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Student Volunteering Week: a staff perspective

Posted on 10 Feb 2015

Click here to see other blog articles with advice for SVW planning

Claire McLoughlin from UWL shares some tips from her experience as a member of staff planning "the busiest and most rewarding week in the higher education volunteer calendar…"

This is my second year in my second institution in my second region (!) leading on the planning and event management of National Student Volunteering Week. As every volunteer coordinator knows this is probably the busiest and most rewarding week in the higher education volunteer calendar and here at the University of West London, planning is in full swing as we edge closer to the 23rd!

Although this is my second year leading on SVW in higher education, it was something I was always familiar with from my time working in Volunteer Now, the lead organisation which works to promote, develop and support volunteering across Northern Ireland, and who supported institutions in the region with planning their SVW events. By September 2013 for the first time the two major universities in N. Ireland had both employed dedicated Volunteer Coordinators in their Student Unions, a huge boost for student volunteering. Coincidentally this is when I made the leap into Higher Education taking up post in the University of Ulster, before moving to the big smoke in November 2014 to manage the University of West London Volunteer Service.

Claire with University of Ulster student volunteers

"SVW is not only volunteering, it is more about marketing, communications & event management skills"

Organising a successful Student Volunteering Week is not easy - like any other campaign you need to ensure visibility, ensure your events are engaging and of course well attended (!) and also connect with your student body. Sometimes I find SVW is not only volunteering, it is more about marketing, communications & event management skills… not skills that all of us necessarily have. Things are really going into top gear now here at UWL, no day is long enough and we are trying to balance running the everyday service with the intense event planning and management that SVW entails.

What are we doing at UWL?

Get your students involved in the planning and running of events

When working on SVW at the University of Ulster Students’ Union (UUSU) I introduced a new role of SVW Events Organisers, and received applications across all four of our campuses. These student volunteers were key in ensuring a good event turned into a great event, and also proved one of the most effective methods of spreading the word to friends, classmates etc about what is going on! Key to ensuring effective use of these volunteers is uniform bright coloured t-shirts marking them out as volunteers and also proper briefings and tight scheduling. Volunteers are brilliant, because they want to be there. Some universities may utilise paid student ambassadors to help out at events, but having witnessed them work side by side at U of U I find volunteers much more effective. But remember, too often in events volunteers are left to their own devices- big mistake if you want to ensure you tap their full potential! Planning is key, make sure they know what they are doing and are equipped to carry out their role.

Currently we have just recruited these volunteers at the University of West London, and have our induction meeting later this week. These volunteers will be key in spreading the word, taking photos, social media and interacting with external community organisations, as well as building valuable event management skills. We are lucky to have an Events Management course at UWL - don’t hesitate to tap into these contacts and get the lecturers to spread the word, the students listen to them above everyone else.

Comms, Comms, Comms!

Sometimes you can be too busy planning events and scheduling that you forget to actually tell people what you are doing. At the moment at UWL our biggest stress is ensuring volunteers actually sign up for all the wonderful projects we have organised! Make sure you have a Communications plan and are utilising student newsletters, all student emails, websites, social media, email signatures and all the other wonderful modes of communications. Work with your Communications and Marketing Officers to ensure your message gets out there!

Use your local contacts in the community

External community organisations can be a lifeline when trying to plan events. Nurture good relationships with them during the year and they will only be happy to help during SVW. We are launching SVW 2015 with a volunteer fair to give these organisations a chance to interact face to face with students. Remember variety is the spice of life, try to get as many organisations involved from across different sectors! Don’t forget to get in touch with your local Volunteer Centre, they may be happy to work together on recognition initiatives.

Be creative!

Think of creative ways to engage with students. From large scale one day challenges to a bit of friendly rivalry with other unis, students are more likely to take notice. For example when at UUSU I worked closely with my equivalent at Queens’ University SU to set up a Shop Challenge at Marie Curie charity shops between two rival teams. Our Law Society were keen to sign up once they heard they could potentially be taking on their rival QUBSU Law students! Also try to interact with the themes, for example as part of Good Deed Day we have invited NHS to attend to encourage students to donate blood, something that can appeal to students who have never interacted with volunteering to make a difference!

Reward & Recognition

As well as encouraging new volunteers to get involved, don’t forget an important aspect of SVW is to celebrate and reward your current volunteers. The Friday at the end of a week is a great opportunity to put on a celebration, get in touch with your local Mayor and see if he will attend and make it a bit special with certificates and balloons.

Plan, plan, plan!

Good planning is key to a successful week and arguably the week prior to SVW will actually be more intense than the week itself. Different institutions have different obstacles- at UUSU I had four geographically spread campuses to contend with, impossible for one person to be in four places at once, so I had to rely on team members within the wider Student Engagement team to support me. To ensure this was successful I had to prepare staff with briefings, exact requirements and up to date lists of what volunteers would be attending. If you have multiple events on one day ensure you know who is where, and also a quick action list- if an organisation is attending make sure someone can greet them and see them off at the end of the day.

And when it is all over….don’t forget to take a breather at the end of SVW. Book a night away somewhere, relax, see friends or better yet, just sleep! You will have earned it!

Click here to see other blog articles with advice for SVW planning

Claire McLoughlin

Claire is the Volunteer Service Coordinator in the Centre for Employability and Employer Engagement at the University of West London.

Categories: Advice, Universities