Thursday, 19 February 2015

Read all about it: Case studies made easy

Written by Claire Chapman, Information and Membership Officer, One East Midlands

In my last few weeks at One East Midlands (I’m leaving for South Yorkshire VCS pastures new at the start of March) I have been on a bit of a case study writing frenzy; whether its highlighting ERDF funded VCS projects, focusing on groups who have received training through an ESF funded project or just showcasing the great work of our members.

Throughout my almost five years providing communications support to a VCS infrastructure organisation I have lost count of the number of case studies I have written but not of the lessons I’ve learned writing them. My learning from the process is easily shared, making the experience as simple as possible for the project or organisation you are focusing on.

So here goes with my top five case study lessons:

1.    Do your homework. By researching your case studies in advance, making use of both the organisation’s website and other research that has highlighted the project, you will already have the majority of information you need for your case study so won’t need to rely on your case study organisation to spend time gathering it for you.
2.    Don’t be a time waster. All VCS organisations and projects are busy and even though they will always be grateful for the publicity they don’t have time to spend hours assisting you. Tell them you only need half an hour of their time and give them your questions in advance so they come prepared. Only relying on them for a quick proof at the end, and by using times convenient for them, your case study won’t see you as a time waster.
3.    Add some colour. Whether it’s a photograph (you can save even more time by taking this yourself), quote from a service user or volunteer or even just a logo you turn a page of text into something that shouts out to be read.
4.    There is such a thing as free publicity. It is one thing adding the final case study to your website and hoping someone will find it, but by making the effort to spread it wider, through social media, your local press, in-house publications or by distributing copies at your events those featured will know you’re really spreading the word out and promoting their great work.
5.    Do their own thing. My final lesson is give the featured organisation their own copy of the case study to use and show off as they wish, allowing them to show to others their great work and the support they’ve received from you.

Bearing all that in mind, don’t forget that it’s a case study and not a free advertorial for those featured. It can be difficult to explain to an organisation that re-writing the entire case study adding “excellent”, “fantastic” or “superb” to every sentence distracts from the point of the example study. Changing it back requires more than a little tact and diplomacy!

To look through the many case studies produced by One East Midlands visit

P.S. I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of the East Midlands voluntary and community sector, its staff and volunteers, who I have worked with since joining One East Midlands in June 2010 and wish you all the greatest success for the future.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Why volunteers volunteer

Written by Claire Chapman, Information and Membership Officer, One East Midlands

Volunteers Week, taking place from Sunday 1st to Saturday 7th June, is a great time to consider why volunteers volunteer, and as a volunteer myself I know there are many reasons volunteers do so.

Outside of my role as Information & Communications Officer for One East Midlands, I have two voluntary roles, one volunteering in a charity shop and the other as a trustee of a local charity, and for me volunteering is about giving something back to the community and supporting causes I believe in.

However at the shop especially the reason people volunteer varies considerably, including adding it to their CV or UCAS form, keep them busy during periods of unemployment or retirement, doing it as part of a University of Edinburgh Award, meeting new friends and potential other halves, just because they’ve being doing it for years, or for the same reason I do.

Most volunteers will start volunteering with one of these reasons for doing so in mind, but what they won’t anticipate is another great reason, which I will call “the buzz”.

The buzz is that reason for volunteering that is unplanned for but makes you feel all warm and fuzzy whilst volunteering. It can come unexpectedly but will come. Here are some examples of when I’ve had “the buzz” whilst volunteering in the shop:

  • When you make a customer’s day by finding them a get a great bargain or just providing a friendly face;
  • When you receive a massive donation, especially if you get the donor to sign up for gift aid at the same time;
  • When you train up a fellow volunteer;
  • When something you’ve chosen to sell through the website or display in the shop sells faster than you could have imagined;
  • When customers keep coming back during your shift just because they know you’ll be there and be able to help them;
  • When you know how much has been taken through the till during the time you’ll been volunteering and what a difference it will make to the charity;
  • And many, many more!

Everyone who volunteers will have their own buzzes but will pretty much always keep them to their selves.

Now working in VCS communications I know the benefit of spreading the word, so when I’m volunteering I will happily tell anyone who inquiries in the shop about volunteering or who is doing their first shift how great it is and nine times out of 10 they’ll keep volunteering.

So this volunteering week, why not encourage your volunteers to do the same or what about asking for their buzzes and use these to create a buzz about volunteering with your organisation.

And a final thing to do this volunteering week, sign up for our monthly volunteering e-bulletin here for all the latest volunteering news, events and opportunities of interest to VCS organisations in the East Midlands.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Get on Board

Written by Claire Chapman, Information and Membership Officer, One East Midlands

With Trustees Week kicking off on Monday 4th November and our AGM taking place later this month, One East Midlands is extremely grateful for the work of our dedicated team of trustees. However the results of recent surveys can sometimes put trustees of VCS organisations in a negative light – I examine why age may play a part in this.

According to research by the Charity Commission the average age of a trustee is 57 and only 0.5 percent of trustees are aged 18 to 25 years old. This has led to the suggestion that the boards of charities lack diversity and are often not representative of their beneficiaries.

As a 34-year-old who at the beginning of the year joining the board of Headway Derby (I’m looking forward to officially getting elected later this month at their AGM), I fall into the age range and views of those under 35s surveyed by Young Charity Trustees, where 85 percent of respondents wanted to become a trustee and 82 percent of those who had been a trustee rated the experience as positive or very positive.

However I should argue that I didn’t become a trustee because of the age range I fell into or to try and drop the average age, but because I wanted to put something back into a charity, my locality and make use of my skills and knowledge.

I’ll admit it took me a while to find the perfect board to join, despite signing up to newsletters and working for an organisation that will advertise trustee vacancies from across the region for free. But I didn’t give up hope and when I found the trustee vacancy for me I was welcomed with open arms.

At any moment there are thousands of VCS trustee vacancies, especially as we enter the run up to AGM season. So whatever your age and background, if you have the passion, skills and the time (often no more than a couple of hours a month) go for it, perhaps even taking your search a step further than mine and write to the charities you would like to support direct.

And if you are a VCS organisation struggling to fill your board vacancies, this Trustees Week make a resolution to spread the word wider and include the VCS in your search. Why, well in the small team at One East Midlands alone I’m a charity trustee, we have one former trustee, and our Chief Executive is a school governor. 

Although none of us have yet reached the age of 57 we all hope to still be volunteering until we get there and beyond. In the meantime we will continue to channel our passion and drive into useful voluntary roles and encourage others, including the younger population, to do the same.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Getting the message across

Written by James Jacobs, Communications Apprentice at Nottingham CVS, a Full member organisation of One East Midlands

“Getting the message across” is one of those terms that you’ll hear frequently in the VCS – In fact, it can seem like a bit of a cliché. However, it is incredibly important you do. Why? In a world where there are financial constraints on many VCS groups we need to tell people what we do and why we do it. It may be to attract new service users – it may be with the aim of getting some much-needed funding – or it may simply be to raise awareness of an issue that effects your organisation or its beneficiaries.

Of course, there are many ways to communicate with an audience – this blog is a perfect of example of that. It is probably taken as a given that groups need some kind of web presence and although a website is obviously important it is not essential. Some smaller community groups may find it easier to operate a group or page on FaceBook.

Twitter is, of course, used by many VCS organisations. We have a twitter profile at @oneeastmidlands, and use it to compliment our website and blog. Twitter is good for short, pithy news items, links and points of interest and can work really well with a younger audience. Don’t worry if you don’t end up getting the same number of followers as Stephen Fry though – the main thing is that you’re aiming your tweets at the right audience – whether it is service users, fellow VCS groups or local worthies (councillors, MPs etc).

However, as much as social media and internet communications are great, they don’t fully encapsulate that phrase ‘Getting the message across’. E-bulletins and Magazines can prove a really effective shop-window for what your organisation does.

That takes us, conveniently, to our latest edition of Insight Magazine. This Autumn’s edition focuses on the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), an important source of income for many VCS organisations throughout the East Midlands. We have a Spotlight on a long standing Member (and our landlords!), Nottingham CVS, and an article explaining the work of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and much more.

Whilst we have a great website and use social media effectively, Insight is a great way for introducing people to our work – it’s a high-quality, well produced magazine that can go in depth more than twitter or a even a website. In a world of the internet – don’t forget that traditional methods of publication can sometimes be just as effective in ‘Getting the message across’!

To access an electronic version click here  or a paper copy of Insight email

But lastly, there is still no technological substitute for human contact.  Make all the tools above work for you but top it up with face-to-face as often as you can; the ultimate suite of tools to ‘get your message across’.

Friday, 2 August 2013

When all the restrictions are lifted why do we stand like rabbits in the headlights??

Yesterday One EM supported our fourth event focussing on VCS engagement with LEPs and in particular their future role in EU funding investment. The event was a great opportunity to get out into Lincolnshire and meet groups that we rarely get chance to have contact with nowadays. It was also an opportunity to further our thinking about the opportunities and challenges for the VCS in relation to future EU funding.
In short there are many reasons why the opportunity is huge for the VCS:

  • Discussions on the investment of EU funds have moved to a more local level than ever before – through LEPs;
  • A large proportion of that investment must be focussed on promoting social inclusion and combating poverty;
  • Other investments will include core VCS functions such as learning & skills, environmental protection, access to employment, ICT and local economic growth;
  • Match funding is being made available to the VCS through Big Lottery Fund;
  • The VCS could help drive better outcomes for LEPs in achieving the Equality & Diversity cross-cutting theme;
  •   LEPs are encouraged to identify and respond to social innovation;
  •  Community Led-Local Development is seen as a positive approach that can be taken by the LEP in achieving particular outcomes.

So with all this positivity why are some of us struggling to engage or shape our thinking quickly enough in order to respond? After all this is a once-every-seven-year opportunity to get it right.

Karen Parsons, Director of Children’s Links, hit the nail on the head yesterday. As a sector we are so used to being consulted on an almost completed strategy and marginalised in discussions that when our help is truly needed we lack the systems and processes and to some degree the confidence to step up.

This is a real opportunity to demonstrate how our work directly supports growth and productivity across our communities. There is no specified approach or toolkit that will help just us and our ideas. The timescales are tight and the task is huge so don’t procrastinate – get together and decide what needs to change, how and who can deliver it. I can guarantee that the LEP will be delighted that you did.