Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Volunteers meeting in Glasgow (26/10/10)

It's past 11pm and I'm coming home bleary-eyed from a meeting this
evening with volunteers in Glasgow. This is the latest in our series
of special national and regional meetings involving Rodney Whittaker
(our Chair) and myself, with Ramblers volunteers.

As always, issues ranged widely - many were focused on how we meet the
target of ending 2010/11 with more members than we started. [In
Scotland, this means getting to October 2011 with more than 6,813 paid
up members!]. There are however issues which are unique to Scotland,
and I also acknowledge the strong feelings following last year's
budget cuts.

Here are some of the issues discussed. (It's not an exhaustive list.)

1. Communication was a big theme - making sure that there is better
understanding of Scottish issues in England and Wales, and vice versa
- and also that there is better flow of information back and forth:

- The new member 'welcome' letter, and the renewal letter, refer to
English and Welsh campaigning achievements but not Scottish ones - and
this is a particular long-standing irritant in Scotland. (I think this
is important. We need to look again at letters like these to make
them more relevant - which might mean different versions for different
parts of Britain.). It was also pointed out we'll need to think about
this when we re-vamp the new member booklet.

- It was suggested that we produce posters for the different offices
in each country with the messages, "Think Scotland", "Think Wales",
"Think England" - to remind people to consider how their actions
affect the different countries. This seems like a good idea to me.

- It was also suggested we organise a seminar for staff on the
differences between the countries, so they get a better grasp - again,
I think this is something we can do. (Sometimes we make the mistake
of asking Scottish volunteers to contact their MPs on issues which are
actually devolved to MSPs.)

- I said that the Board/SMT away weekend in 2011 will be in Scotland
(this year it was in Wales). This will make for a good opportunity to
learn more about Scottish issues. (I reassured people that this would
be low cost - we stayed, for example, in an ex-Boys Brigade camp in

- We also said that the Board had agreed in principle to move central
office out of London when the lease comes up for renewal in about four

2. The importance of valuing volunteers was raised. It was felt that
this hadn't been done in the past:

- We are aiming to put a monetary value to the volunteering done for
the Ramblers, and to include this (which runs into several millions)
in our annual accounts. Not only will this highlight the value of
volunteering, it will also help with our lobbying and fundraising.
I'm not sure yet whether this can start this year, or next.

- We now include details of volunteer experts (not just staff) in the
'who to contact' section on the volunteer website. (I was pleased to
see at least one of those listed was sitting in the room tonight!)

- There are now more than 20 volunteers working on activities run
from central office: from updating the website, to organising the
festival of winter walks, to helping with updating the CRM database.
I'd like to see this number increase - it's great to see volunteers
and staff working together.

3. Devolution. The future level of autonomy in Scotland, or whether
there should be an entirely separate organisation in Scotland, is a
key issue. Rodney gave an update on the devolution working party,
which was set up after General Council (and includes two
representatives from each country). David Thomson, who is one of the
two representatives from Scotland, was also there tonight and spoke
about devolution.

- Some volunteers were concerned about the time it is taking. David
explained that - considering the complexities of the devolution issues
- it was actually a very short timescale, with a report due by February.

- It was also suggested that there should be more information about
the working party, or consultation to feed into the working party, in
Scotland. Rodney said that this is a matter for the Scottish Executive/
representatives to think about.

4. Recruitment. We had a long discussion about how to persuade more
people to join, and then to keep them:

- It was suggested we give a £10 'new members' discount not only to
full rate members but to concessionary ones too. (I'm a bit skeptical
about this - the concessionary rate is already low.)

- A volunteer from Renfrewshire said that short walks were the key to
his group's recruitment. The walks were three miles, and the group
produced a flyer which went into local libraries. It was proving
really successful in attracting new members.

- It was suggested that groups which are growing be given a tangible
reward for their success. (If anyone has any suggestions on what it
might be, let me know.)

- Some volunteers highlighted the need to recruit more walks leaders,
to help with putting on more walks. Training was seen as key to this.

- One volunteer said there was too much emphasis on campaigning and
not enough on developing walks. She said that she had not met a single
new member who had joined to support the campaigning. (This is a
tricky one - other volunteers will tell me the exact opposite. To my
mind, the combination of the two is what makes the Ramblers unique.)

- Some people thought that the emphasis on events for the Olympic
Games would not be successful in Scotland. I said these events are
optional for Groups - some were getting involved enthusiastically,
others not.

5. Budget. We explained that we are likely to make a surplus of c
£600k this year, although much of this is 'one-off' from legacies and
backdated Gift Aid. About £350k of this would be used to fund
investment this year (including an investment in a temporary Promoting
Walking post in Scotland, which Scotland intends to use to attract
additional grant funding). As well as next year's budget, which is
prudent, we've also drawn up fairly stretching income targets - aimed
at achieving our second priority, to increase charitable income.

That covers many of the points discussed. As well as the GB business
plan, the Scottish Executive will be signing off a specific Scottish
Business Plan.

Next week: London

Tom Franklin

Ramblers - at the heart of walking for 75 years
Please visit www.ramblers75.org.uk to find out more
The Ramblers' Association is a registered charity (England & Wales no 1093577, Scotland no SC039799) and a company limited by guarantee, registered in England & Wales (no 4458492). Registered office: 2nd floor, Camelford House, 87-90 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TW.
Visit our website at www.ramblers.org.uk

No comments: