Cycling Advocates' Network Volunteer Strategy 2010

Cycling Advocates' Network Volunteer Strategy 2010

Go By Bike Day 2010

Why CAN needs a volunteer strategy

Volunteers are highly valued by the organisation and make a considerable contribution towards the success of CAN in achieving its Vision of "Cycling as an everyday activity in Aotearoa/New Zealand". Apart from a small number of paid staff, all other activities carried out by CAN are undertaken by volunteers or in partnership with those working in other organisations, such as councils, who work with CAN on projects and other activities. CAN recognises its continued success depends on volunteers, and this reliance requires a strategic approach to volunteer recruitment, retention, and reward.

In common with many Not-for-Profit organisations, securing funding for the organisation is an ongoing issue. In times of uncertain funding, it is important for CAN to have an effective Volunteer Strategy and a plan to ensure its on-going viability.


Principles regarding volunteers

It is important toCAN that volunteering is a win-win for both CAN and the people who volunteer. It is also important to CAN that people who volunteer do so of their own volition. A volunteer is defined as a person who performs or gives services of their own free will, unpaid, for the common good.


Why people volunteer

People volunteer for many reasons.

Some common reasons are volunteers:

  • want to further the cause the organisation they are volunteering for

  • want to gain new skills

  • want to meet people and connect more with others

  • want to find out more about the organisation

  • are looking for paid work in the organisation or in the area the organisation works in

  • have been helped in some way by others and want to repay some of that kindness

  • are frustrated in their paid jobs because they are not given much opportunity to try different things or to make decisions

  • are keen to take on volunteer leadership roles, and find such roles a refreshing change from their paid job

  • want some fun and stimulation

  • are trying to get over a setback and want to regain their confidence

  • enjoy the sense of autonomy and freedom that characterises many volunteer roles.

Types of volunteers who work for CAN

A wide range of volunteers work for CAN. Some volunteers work virtually i.e. by computer or phone, while others volunteer in person.

Volunteers include:

  • The Committee

  • Members who develop submissions

  • People who volunteer at the Cycling Advocates' national office

  • Local Cycling User Group members - some volunteer occasionally, while others volunteer for many hours a week

  • Volunteers for one off events and projects e.g. Bike Wise, cycling facility audits, and checking routes for Cycling Maps.

Formal systems already in place to support CAN volunteers

CAN staff, some Committee members, and possibly some local cycling user group members, have received training in the management and development of volunteers.

A number of documents, resources, and processes have been developed, in a somewhat ad hoc manner, to support the recruitment and retention of volunteers within the organisation. Examples of these include: the Committee Handbook; new cycling user group starter kit; and the interview process carried out when a person expresses an interest in volunteering at the national office or for a national project.

Resources have also been developed to support volunteering at the local group level including:

  • job descriptions for local group postions

  • job descriptions for CAN Committee and Portfolio members

  • a resource for convenors to use when connecting with new members of their local cycling group; and other resources to help volunteers in cycling user groups do their work e.g.

- a submissions resource kit, - a media resource kit, and

- a resource for local group treasurers

Recruitment of volunteers for CAN

Recruitment methods are many and varied.

  • National office volunteers are mainly recruited through personal contacts of existing members and email requests to members.

  • Committee members are recruited in a number of ways, including shoulder tapping existing volunteers, local cycling user group members, and other CAN members.

  • Volunteers for one-off events mainly come from the CAN membership, from the database of people who have volunteered previously, or through word of mouth.

  • Local cycling user groups recruit their volunteers in a number of ways: Through

-CAN supported events e.g. Bike Wise,

-organisations that CAN members are involved with e.g. recreational/sporting cycling groups/clubs, and

-CAN members networks.

  • Volunteers for projects such as cycling facility audits or developing cycling maps are recruited from a number of sources depending on who has commissioned the project e.g. a Council or CAN itself.

Retention of CAN volunteers

People who are interested in volunteering at CAN national office undergo an informal interview process.

Volunteers who are elected onto the Committee receive a copy of the Committee Handbook . It is important some orientation from the Chair also occurs at the beginning of their term on the Committee. They also attend one or two face-to-face meetings (e.g. CAN Do) during the year where there is often a training component. They are encouraged to attend relevant conferences and workshops, for their professional development.

With local cycling user groups induction and training of volunteers is done on an informal basis, though more formal processes are being developed by some groups. CAN staff have assisted groups with recruitment, retention, and reward of volunteers

CAN has not kept statistics on retention of volunteers within the organisation, however anecdotally the retention rate appears good. People seem to enjoy volunteering with CAN and have a sense of ownership which keeps them involved, and motivates them to stay long enough until another suitable volunteer comes along to take over their role. CAN volunteers' personal investment with the organisation means they have a desire to see CAN continue to flourish.

The role of staff in retention of volunteers is important. If funding declines and staff could no longer be employed, other mechanisms would need to be put in place to provide the structure and support volunteers currently receive.

Rewarding CAN volunteers

At the national level financial support is given to volunteers to attend events such as the annual advocates training (CAN Do), and there is a discount rate for volunteer advocates to attend the biennial New Zealand Cycling Conference currently co-organised by CAN. Reimbursement is given where possible to volunteers for costs incurred as part of their voluntary work e.g. Committee members' expenses for travel to face-to-face meetings.

CAN have stated they feel many of the rewards are intrinsic i.e. that there is value in just doing the work. Many also mention the value they place on the social aspect of their volunteer work for CAN.

Informally throughout the organisation, volunteers are thanked and their work acknowledged in a number of different ways:


    • Thank you comments are given verbally or via email

    • Refreshments are provided for meetings

    • Volunteers are regularly asked how they are going and whether they need any support

    • A warm and friendly atmosphere is encouraged, where everyone feels welcomed and valued. This makes volunteers feel good about what they do and helps them to get maximum enjoyment out of their voluntary work.

    • Volunteers are given opportunities to attend functions and events and to receive training, including the annual volunteer advocates training, the CAN Do.

Ways of improving volunteer management and development

A critical issue for CAN is the possibility of losing existing levels of funding and needing to transition to being a solely volunteer based organisation. Therefore a prudent risk management tool is the creation of an implementation plan for further developing the volunteer component of the organisation so the organisation will be able to continue operating regardless of the level of funding. The implementation plan needs to address the three components of recruitment, retention, and rewarding of volunteers.

Recommendations for Volunteer Recruitment

It is recommended that there be a strong focus on assisting local groups to be more targeted in their recruitment efforts and to develop job descriptions for volunteer positions. As many volunteers now prefer shorter-term, more targeted volunteer work, resources and support will be needed by local groups to enable them to identify suitable jobs and write job descriptions for these. Job descriptions are a good tool for recruitment as well as helping to retain volunteers by giving them a clear understanding of their role including the time commitment needed.

There is also a recognition the organisation could benefit from having more statistical information about the volunteers it currently has. Without this information it is difficult to know what kind of volunteers and how many, need to be recruited. It is recommended a survey of all CAN volunteers is done to gather this information plus other useful information e.g. what kind of support these volunteers need. A comprehensive survey of CAN members was undertaken in 2007 and the results have been used in an ad hoc way.

Groups would benefit by having someone in the group whose responsibility it is to co-ordinate volunteers. It is recommended that local groups be assisted to identify someone in the group who will be responsible for volunteer support, and that a guidelines be developed to assist them. This will be even more important if the paid Networker positions disappear.

At a national level there is potential for the website to be used more than at present as a volunteer recruitment tool for the organisation.

For developing promotional material targeting potential volunteers, for CAN it could be useful to use the words "helping out" or "making a contribution" rather than "volunteer". These words may attract more people to do unpaid work for the organisation.

It is also suggested that much of the material suggested above could be placed in a revised edition of the New Group Starter Kit handbook.

Recommendations for Volunteer Retention

A major focus of the Volunteer Implementation Plan will be the development of formal resources designed to support local groups to coordinate and manage volunteers in their group. This will include the expansion of the new Group Starter Kit handbook to include examples of successful models e.g. the model of co-convenors that Spokes Dunedin has adopted, regular events such as social rides that Spokes Canterbury undertakes, a monthly email update for local group membership such as Cycle Action Auckland distributes, and an annual plan to guide the work of the group.

It is important to emphasise the need for Volunteer Co-ordinators in each group to organize a regular time to meet up with the volunteers, both one-to-one meetings and group catch-ups. This serves to keep the volunteer involved and helps ensure they have a successful experience with their volunteering role and are therefore more likely to continue volunteering, or to volunteer again. It is also an opportunity for the co-ordinator to check whether the role still fits the volunteer, and if not, to find a way for the volunteer to transition into other volunteer roles within the organisation if they wish.

It is also recommended that there should be more support to ensure greater connectivity between the volunteers throughout the organisation, to decrease the feelings of isolation often felt by volunteers. CAN website supports collaboration between volunteers through the CAN Forum and local group webpages, and links to other groups. This facilitates convenors/volunteer coordinators of local groups to support each other in their role. This would be in addition to the CAN Do where Cycling Advocates' Network members exchange ideas and support each other face-to-face.

It is also recognised that different strategies are needed for the different types of volunteers that work within the organisation i.e. one-off, long-term, project-based, and virtual volunteers, as well as those with role specific needs such as the volunteer Committee members.

It is important all volunteers, whether they are one-off volunteers, project volunteers, or long term volunteers in groups, or on Committee, are allocated tasks which fit their skills, time availability, and interests. This ensures all volunteers feel successful in their volunteer roles, and will therefore want to volunteer again for the organisation. It is recommended a model for matching volunteers to roles and tasks be developed.

Long-term volunteers and those who work mainly on their own often have greater needs for support than one-off or project based volunteers. A survey should be done to ascertain the needs of these volunteers and resources developed to satisfy the identified needs.

It is important all volunteers, and in particular long term volunteers, have the opportunity for training which will help them expand and develop their role. Volunteers are no different from paid staff in that they need stimulation and a feeling that they contribute to CAN progress. It is important therefore to find out from volunteers how they see their role and where they see they could benefit from training or a change in focus.

It is recommended that in the area of technology an assessment be done of current access to technology and the level of skill CAN volunteers have in this area, particularly with respect to handling the database and the website. An assessment of potential areas for development such as instant messaging and online conferencing should also be included.

Recommendations for rewarding volunteers

Volunteers who feel rewarded for their efforts are more likely to continue volunteering with an organisation. Research shows that volunteers prefer rewards to have a personal feel. The opportunity to engage socially with other volunteers and with the volunteer Coordinator who supports them is also very rewarding for many volunteers.

Research shows that providing good quality tea, coffee and refreshments is very important to many volunteers.

Many volunteers are very proud of what they do and the organisation they work for but have no way to show it. An Online "Badge" could be investigated, containing a logo for volunteers to place on their individual web site, or include in their signature file on emails, and newsgroup postings. CAN could ask volunteers to submit design suggestions for the badge. This badge could contain a link from the badge back to the CAN website. See example of an online badge below:

It is recommended that ideas for free or low cost ways for rewarding volunteers that have been proven by research to work, be developed into a resource. This could include public recognition such as having a special issue of Chainlinks which focuses on what work volunteers are currently doing within the organisation. Currently this is done through regular member profiles of Committee members or Volunteers with a specific role such as Chainlinks editor.


Any strategy needs to be backed up with a budget and a commitment by everyone in the organisation to implement the strategy.


This strategy was developed to assist CAN to ensure volunteering is a win-win situation for both volunteers and the organisation itself. In addition, the strategy aims to ensure that regardless of funding available, CAN continues to meet its mission in an effective and professional way.

Note: Convenor in this document refers to postions in a local cycling user group often called chairperson or co-ordinator.

Fiona Whero and Patrick Morgan
Groups audience: 
- Private group -