Assemble + Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation : a small organisation making a big difference
Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation is a small and unique organisation that is centered around maintaining and enhancing Letchworth – which is famously the world's first Garden City. It is jointly funded by grants and the estate’s property portfolio, which is reinvested into the local landscape and community with the help of staff and volunteers.
We spoke to Catherine Rose, Volunteering Manager at the foundation about her role, and how Assemble has supported the growth of their volunteer programme, as well as demonstrating the impact volunteers are having within the community.
Volunteering at the foundation
There are currently just under 90 volunteers that support a varied programme of activities, including operating a community transport service, running an art gallery and museum, and protecting the local green spaces with litter pickers.
It’s a dedicated team of engaged volunteers that really understands the impact they are having within the community. The twice-weekly bus service, run predominantly by volunteers, helps local residents - some of whom might not have the opportunity to connect with others to socialise – and the effect this has on their wellbeing is evident. Without volunteers, this simply would not be possible.
Tools for building a successful volunteer programme
Whilst the volunteer programme is still relatively new to the foundation, it was quickly apparent that managing the volunteer journey with a siloed approach would become harder, as the programme – and volunteer numbers - grew. It was proving difficult to keep tabs on important touchpoints and communication with volunteers as well as managing recruitment and activities.
It was important to Catherine and the wider organisation to establish a professional solution that would support the volunteering team to operate in a collaborative way that saved time, streamlined important parts of the volunteer journey, while securely and compliantly managing their data.
Other important priorities were that the volunteer management solution was intuitive – and not just for staff, but to ensure it was easy to navigate for volunteers too. In addition, the foundation wanted a system that would take the hard work out of managing volunteer activities, with the ability to report these on a regular basis. Cost was also a consideration, which made driving value with the vendor a priority – so when assessing the features, security credentials and pricing together, Assemble was selected.
Keeping it simple
‘Enabling volunteers to have access to a swift and seamless recruitment process is a big consideration when removing the potential barriers to entry for volunteers’, says Catherine.
Prior to Assemble, the foundation’s recruitment process involved volunteers applying online via email. Whilst this worked in the short term, fielding manual replies, keeping track of the status of applicants and ensuring that data was managed compliantly began to get harder as the numbers grew. Being able to create opportunities on the website through Assemble brought an amount of simplicity and consistency to this process.
‘We can easily create the opportunity with all the details in our own tone of voice and share a link straight to the role on our website, where volunteers can apply right away.’
More success with light touch recruitment
For some of the low commitment roles that do not require vetting or an interview, such as ‘Litter Pickers’, Catherine decided that a stripped-back ‘light touch’ version of their standard recruitment process would yield more interest and better results. ‘With Assemble, we can customise these types of roles with less stages to complete and naturally with fewer touchpoints throughout the volunteer application, we make it easier for volunteers to sign up and be onboarded with almost immediate effect.’
Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation seems to have bucked the sector trend around a decline in volunteer recruitment and has almost doubled in volunteer numbers in the past year. Alongside the introduction of Assemble, Catherine puts this down to a combination of a supportive team with a strong vision for volunteering, proactive marketing and a very passionate, engaged community within Letchworth.
“We can easily create opportunities with all the details in our own tone of voice and share a link straight to the role on our website, where volunteers can apply right away ”
Increasing impact through events
At the foundation, volunteers are often invited to support or attend events, such as helping to run family art workshops within the gallery, volunteer training or social events specifically for volunteers.
‘We’ve started using the events feature within Assemble to support and record this activity. They are simple to set up and we can easily invite and track attendees as well as volunteer contributions for anything formal. It’s been helpful to add this data to our reports as we can get a broader view of where our volunteers are having an impact’
With a community transport service, a museum and a gallery space to support, it was important that Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation had access to Assemble’s rota feature. Ensuring that the foundation’s spaces and services are supported by volunteers is essential to keeping them going and doing this manually is time- intensive, with an enormous amount of room for error.
‘Our rotas are now simple and straightforward to manage. Assemble is intuitive to the point that we can clearly see which shifts need additional help. We can easily set up recurring rotas and all whilst keeping track of the hours that volunteers have contributed’.
Improved volunteer engagement
Since centralising all things volunteering, the foundation has utilised many of Assemble’s core features to promote better engagement with their volunteers. The news and messaging features have offered a platform to improve communications and provided a home for important volunteer documentation. In addition, volunteers can also sign up to events or submit expenses via the software.
‘Improving volunteer engagement with self-serve functionality is an important part of developing the volunteer programme and being transparent as an organisation. We have encouraged volunteers to download and use the Assemble app and it’s working well. We’ve had a great response so far!’
Reporting with the insights that matter
At quarterly meetings, reports from Assemble are generated to review the progress of the volunteer programme and will pull data surrounding volunteer contributions, events, motivations for volunteering and more. Understanding how volunteers engage with the current activity at Letchworth Garden City Foundation provides a solid baseline for potential expansion of the programme – which Catherine hopes will go on to support a community farm and cinema, also belonging to the foundation.
‘It's still early days in our Assemble journey, but we hope to look at the results of the impact our volunteers are having and continue to grow the programme, so we can do more within the community of Letchworth’.
A flexible approach to volunteering
Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation are currently recruiting for volunteers that might be interested in driving or assisting the local transport service, or getting involved in supporting family art sessions, but Catherine is incredibly passionate about remaining open to conversations about how people might want to use their time and skills to volunteer at the foundation.
‘Having a flexible approach to volunteering is essential for the future. We understand that not everyone wants to get involved in the same way and that exploring new ideas can generate interest and attract others to get involved where they may not have considered volunteering before.’
You can find out about their current volunteer opportunities here.