups very soon too.  There is so much potential for our events to expand to include charities outside London or even the UK.

Moving forward:

For me it’s all about looking at volunteering from a different angle and modernising the way we engage people.  What else can you offer?  What are they going to get out of it?  That feel-good factor just isn’t enough anymore! 

Think about the millions of people out there who don’t volunteer.  Let’s aim for them!

Hannah Whitehead, Founder and CEO of Good Deed Dating

We are always happy to hear from charities who are keen to get involved with Good Deed Dating.  Check out our website: to find out more, or get in touch to chat about how we might be able to work together.  Email us:

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

A missed opportunity

Just a few days ago Third Sector magazine published the welcome news that the government and Nesta were making a £4million investment into volunteering by people aged over 50. This comes just under three months since I blogged about the apparent youth obsession the UK has when it comes to volunteering and no, I’m not taking the credit for it!

With an ageing population and a decreasing proportion of the total population being made up of the under 30s, it is long overdue to see any sort of meaningful investment in volunteering by older people. In recent days the Royal Voluntary Service has called for a more strategic approach to volunteering by retirees and in July a paper was published by the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing reflecting on the slow progress over the preceding twelve months to address it’s recommendations, including those around volunteerism.

So £4million is welcome.

But, it is a drop in ocean compared to the £1billion being invested in National Citizens Service over the life of the 2015–2020 Westminster parliament. £4million amounts to just 0.4% of the NCS investment, highlighting how disproportionate the funding is!

More concerning is what the funding will support. One aspect was described in the Third Sector article as:

“The Join In Stay fund will award grants of up to £50,000 and non-financial support from behavioural science experts for organisations to carry out randomised controlled trials to understand best encourages volunteers to continue to give their time regularly.”

Whilst long term, regular, committed volunteering might have been a hallmark of the duty oriented parents of the baby boomers, it is not associated at all with the way the post-war generation want to give time. Repeated studies have shown that they want choice, flexibility, the ability to fit volunteering around busy, post-retirement lives that involve travel, leisure, caring for others (e.g. parents and grandchildren) etc.. As the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing said:

“The reserve army of “little old ladies” (and men) upon whom so many voluntary organisations depend, will be juggling ever more demands on their time. Informed by their more varied cultural, educational and professional backgrounds, future generations will have different expectations of, and attitudes towards, their later lives.”

Furthermore, another element of the funding was described by Third Sector as:

“Up to £100,000 in grants will be available from the Give More Get More – Exploring Intensive Volunteering fund to support organisations in trials of intensive volunteering placements, such as gap year-type trips, for people approaching or in retirement.”

Which leaves me asking why so much of this new funding is being spent looking at the long term, regular and committed model of volunteering which is becoming less and less relevant to the over 50s?

Simply put I think Nesta and the government have got this wrong. They are either ignorant of the realities of what people over the age of 50 want from volunteering or they just don’t care, remaining wedded to a form of volunteering that is less and less popular. Whatever the reason, with such a small investment in such an important area, I fear that a large amount of this money is going to be wasted. What a missed opportunity!

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Three key steps to developing meaningful volunteer roles

“Attempting to recruit volunteers without first having developed worthwhile positions to offer them is equivalent to attempting to sell a product to people who have no need for it.  It can be done, but the buyer may well become unhappy later.  And when volunteers are unhappy, they don’t stay around long.” Steve McCurley, Rick Lynch and Rob Jackson, The Complete Volunteer Management Handbook (2012)

Developing roles for volunteers is one of the aspects of working with volunteers that those leading and managing them sometimes spend the least amount of time on. Despite the fact that we know we pay with volunteers with meaning, not money, many of us can skimp on the investment of time needed to craft really meaningful and motivating roles that will deliver a great volunteer experience. Instead, under pressure to get volunteers recruited and put to work, we develop roles geared around lists of uninspiring sounding tasks, often using a similar format to a paid role’s job description.

This is why the Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd course on Developing Meaningful Roles for Volunteers continues to be popular. The course gives participants a chance to step back, explore volunteer role design afresh and actually work on creating a new role to help them in their work.

Here are three quick insights that might help you improve your volunteer roles.

  1. When talking to colleagues in order to identify new ways volunteers can help them in their work, do not ask, “What do you think volunteers can / could / should do to help?”. As soon as you ask this question people censor their responses based on their past experiences or prejudices about volunteers. So if your colleague thinks volunteers will be unreliable they will not suggest a role where reliability is important. Instead, work with colleagues to identify what their work actually involves, ideally in as much detail as possible. Then work with them to suggest ways volunteers could contribute their skills, talents and experience to get that work done.

  2. Games are fun activities people enjoy playing. People like spending time and effort playing and getting good at games. There are four elements present in all games that we should make sure are also present in our volunteer roles so that people will like spending their time and effort doing the volunteer work. First, ownership - does the volunteer feel they own their role and the work within it? Second, responsibility for results - is the volunteer held responsible for actually achieving something in the course of their volunteering (remember, people want to make a difference). Third, authority to think - is the volunteer controlled and micro-managed or are they actually allowed to use their own brains to figure out the best way to get the role done, perhaps bringing new ideas and insights to the work? Fourth, keeping score - does the volunteer know how they are doing and whether they are making progress towards that difference they (and you) want to make?

  3. Don’t use the typical task-oriented paid staff job description format for volunteer roles. Why? Here’s a quick question for you - when did you last pull out your job description, look at it and get really excited by what it contain, so much so that you can’t wait to get to work tomorrow? If you’re like most people, you probably haven’t looked at your job description since you were recruited or had your last annual appraisal. Why then do we think that format will inspire volunteers, people who we need to remain passionate about our work so we can re-recruit them everyday whilst meeting their motivational paycheque? Instead, think about constructing volunteer role descriptions around the results you want volunteers to achieve, giving space for people to develop their own ideas about how to do things rather than just doing a list of uninspiring tasks.

So, over to you. What are your top tips for developing meaningful volunteer roles? Please leave a comment below and share your insights with us and with your colleagues in the field.

If you’d like to know more about this topic and get further details on the Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd course on Developing Meaningful Roles for Volunteers please contact Rob direct by email or call +44 (0)7557 419 074.