For National Volunteer Week this year, I spent some time reflecting on the volunteers we have, and what life at The Vegan Society would be like without them. It turns out we simply couldn’t operate – the skills we get from our volunteer base are truly invaluable.
Over 2016/17, 11.9 million people formally volunteered once a month in the UK – that’s just over 18% of the entire population. At The Vegan Society, volunteers outnumber staff 20:1, providing us with a force of passion and expertise many people would envy hugely.
We never forget what volunteers help us achieve, especially when it comes to our ability to effectively fundraise and do right by our donors.
Our volunteers work remotely, in our offices, and in specialist settings. Every single person is invaluable to our work in so many different ways, but here’s a roundup of some of the most vital.
1. Sheer determination and passion
We attend a number of large events throughout the year, spreading our message, recruiting new members, and fundraising directly with the public in a massive setting. In such a busy environment, it’s important that we stand out and make an impact. We do this by handing out welcome packs to new members, and promoting the products of our Vegan Trademark holders.
Getting ready for such big events is no mean feat, and every few months a group of volunteers troop into the office and start packing bags. A mountain of bags, as far as the eye can see. I have no illusions about the reality of clearing the bag mountain, but every time it gets done, with music and smiles on faces.
Seeing our branding all around the big venues, on the arms of new members and contacts, is truly delightful and reinforces us as being central to the vegan movement.
2. Communication skills
As well as attending the big national shows, we have volunteers attending small local events all over the country.
We have a presence at at least two events a month – there’s no way this could happen without our network of event volunteers around the world. At these events our volunteers speak to small local business owners, vegans, new vegans, and the occasional non-vegan who’s been dragged along by a friend. There are children, families, long-term vegans, and everyone in between.
Having a team of volunteers who can coherently explain who we are and what we do to such a range of people means our message is out there, loud and clear. Communicating what we do, and how we utilise the funds we receive, reinforces our reliability as a charity, and makes people feel truly safe in donating to us.
You can read about one of our amazing volunteers, Anne, in our blog post.
3. Graphic design
Our specialist volunteer team spans a dizzying range of skills, from vets to marketing specialists. Recently, we’ve had an illustrator in our offices, helping us design materials to attract and thank our donors.
It’s no secret how valuable thanking donors is, and with such a loyal core community around us, it’s a joy to communicate with our long-term and new donors. We’re a membership organisation, so remaining as transparent and accountable as possible is vital to us – having custom art work we can use to personally thank our donors is a gift that keeps on giving.
Over the past few years, veganism has grown exponentially, and is growing into new markets all the time. In 2016, Europe was the largest market for meat substitutes, accounting for 39% of global sales. As a UK-based international charity, we’re very lucky that English is such a commonly known language – but we know this isn’t enough. To reach new markets of people interested in veganism, our work needs to evolve.
We started looking into translating some of our outreach materials to be used in various European countries, as the demand was clearly there. Astonishingly quickly, we had people coming to us, offering to help us take on this work. This means we now have a network of over 40 volunteers working on three different languages, so we can hopefully get our message out there in the most accessible formats soon and reach new international donors.
5. Organisation and time management
Our outreach programme is extensive, but largely grounded in our leaflets, which we send out in huge quantities around the world. In 2017 we sent almost 300,000 leaflets out to activists and event organisers on every continent.
Running this programme takes a massive number of people hours, and it’s based in a volunteer team headed up by Anna, our volunteer of the season in Spring this year. Her level of organisation keeps the programme running smoothly, and her communication with me means our level of service is generally very high indeed. Being a free service, the fact we can run this so efficiently makes a really strong case for people to provide donations to help us cover the costs – and they do!
Getting our work out into the hands of motivated individuals such as Anne, from our events team, spread our message and allows us to deliver our charitable aims efficiently and smoothly, freeing up more resources for our other work.
If you like the sound of what we’re up to, and want to get involved or find out more about our volunteer programme, you can contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org, or read more about volunteering at The Vegan Society.
Seona Deuchar is Supporter Services Coordinator at The Vegan Society.
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