UPDATE – Keeping your charity shop teams engaged during COVID-19
At the start of the pandemic, we got together with our good friends Vicki Burnett & Jayne Cartwright from The Charity Retail Consultancy to give you ideas on how to keep your volunteers engaged whilst your shops are closed. We loved all of your feedback and support of our first piece and have pulled together some further advice and guidance now that we are 6 weeks down the line - this time with input from charities across the sector. Thank you to everyone who’s been in touch with your ideas - we hope you find it both interesting and useful.
A wealth of information and resources have been produced and made available by NCVO. These are normally reserved for members, but have been made public due to Covid-19. These will be available for a limited time as they have made clear on their website. They have a dedicated Coronavirus page which you can find here and a dedicated volunteering page which you can access here.
There are some great examples of how volunteers are able to get involved and support the local community during the pandemic, some of which may be suitable for your charity and worth highlighting to your volunteers. The page also provides guidance on volunteering during the pandemic.
Virtual volunteering buddy
With isolation affecting so many people, being able to develop a befriending volunteer offer may be something that your charity is able to do.
Befriending Networks is an organisation that supports befriending services. They have produced some excellent guidance on befriending services during Covid-19. Befriending Networks have also made “Being a befriender: The Good Practice Guide” free to all to support organisations with their befriending services. You can access the PDF document here.
Sharing volunteer stories
We love this example of the Oxfam Bideford shop and their amazing volunteers who have created their own face masks from unsaleable t-shirts. This is a really great example of showcasing how the volunteers are still engaged and connected to the shop and the local community. It appeals to different audiences too – to Oxfam supporters to help them see how much volunteers love working with the charity, and to the volunteers themselves, showcasing them and making them feel valued.
What stories do you have about your volunteers that you could share with your supporters?
Have your volunteers been helping out in their communities during the pandemic, sewing scrubs, shopping for vulnerable people or helping others? These stories show what great people work with you and could encourage others to join in.
Do any of your volunteers have great stories to tell about their involvement with your charity?
Perhaps a funny story from working in your shops, did they meet their partner whilst volunteering, or were they instrumental in setting up the charity? Sharing these human interest stories make the volunteers feel engaged and valued and your supporters interested.
Share them via your social media platforms, website, newsletters or any other communication methods you use.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is producing weekly communications to their volunteers which include a lot of helpful information. Here is an example of one of their recent emails for you to have a look at. Thanks to the team at BHF for letting us share this.
When planning an email communication, think about the following:
Is email the right form of communication for your volunteers? What information can you include? What are your volunteers asking for and how are you able to provide effective communication to them?
Save the Children settled into a rhythm of communicating with volunteers and their focus is making sure everyone continues to feel connected - through calls, emails and regular updates on their Volunteer Intranet (Go Assemble). This is a great example of how one approach might not suit every volunteer, so it’s important to flex to what people need.
They have also implemented quite a few of the engagement ideas we suggested in our recent guidance and we’re delighted it’s working well for them.
Ross Henderson, Head of Retail for Severn Hospice has been producing short videos and sending them through WhatsApp to his team to keep them updated. Using video is a great way to connect and get your message across. It’s also really personal and it keeps that visible leadership front of mind, which is really important in the current situation.
The Chief Executive of one small charity which works with people with learning disabilities made a video for their volunteers - all of whom are supported by the charity in their volunteering. This means that they still feel connected and really valued, so important when their volunteering is an integral part of their support network.
If you work with a national charity, you could think about producing an area video which you can send to your volunteers so that you are still engaging and connecting locally to your volunteers. It’s also a nice idea to encourage your volunteers to send in videos and share what they have been doing or what they are looking forward to most when they are able to get back into the shop.
Lots of charities we’ve spoken to have used the lockdown to send out "pulse" (or short) surveys to volunteers. This could be something as simple as a well-being survey making sure that the offer of support is available.
It can also be used as an opportunity to ask volunteers for feedback on how they have been communicated with. Are you missing anything that volunteers would really value? It can be a really effective way to get insight.
You can use free online tools such as Survey Monkey - make sure you click “sign up free”. You also don’t have to send it out the traditional way through email, you can send it through WhatsApp which might be a better way to get more volunteers completing the survey.
Whilst not all shops have their own social media accounts – and not all volunteers will be tuned into every platform, this is still a brilliant way to keep in touch and let people know what you’re up to.
Championing volunteers on social media, talking about the roles they undertake – perhaps with a “Spotlight on…” series of posts, looking at different people and how they help – can be really engaging and motivating for volunteers and supporters alike.
WhatsApp groups for shop teams are really popular too, helping everyone keep in touch, share their lockdown experiences and plan for reopening. One team we know of set up a “Grayson’s Gang” group on WhatsApp so they could watch the Grayson Perry Art Club on TV and share their work with each other as they do it. A great way to keep creative and active, as well as uncover new talents (and perhaps a new window dresser or two…?!)
It is of course important to note that furloughed staff are not permitted to run social media accounts for their shops – but we’ve seen lots of fabulous volunteer run ones on Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps one of your volunteers would be interested in doing the same? Why not put out an appeal and see who’s out there? Another new skill and another great way to delegate meaningful and interesting work to your volunteer team.
Many charities have taken advantage of the time away from the shops to offer training to their teams. We all know how hard it can be to get sessions booked in with the daily pressures of running a shop, so this has been a great opportunity to do some learning.
Oxfam are running Zoom sessions for their volunteers and shop staff on topics from online selling to Oxfam's work overseas and lots more besides. A great way to upskill and inform, meaning people are fired up, skilled up and motivated to return when the time comes.
The Charity Retail Consultancy produced a Lockdown Learning package of four x one hour video sessions, covering volunteer recruitment, stock acquisition, customer service and space management. Lots of charities have taken this up for their paid teams - and several shop managers have come back to us to tell us they will be sharing it with their volunteers too, which is great news. One manager from Primrose Hospice said she would be using what she has learned from the volunteering session to help recruit the new team members she will need when she reopens as, in line with many charity shops, she is certain that some of her existing volunteers will be reluctant or unable to return in the short term at least.
Support through coaching
This has been an unsettling time for staff and volunteers and knowing where to get the right support can be difficult. Engagement Consultancy have been working with charities to support their staff with coaching interventions during Covid-19. Focusing on supporting staff with well-being, self improvement and getting prepared for when shops reopen. Coaching can be a really effective way to make positive changes and have lasting impact.
We’ve seen some great examples of shop teams taking on different activities during lockdown to keep them engaged and have interesting and worthwhile things to do. One Martin House Hospice shop team started making crafted goods from their homes which will then be donated to the shop for selling when they reopen.
We’ve also seen teams doing quizzes, competitions and reading groups online. The CRA put together a great list of activities for volunteers during down time too.
The Charity Retail Association is producing a range of resources that will be available to their members to use during Volunteers’ Week. It’s a really important time to recognise the contribution that volunteers make so why not use it as an opportunity to say thank you.
Consider how you might celebrate volunteers’ week. One charity is having a “fizz on the lawn” - asking volunteers to come out into their gardens and join a video call to celebrate them and 'virtually' present them with their length of service awards.
Other charities are arranging webinars and video calls so that they are still able to say thank you to their volunteers face to face.
Lots of charities are sending out thank you cards and letters to their volunteers, so that the personal touch we’re all missing is still there.
You could have a landing page on your website with your volunteering stats highlighting the incredible contribution volunteers have made and are still making.
What can you arrange for your volunteers to mark the occasion?
Overall, our wonderful sector is still proving itself to be thoughtful, resourceful, creative and resilient when it comes to engaging with teams during lockdown. We’re grateful for everyone who has contributed to this blog and hope that you can all take some good ideas for keeping in touch over the coming weeks whilst we prepare to reopen.
We recommend that members of the Charity Retail Association continue to reference all of the resources and support available from them, as they have been busy compiling a huge of information to support charity retailers. And if you’re not already members, we recommend you join today!
We wish you good health and good engagement – and we hope to see your wonderful charity shops open and filled with life, love and laughter again very soon.
About us & contact details
We specialise in strategic planning, audience engagement, learning and development, and interim resourcing services. Focusing on volunteering, staff and supporters in the not for profit sector.
Dan works with all organisations of any size.
Daniel O’Driscoll – 07515 395683
Voted Supplier of the Year 2019 in the Charity Retail Awards, we provide a range of services to support charities and other not-for-profits to make the very most from their retail and trading operations.
Vicki Burnett – 07985 574904 firstname.lastname@example.org
Jayne Cartwright – 07598 243210