Some Sage Advice for #Volunteersweek

Hey, it’s volunteer week (sorry, #volunteersweek), and as you know (actually you probably don’t), I do love to piggyback a blog post all over someone else’s PR.

Like most of us in the environmental sector, I have attained my lofty position on the back of some hard (and some not so hard) graft as a volunteer. Post-graduation, I found that my qualifications were not the magical key that would have potential employers in the sector knocking down my door (ok, I suspect I’ve mixed metaphors here. If I have the key, why are they knocking my door down…? Never mind). All that academic brilliance was of no consequence next to the huge, gaping void in my ‘experience’ column.

4 - Gunnersbury Triangle

Badger branded

I asked around about this – ‘welcome to the environmental sector’ they said. And so I found myself bumbling about at the London Wildlife Trust as part of the (now sadly defunct) graduate trainee scheme at their Camley Street reserve (a space I now occasionally visit if only to point out to bemused members of the public that ‘I built that’).

I was very fortunate to have some excellent, patient, knowledgeable and perhaps overly trusting staff through my year of volunteering at LWT. When I first started volunteering, I was very much on the ‘careerist’ side of the volunteer dichotomy. I had a slightly mercenary view about what I was willing to do. Now any volunteering I do is primarily for the satisfaction. I have become a ‘hobbyist’ volunteer in my dotage. As volunteering develops, the environmental sector will see an increase in the former class of volunteer. As such the volunteering experience really does depend a great deal on the outlook of the staff that manage this ‘resource’. For starters, as soon as they use the phrase ‘resource’ to describe volunteers, you can probably be sure you’ve found a wrong ‘un – Volunteers are not a commodity to be calculated only in terms of their hours for match funding.

DSC00049

The Black Badger – A note to the London Wildlife Trust: The huge great dents down its side were not of my doing.

As a volunteer I was given the opportunity to expand my skills and ability, to take on responsibilities and new projects, to develop my own ideas. Most importantly, I was taken to the pub frequently. I can’t state how important this last point is for volunteer cohesion, retention and happiness. The way I was treated as a volunteer is something I have tried to continue in my own career, firstly when I became a member of staff at LWT and in every role since.

But the volunteering world is not all sunshine and rainbows, particularly if you’re using it to get a toehold in the sector. Be wary. There will inevitably come a time where your skills and experience are at such a level that you might find yourself doing, or being asked to do, things for which someone might reasonably expect to be paid. Don’t be kidded into thinking that as a volunteer, you should just be grateful for the opportunity and get on with it. Perhaps you should, but don’t ever believe that you aren’t in a strong bargaining position. My advice is to always ask what you are getting out of it and what you could get out of it.

There’s a bit of advice me mam always gave me about being nice to people on the way up – and I can’t stress this enough to all you volunteer managers out there. I’m forever coming across former volunteer I managed; one even recently interviewed me. This does further illustrate the importance of volunteering in such a small pond as the environmental scene in London. I really can’t understate this. People forever use the word ‘networking’ as a benefit to volunteering, but it is the friends I have made – friends who just happen to now work in different environmental organisations all around the country – that have been one of the biggest advantages, both on a personal and professional level, to my time volunteering.

Bat Calls and Knob Twiddling at Dusk

Following on from Butterfly and Bees last week, last night was time for another volunteer training event as my duller, identical-and-yet-oddly-slightly-less-attractive twin’s workaday life once again intruded on my precious complaining time.

This time it wasn’t me – ahem, I mean my twin – running the training, but an actual, proper, real-life expert from the Bat Conservation Trust who knew what he was all about and everything. Most disconcerting. I might actually have to put a little more effort in for my next event if my volunteers begin to expect this level of knowledge. As Mr BCT went about his training, showing me up for the disorganised, improv, make-it-up-as-I-go-along teacher that I am, I happily retreated into my natural role of putting the kettle on and ensuring everyone had a hot cup of tea and biscuit. I think I’ve missed a calling.

A photo of people standing around in the dark.

A photo of people standing around in the dark.

After a couple of hour’s background and quizzing on pitch, repetition rate, tonal quality and rhythm, we headed out onto Battersea Park with our heterodynes to see what we could find. Passing a cricket match, still ludicrously and inexplicably continuing in the murk, we got our first click; excitement! But alas, it was merely my rather fetching yet static-inducing waterproof scrapping against itself. We didn’t have to wait too long, however. Dodging the lunatic runners and suspect dog walkers you encounter in the urban greenspace gloaming, we soon got our first Pip, diving and swooping along the edge of the lake. A knob twiddle gave the deepest audio at 45KHz indicated that this was, as expected, a Common Pip. Working around the lake, we soon got our first Nathusius’ Pip, swooping in low, all curiosity, over our heads. Later, there was apparently a Leisler, but this must have been while I was off doing something super important and I missed it. Annoyingly, this would have been a first for me.

As the cold started to bite, I reverted to my childhood and had a crack at ‘Bat Stoning’. A little research reveals that this is neither a cruel form of medieval animal cruelty, nor is it something that I just made up. Indeed the art of tossing small stones in the air to trick a bat into swooping for it apparently made an appearance on that bastion of environmental education Springwatch a few years back. I think it was the hairy one and the smug one having a go. I wonder who taught me? Perhaps my granddad. Either way, last night they weren’t biting.

So what did I learn? Well, that Serotines are basically Jazz Noctules and that I’m good at judging call rhythm (formerly a (rubbish) bassist), but not so good at judging pitch (old man ears and too much Tom Waits turned up to 11). I learned that my ‘sonic memory’ is slowly improving, but that there’s no substitute for actually getting out there and having a go when it comes to species ID (OK, I already knew that). I also learned that some of those childhood wildlife games you play might be more universal than you think and that it’s hard to keep up the pretense of a secret identity for even 535 words.

Butterfly Surveys and Harnessing Volunteer Knowledge

Finally, after a number of aborted attempts, a couple of weeks ago it was finally warm enough for me to run my much anticipated (well, by me at least) butterfly and bee ID training days. I know, I know, you wish you could have been there too, and you’re right to do so. You missed an absolute treat – 2 peacocks, 1 red admiral, a small tortoiseshell, a comma and a Hairy Footed Flower Bee. It was a bonanza!

Bizarrely, for someone generally so curmudgeonly and introverted, I really do rather enjoy running training sessions for volunteers. Perhaps it’s a sign of my egocentricity winning out over my misanthropy.

But it was, of course, bound to happen. It always does. It’s happened on pretty much every volunteer training day I’ve ever delivered – particularly those around species ID, or a specific site. There’s always a volunteer with more knowledge and experience than you. But don’t fear it, embrace it. Don’t feel as though you need to assert your authority (this really isn’t the right sector for that kind of thing at all). Don’t feel the need to become overly didactic and dispense instructions, just to see that they are followed. For this particular survey and training event, I’ve harnessed that knowledge. My volunteer, with bags of local understanding of butterflies on the Common, has been consulted and co-opted into designing the form and route of my butterfly transect. Without this, I wouldn’t have known about a particular frequenting of a specific tree by Purple Hairstreaks. My original route completely avoided this area.

For me, this not only highlights my own la-di-da, commie, inclusive philosophy to training and volunteering, but also the need to get some pre-training information about your volunteers. It’s always advisable to send out an email asking about relevant experience so you can properly target and organise.

It’s tempting to search for any slight error in their knowledge and pounce on it, but that lends itself to pettiness. Start a conversation. There’s a prevalent aversion these days to discussing what we don’t understand, that we need to know a definitive answer for everything. Ecology is just as, if not more, prone to individuals of a smart-arse, know-it-all persuasion. You might feel it unedifying to admit ignorance, particularly in a subject you are supposed to be delivering training on, but it is not something I’ve ever had a problem with (and a good job too, I hear you say).

And so we wound our way around the Common, working through our early-showers, the adult hibernators that I’d rather hoped my volunteers would already be familiar with. Next were the tricksy, flighty Whites that never stop still long enough to get a good bloody look at their wing-tips (for discerning Large from Small) or underwing (Female Orange Tips, Green-Veined).

white butteflies

White butterfly from L to R: Large, Small, Female Orange Tip, Green Veined. To differentiate between Large and Small, look at the wing -tips (more black around outer edge in Large), don’t rely on anything as ephemeral and subjective as size. Good look spotting the difference in flight. Green Veined and Female Orange Tip can be distinguished by distinctive underwings

Small and Essex Skippers: Just as a quiz*, I showed my novices a Small and Essex and asked them to spot the difference. They managed it. The first reader to tell me which is which and why wins a lifetime subscription to the blog and a cryptic name-check in my next post

Small and Essex Skippers: Just as a quiz*, I showed my novices a Small and Essex and asked them to spot the difference. They managed it. The first reader to tell me which is which and why wins a lifetime subscription to the blog and a cryptic name-check in my next post

Then the Browns, the Skippers and on to the Blues. This is where I professed a little ignorance, having previously largely surveyed through woodland and only really regularly come across one or two species. Rather wonderfully, my expert volunteer picked up where I left off, and I learned a whole lot more than I already knew about my Holly, Small, Adonis and Common Blues. That’s the point I’m trying to make, I suppose. Training can be as much about teaching yourself as it is about teaching others. I know that sounds hideously mawkish and sentimental, especially coming from my keyboard, but to drop a stat I’ve recently seen – we retain 90% of information when we teach it to another person. Or as my old mentor used to say ‘See one, Do one, Teach one.’

Of course, this all well and good until your self-proclaimed expert is wrong. What if he’s one of the many volunteers (indeed, people) who just thinks he knows? Well, for those occasions I advise carrying a large stick.

*And if you fancy another, here’s a butterfly ID quiz I made for some volunteers a few years back – I recently tried it and didn’t get 20 out of 20 and I wrote the bloody thing.

Green with Envy

A quick pop quiz for all you environmentalists out there. Tell me if any of the following is familiar:

I'm getting the most out of some of my stock images

I’m getting the most out of some of my stock images

You’re in the pub with a group of greeny type associates (of course you are, where else do environmentalists gather?) In turn, they each mention that they are; Working on a really cool project at the moment, thanks very much; Have just got their newt/pesticide/bat license; are starting their own niche company combining artisan beer and bushcraft or are about to jet out to the Amazon to study an obscure type of annelid worm. Do you:

a) Congratulate them and buy another round as a celebration, even though it’s not your turn.

b) Quickly make up something really great that you’ve been doing at work recently, when in reality you’ve been stuck in the office all week entering species data in excel.

c) Brood over your pint and secretly want to stab them in the eye while also being grudgingly happy for them.

OK, I’ll admit it, I put a) in as a bit of a laugh. But be honest, it’s c) isn’t it?

I’m not going to claim that this is something unique to environmentalists. It’s just that of course we tend to have differing value systems to many, so this jealousy is not generally of the ‘how much’ variety*. We tend to get jealous about the oddest things.

What’s this got to do with Conservation, you might ask? Where are the Adventures? Where’s this coming from (and where the hell is it going)? Well I tracked back my irritation this week to this post by a former volunteer chum of mine:CCpic

Now, I know that Facebook is just one giant, universal game of brag concocted by our Lizard overlords to keep us all distracted, but this was beyond the pail (pale?). This had gone past one-upmanship. This had effectively ‘won Facebook’ for me. How can you compete with this? My friend has essentially dropped into visit, told me all about her amazing project and left before I’ve had a chance to make something up about my life.

On top of this I get regular updates from two other former colleagues, lounging around in far-flung corners writing blogs of their own. I’m not sure Adventures in Conservation, with its tales of misanthropy and barely concealed contempt for its fellow man can compete with that from its concrete home in the grim urban environs of Stockwell.

It’s not just the readership, though. It’s the growing pool of experienced and qualified applicants and a diminishing well of opportunities and resources in the sector. You see, I didn’t just think of a good title and then decide to write any old nonsense after all – this was merely a ruse to make a point about the competitive nature of my field and how some of us get to do really cool stuff and the rest of us just sit at home writing about it. I don’t know, maybe you don’t suffer these pangs of envy. Maybe I’m just a self-centered git.

And yet…and yet given all this I’m still glad (through the gnawing jealousy) when an associate gets a great new job, starts an interesting project, gets some good publicity or, damn them, swans off to some far-fetched part of the globe to prance around in the jungle counting monkeys or some such.

Still, I’ve got my chainsaw license and I did chase Wallabies around the Isle of Man for a couple of months. I’ve got that to fall back on at least.

*As an aside, trust me on this, some people from other walks of life can get rather angry when you reject the value system they have imposed on themselves. Which amuses me no end.

A Crap Tour Guide’s Intro to the London Wildlife Trust

For once, a post with no point to it (yes, yes, I know that describes pretty much everything I write).

I found a load of pictures I took a couple of years back when I was trying to complete a tour of all 40 or so London Wildlife Trust sites. Looks like I got about halfway before I got bored/left LWT/couldn’t find a decent excuse to visit the rest in work time. Anyway…enjoy…(is that the right word?)

Social Media – Not Just For Tooting Your Own Horn

A while back I wrote a piece about the need for environmental charities to embrace the 21st Century and engage more innovatively with social media, before castigating one for doing just that. I know, I can be a bit of an arse occasionally.

Now while the Green movement has shown itself to be pretty new-media-savvy – the #greensurge on twitter is really gathering momentum – most environmental charities are still a little slow off the mark, still a little set in their ways, still a little misjudged. There’s definite scope for the larger use of social media platforms for means other than self-promotion and marketing.

Well, I can toot my own horn a little about a very, very, very small project where I’ve been attempting to do just that. Last month I used Flickr to set up a Fixed Point Photo project on Tooting Common – (Fixed Point Photography is, in it’s simplest form, taking a picture from the same point on a repeated basis over a long period of time. It can be used to show changes in vegetation etc. both seasonal and over a period of years). It was so simple even a luddite like myself could manage it – it took barely 2 hours, including the time on site actually taking the pictures – and though it hasn’t really got many people involved yet (it doesn’t really need that many, to be honest), it’s an easy way for absolutely anyone with a camera to help with surveying and monitoring. I’m hoping that it’s an idea that other greenspaces might take up too, as an easy way to engage and fill gaps of knowledge.

And it’s not the only way you can get the public involved in survey work. Citizen science projects are booming, they’re a great way to get the public involved, increase a sense of ownership and fill knowledge gaps. They don’t even need a great deal of training – take the Tower hamlets online bee survey, a great project that involved a wealth of new volunteers in 2014 (and one I shall be stealing the format of in 2015). So for those working in the sector – it’s time to get inventive with Facebook and Twitter, let’s see what we can come up with.

Ten ‘Other’ Tips for Getting a Job in Conservation

This week I found a guest article on Mark Avery’s great blog giving ten tips for getting a job in conservation. I reasoned: I’ve studied Conservation, I’ve volunteered for environmental organisations, I now have a job vaguely in the sector, therefore I’m equally as qualified to offer advice. Either that or I’ve run out of ideas and have started plagiarising.

There’s a lot of ‘traditional’ advice you will probably have heard a hundred times if you’re an aspiring ecologist or environmental educator, but I’m going to assume you’re not a complete numpty and forgo advising you to check your spelling, tailor your CV, research your employer, practice your interview questions – if you’re reading my most excellent blog and have stuck with it this far, then you’re obviously an intelligent bird. Obviously. So here I’m offering some tips you perhaps won’t find elsewhere. You can take it or leave it. It’s a competitive market, perhaps I’m sabotaging you?:

1. Volunteer – Education is great, experience is better

No brainer, this one. Yes, many of us could have stupid letters after our name if we chose (vanity is not a common trait amongst conservationists – see point 7), but it’s the hands-on experience that really counts in the sector.

2. Put thought into the course you choose

That said, if you’re going down the further education route, have a serious think about the course content and how it will help you get a job. Think specific skills. An MSc in Conservation has earned me a broad tick mark in many application processes, but a chainsaw license has got me interviews. Lots of little, focused, courses are often a better investment than one large one.

3. Diversify

Try everything once except incest and morris dancing – even things you think you won’t be good at or have no interest in. My first breaks came through volunteering on projects with young people who were not thriving in a classroom environment (one of my favourite euphemisms, that). This was something I didn’t really think I’d have an interest in or be good at, but my volunteer coordinator twisted my arm. Create yourself a solid and broad base of general skills, you never know when they might come up in an interview or an application. Sticking your hands up gets you noticed, too.

4. Specify

Why do you keep following me and stealing my poo?

Want an interview? Get a Wallaby

Contradictory so and so, aren’t I? I promise I’m not just confused (well, generally I am, but not about this). It’s always good to have a ‘thing’ (this coming from a man who chased Wallabies around the Isle of Man – I swear I’ve been invited into interviews just for that). Ecology, for example, is a huge school – perhaps start with one group to develop some serious skills in.

5. Input into your volunteering experience

I’ve written about the changes to volunteering offers before, and I think people are becoming more turned on to the idea that it’s a two-way process. Ask to see and input into volunteer policies, suggest setting up a volunteer council, ask for representation at meetings. All environmental charities worth their salt should realise the importance of their volunteers and the work they do and should make efforts to involve their input in the process.

6. Go to the Pub

Trying to get noticed? Build up your alcohol tolerance

Trying to get noticed? Build up your alcohol tolerance

Now there’s some advice I can get behind. I’d hate to perpetuate a myth that we’re all a well-oiled bunch, but a lot of networking does seem to happen in a venue with access to copious amounts of social lubricant. It’s also a place where you can keep educating yourself – conservation always has a new ‘issue’ to get your head around. Don’t be afraid to discuss what you don’t understand, (a life lesson in general, there) ask questions – something you might find easier after a pint of mood enhancer.

7. Don’t be too pushy

Ok, I’m going to get all psychoanalytical about the sector here. This is a counterpoint to the usual advice about networking – and believe me there are few sectors where making contacts is as important. But it’s also about making the right impression. You’re working in a pretty small pool – I bump into someone I’ve worked with before seemingly everyday. Use these contacts, but don’t abuse them. Conservation is not like, say, marketing – by all means be assertive, but as a group of people (sweeping generalisation) overt and continual self-promotion tends to rub us up the wrong way.

8. Have rich backers

Ok, so I may not be entirely serious there, but there is probably a reason the sector tends to draw from such a narrow demographic. You’ll be unemployed for periods, and you’ll want to go on courses to improve your employability – it’s not a sector to get into if you aren’t prepared to work elsewhere to fund your start (see point 10).

9. Interviewers are sometimes crap, accept it

Gods, I have given some awful interviews, but I’ve also been subject to some awful interviewers. I will try and limit my tales of interview woe, but here are a few examples:

  • – An interview which for an hour concentrated on one sentence under the ‘desirable’ section of the person specification, and not the other page and a half of ‘essentials’
  • – An interview for which the job title had changed that morning.
  • – An interview in which the previous candidate walked out, and sat back at his desk in the office.
  • – Feedback which suggested a lack of experience (default feedback position), though I later discovered they had employed a cheaper intern with limited experience.

The truth is – Interviews are an absolutely terrible concept for picking the ideal candidate. But we are rather lumbered with them.

10. Give up

Yes, really. Ok, maybe not really, really. But be open to the idea that you may need to think again about your dream job. The sector is really, really, really competitive and in the immediate future there isn’t the prospect for a great many more jobs coming on the market (though I’m more hopeful for the near future). You may have to consider developing alternative skills that will allow you to move sideways –this is why I believe environmental education and outreach is an important transferable skill to work on. Or, like I am now, work in a post that is perhaps half ecology, half something else. You may have to accept, for the sake of your sanity and your bank balance, that you take a non-related post and continue to volunteer on the side. Don’t see it as a failure; everyone in the sector has had to do this at one time or another.

Volunteering in the conservation sector is evolving, what changes will we see in the next 5 years?

Volunteering is in flux. Those looking to volunteer and what they are looking to gain from it are changing. The volunteering market is becoming competitive and as organisations that rely and thrive on our volunteers, the conservation sector needs to change how and what we offer our volunteers.

Since I was last a regular volunteer, I’ve held two roles that have worked with hugely varying groups of volunteers. As a Senior Project Officer with the London Wildlife Trust, I managed a select and skilled group of volunteers mostly between the ages of 20 and 35, all career orientated and looking to get their first toehold in environmental employment. Most recently, working out in Epping Forest on the fringes of London, the volunteers were hobbyists, generally retired, white, middle-class and generally long-term. This is what the volunteering set up was largely geared towards, but even here in a bastion of traditional conservation volunteering, the intake was moving away from the stale, male, pale stereotype. It would be simplistic to break conservation volunteering into this dichotomy; young vs. old, short-term vs. long-term, careerist vs. hobbyist, but it is certainly a theme and making sure we offer opportunities for both is a key theme in modern volunteer management.

When I first started in the sector with the London Wildlife Trust as part of their graduate trainee scheme in 2008, I came in with a very definite approach; gain as much experience, skills and training in as wide a range as possible in order to get my first job in the sector. I was also working on an ad hoc basis at the time, so my input could be varied and irregular. My experienced mirrored a number at the Trust at the time, as many of my generation began to face up to harsh realities and looked to find ways of expanding and improving their employability. 6 years on, volunteering has changed yet further and it is important that we address our attitude towards volunteering and acknowledge the social, political, cultural trends that influence it. Two key reasons for a change in psychology in the intervening six years can be summed up by two phrases: ‘Big Society’ and ‘Games Makers’. Firstly, the Conservatives made a claim to be the moral defenders and creators of the volunteering movement, while continuing to cut funding and support to voluntary organisations. The notion was widely ridiculed and a backlash ensued, but this benefited the volunteering movement not a bit as it became tainted by association amongst those of a liberal and altruistic nature who would generally be the mainstay of volunteering. Then Games Makers gave every prospective volunteer a distorted and skewed view of glamour and zeitgeist, media interest, general goodwill and approval. Dispelling these notions is key to the future of volunteering: reaffirming the value of volunteering divorced from any political connotations; stressing the need for hard work, commitment and desire and demonstrating that the role is not being used as a replacement for paid staff.

My early experiences have shaped the way I look to manage and work alongside volunteers now as I look to improve what I can offer, learning from what worked in that first experience of volunteering and adapting what did not. I believe an iterative approach is essential to getting the right volunteering set-up for each organisation. To this end, feedback and an openness to exchange of thought and idea as a two-way process should be intrinsic to any volunteering offer. Consideration should be given, depending on the size and scale of the organisation and volunteering community, to setting up a volunteer council, through which constructive comment and evaluation can pass in both directions. This allows volunteers to become involved and invested in their own management and allows for the divesting of some roles normally taken on by the volunteer manager, with obvious benefits on time and finance.

That early hook in the volunteering offer is key in retaining new recruits. Any new volunteer is offering precious time and they need to know that they are committing to both a worthwhile cause about which they are passionate and to an organisation that will support them. For me, this was as simple as a tools talk on my first day and the instruction to pay close attention as next time I’d be asked to talk about one of the tools (if willing, a non-pressure environment is also key). This signalled to me that I was no free labourer but an appreciated and involved member of the team, capable of making valuable contributions to the running of the day. The next time I volunteered I duly took on my part of the talk and this is something I readily incorporated into my own future projects. That first induction session can often play a role, and again represents an opportunity to divest a role to enthusiastic and capable volunteers by getting them involved in inducting new volunteers. I have recently toyed with the idea of implementing a personal development plan for each new volunteer at this stage, giving new volunteers targets to reach for, much as an appraisal or Personal Development Record would do for a regular paid member of staff. This may not be of interest to our ‘hobbyists’, but a short-term ‘careerist’ would value the opportunity to identify and rapidly gain skills and isolate areas requiring training.

Feeling valued is the most key part to retaining and developing our volunteers. The exchange between organisation and volunteer needs to be two-way and as fair as possible with obvious benefits to both sides. Offering a wide program of training and varied volunteering opportunities is imperative; scrub cutting is a valuable exercise but a week of it will disenchant even the most hardcore and dedicated. Advocating the involvement of as many different personnel within an organisation with as wide ranging skill sets as possible to set up a year long volunteering program is a key step to delivering a program of training sessions, mentoring opportunities and volunteering projects. This has obvious value for our careerist as they look to improve their employability, but our hobbyists should not be discounted and expanding the skills of long-term volunteers helps to enhance the delivery in a number of areas.

A former colleague worried about such program being open to abuse by those not willing to put in the hours volunteering and just turning up for training sessions, suggesting some form of reward scheme for training. This is an interesting idea but not one I would support and risks turning volunteering into a competition, creating a further bifurcation between our long-term careerist and short-term hobbyist, not to mention creating an administrative headache. But this attitude attests to an antipathy that can often exist between paid staff and volunteers. From a volunteer’s perspective, and this I have seen increase as charities become further stretched, much irritation can arise when volunteers are utilised to fill previously paid positions under the guise of internships or training. Likewise, staff can see volunteers as at best a drain on their time and resources and at worst a threat to their own positions or future prospects. This, again, is another area where a ‘volunteer council’ can assist, giving voice to these concerns. By involving both sides in the discussion, the value and necessity of the volunteering offer to both volunteer and organisation (and by extension, organisations staff) can be communicated.

The logistical future of conservation volunteering offers will also need to move with the times. Volunteering officers can be hugely skilled in practical areas, this should be encouraged and setting up an intuitive database with a simple and accessible interface can reduce time on administrative duties. Volunteer records I have come across in previous roles have ranged from impenetrable databases to back of a fag packet scribbles. Online means should not be discounted and new initiatives in volunteering will predictably revolve around our screens as organisations utilise social media and new software and applications. Online software such as those supplied by Better Impact will increase ease of monitoring, feedback and administration while applications such as Blue Dot will offer the opportunity to gain rewards through volunteering interactions, the use of which should certainly not be underestimated when encouraging a more techno-savvy demographic. What are now becoming ‘traditional’ forms of social media, Twitter and Facebook, will need to be kept on top of and can have drastic publicity benefits if managed proactively but mismanagement can draw the ire of those with a negative volunteering experience.

Accreditation for training will be a future area of interest for many conservation charities as they look to improve their offer, both for the sake of the volunteer, but also for the publicity and reporting value of such schemes. I believe this will be one of the key areas of advance in conservation volunteering offers as more and more conservation charities begin to provide accredited training schemes in environmental management, community outreach and areas such as species identification.

Care should be taken to ensure volunteering is not undertaken for its own sake, to drive up numbers and hours of volunteers. These are ineffective measures of success, despite the temptation to deal in quantitative values that aid our reporting and fundraising and look great in press releases. A more useful indicator of success of a volunteer offer, given the increase in short-term volunteers, might be those moving into careers in the sector, training sessions delivered and attendance levels, reports of projects completed, volunteer satisfaction, qualifications gained etc. By these means, we change the measure of success of our volunteering offer not as hours achieved but what our volunteers have achieved in those hours.