British Polish Chamber and the Power of Volunteering

From the London Olympics 2012 through Waterloo2000 to Warsaw 

London Olympics 2012 logoMembers of the British Polish Chamber of Commerce (BPCC) and representatives of the Ministry of Economic Development, the national police force and the City of Łódź Expo 2020 gathered at the chamber’s Warsaw office in September for a meeting of the CSR Policy Group, to discuss how best to initiate projects based on volunteering, and the benefits of doing so.

Guest speaker David Huse OBE shared lessons he’d learned from his experience of designing and running the London Olympics 2012 volunteer programme and from leading the activities that commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo last year. Mr Huse also has extensive experience working with the Home Office and UK police on designing and implementing volunteering programmes

The UK defines volunteering as both formal and informal with the emerging trend of 'micro volunteering' sitting alongside both.

David shared his experience of running big event volunteering programmes and some of the key challenges associated with that. Specifically, he talked about the need to plan the volunteer journey, of the funnel effect of attracting enough applicants in at the start, of managing applicants and volunteers over a long period of time, the need to over communicate to keep them interested and of adding other programmes in alongside to allow opportunities for skill building.

London took learnings from New York and implemented a programme called Team London based on the New York Cities of Service programme. This web based City volunteer programme is a one-stop shop for all volunteer related opportunities.

David contrasted his work on London 2012 with working with the UK Police and Home Office and transferring the principles of the 2012 Olympics to ongoing volunteering programmes. Many of the principles are the same. Namely the need to map out a volunteer journey, determine a communication and marketing plan, retain and motivate the volunteers against a clear and defined role. A demand rather than supply lead model.

David also worked with the National Trust on a business/employee lead volunteer programme.

Measuring the impact of volunteering is important not just for the volunteers and programme owners but for all key stakeholders. David talked about some of the work he has been involved in on this.

The key lessons David drew from managing both the volunteering programme of London Olympics and Wateroo200 are:

  • Always check people’s motivations for volunteering
  • Legacy is equally important as delivery
  • Involve commercial partners in every aspect  - do not underestimate expertise contribution (‘give us your people’s time, we’ll give you back skilled employees’)
  • You must win “hearts and minds”  

David’s presentation was followed by discussion moderated by BPCC chief advisor, Michael Dembinski, with a goal to understand what elements may be valuable and transferable to practices in Poland now and in the future.

There was an interesting debate surrounding the differences between the UK and Polish approach to volunteering – and indeed charitable activities in general. Some stem from cultural differences and the UK’s stable and (relatively) tranquil history, as many UK charities date back over a century or so. However, experiences with volunteering at events such as the UEFA Euro2012 football championships or this year’s World Youth Days (which alone attracted 20,000 volunteers), showed that Poland is capable of rolling out large-scale volunteering programmes.

However, it was said that in Poland, neither employer nor potential employee looks to the CV for volunteering experience, whereas in the UK, employers will often ask about this. A change of attitude here is needed to boost the perceived value of volunteering.

The discussion moved on to the value of seconding managers and employees for volunteer programmes, a good example of which was presented by BPCC member Habitat for Humanity, showing how corporate employees from around the world took time off from their paid work to fly to Poland and help build sheltered housing for vulnerable young adults.

It was agreed that before engaging in any volunteer based programme, the employer must know the answer to one crucial question: What do you need them to experience, so they are better employees when they return to work?

The presentation by David Huse is available here.


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