Building, maintaining and use of a well-tuned corps of volunteer advisors

The volunteer advisers are a cornerstone in an Early Warning organization.

The volunteer advisers are a cornerstone in an Early Warning organization. It is thus very important to recruit the right persons from the beginning as this will make it possible to enter into a positive circle where competent volunteers with the right reasons for being volunteer will attract new qualified persons, getting more and more strong people to join.

In Early Warning Europe different approaches have been used when building the corps. In this version the structure of the general Early Warning Europe approach is described, drawing on the experience from Early Warning Denmark – the approach and experiences from the 4 target countries will be included in a later version. To many, one of the strongest doubts when building an Early Warning organisation is whether or not it will be possible at all to get experienced business people to work for free. This was also a serious doubt in Denmark in the beginning of Early Warning Denmark – by most people it was called ‘completely impossible and contradictory to basic Danish business culture’.

Experience shows that one of the most common mistakes when building the EW organisation is to not be critical enough, just being happy to have anybody joining the organization. The most important factors to be considered when selecting volunteer advisors are:

  • His/her reasons for working as a volunteer. Is it sure that he/she is driven of the wish to, and meaningfulness of, helping entrepreneurs in crisis?
  • Does he/she really want to work with small companies, which is what we actually do in Early Warning?
  • Does he/she really want to deal with both company and personal/family challenges? Experience shows that some people want to work with (the bigger the better) companies but in no way talk about family and personal challenges.
  • Is he/she capable of understanding the situation in a small company?
  • Does he/she have experience with general management, preferably as owner-manager?
  • Does the actual candidate have expertise/skills that will complete the whole of the corps?

As an example, in 2018 the corps in Early Warning Denmark counts around 100 persons. They can be divided into the following groups:

  • Persons with in-depth knowledge and experience as general manager and/or owner-manager. They are in general suited to act as ‘lead volunteer’ for most types of companies.
  • More specialized volunteers with extensive experience and knowledge within certain types of industry, certain stages in companies’ life cycle, certain topics as e.g. marketing, web shops etc.
  • Consultants who run their own management business.
  • Persons who have sold their company, now having positions as part-owner of a number of companies and board member.
  • A few bankers, lawyers, accountants and psychologists.

5.1 Kickstarting the corps of volunteer advisers
To attract the right persons as volunteer advisers means you should be careful creating the right and attractive picture of being a volunteer adviser.
More about that in section 8, marketing and communication.

When creating Early Warning organisations, it is advisable that new countries should use volunteers from countries already implementing Early Warning. Kick-off meetings for potential volunteer advisers have allowed existing Early Warning partners to establish their first volunteer groups. This was also the case when Early Warning Denmark started back in 2008.

When you have a core of volunteers and the right spirit it will spread to others, securing a stable increase of competent people thus creating a positive circle.

5.2 Meetings and trainings for volunteers and consultants
As the intention with the meeting and training activities has more than one purpose we decided to include the consultants in all meetings and trainings targeting volunteer advisers. The purposes are:

  • Building competencies. The task of a volunteer is quite unique, so we have to collect knowledge from different sources and then in common figure out how to use it in the Early Warning context.
  • Sharing experiences – identify and discuss the difficult situations and how the individual volunteer has dealt with it.
  • Building team spirit, including culture and values.
  • Develop knowledge among volunteers and consultants easing cooperation, right match and reducing need for bureaucratic procedures.

It is worth mentioning that every volunteer has a lot of expertise when joining Early Warning. This means that all training activities must focus on those themes that are unique for Early Warning.

The structure of the events and trainings in Early Warning Denmark and some reflection on this topic can be found here

5.3 Building spirit and values
Experience shows that meetings, trainings etc. are necessary for building capacity among volunteers. But it is also a prerequisite for success that every volunteer has companies to work with. Thus, it is recommended that you always pay attention to the right balance between the number and type of companies and the number and type of volunteers. To put it short and simple: You should have the volunteers you need – and you should use the volunteers you have.

As mentioned earlier it is of outmost importance that the right persons are recruited. In Denmark the recruitment starts with an application including CV. This is followed by a meeting with the regional project manager together with an experienced volunteer adviser. If it is decided to include the candidate an agreement is made. The agreement used can be found here. Please note that it predates and therefore does not consider the GDPR from May 2018.

To secure a good and motivated corps of volunteers you can get some inspiration of here

You may face a lack of understanding that people want to work voluntarily for Early Warning and maybe also a scepticism about the competence of these people.
You can read an article about one of the Danish volunteers here

As an example of this, in Early Warning Denmark we started working with our values after about 4 years. Our experience was that we did not need to develop the values – they were already established and needed only to be put on paper.

These values are presented in several documents, including the agreement with companies and the agreement on including a person as member of our corps of volunteer advisers.

Further tools from the pilot countries:
Good practice in structuring the relationship with volunteers by Madrid Spain
This tool documents the Spanish case of building up a volunteer group. The particularity in Spain is the cooperation with large corporations which provide volunteering hours under their SCR schemes. The continuous expansion of this system of pro bono hours spent by high-level specialists and managers is one of the key elements of the Early Warning mechanism in Spain.

Volunteer Interview report
This reporting format is developed by the Comunidad de Madrid and allows the volunteer to record all essential details of the initial interview with the company owner in one document. The format is structured into the sections Background, Documentation, Contacts with the Beneficiary, Content of the Meeting and Proposals, thus allowing for progress monitoring throughout the assistance.

FFR- Application for management
This tool explains the app-based management system for the company assistance processes in Poland. It features a function for keeping track of relevant meetings and events, assigning the right volunteer profiles based on skills, availability and experience, communicating with the volunteers and keeping track of the status of each assistance in real time. The app is a one-stop shop that enables the Polish Early Warning partners FFR and PARP to keep track of a large number of simultaneous assistance cases.

FFR- scenario of workshop - EWE Values
This tool is a stepwise guide to building capacity based on the Dilts Pyramid. Intended as the guidebook for a workshop, it allows the user to conceptualise an Early Warning organisation through the definition of its vision, mission, identity, values, convictions, skills, behaviours and environment.

FFR- EWE guide of mentoring process
This tool describes all steps of the assistance process in Poland which concern the volunteer. It details the actions for the matching of volunteer and company owner, the preparation for the initial meeting between these two, the meetings including a detailed checklist at all stages, the use of the management app, the mentoring process and the successful closure of it.

FFR- How EWE works in Poland
The slideshow is meant as inspiration to new Early Warning organisations or others who want a quick overview of the Early Warning mechanism and its activities, or who need inspiration for providing others with such an overview. The Early Warning system in Poland is structured as a public-private partnership, and the slideshow visualises the distribution of tasks between the partners.

FFR- Initial training program 
As a manual for managing the initial training scheme for volunteers, this document functions as a checklist for the programme management team and consultants in charge of training a new group of Early Warning volunteers. It focuses on the alignment of objectives and expectations and guides the participants through the setup and hands-on learning activities based on real-life cases and the development of the right mindset towards assisting companies in distress and people in personal crisis.

Best practice Poland
This file directory contains a set of documents from the Early Warning pilot in Poland. It contains legal and contractual documents applicable under Polish law and procedural documents for managing the daily implementation of the Early Warning mechanism such as matching criteria for companies and volunteers, visibility and an inspirational case study.