About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Leaders open doors but you need to walk through them

As part of our series based on the insights we gained from US Chief Service Officers (CSOs), we’re reflecting on working effectively with your leadership and senior management team and how that can make your volunteering movement the success it deserves to be.

The way in which you work and communicate with your managers, directors or leadership team will understandably have a big impact on how well your project fares.

Here at Nesta we have learned through our relationships with our grantees, that buy in from the senior management team is one of the most important elements for a successful project – if you don’t have the belief and support from them in the beginning gaining the momentum and building the connections you will need from them and their counterparts will be harder and sometimes impossible to do.

Leaders open doors but you need to walk through them

Having a senior champion gives you permission to engage but you need to drive it.

Laurel Creech, the Chief Service Officer in Nashville, was adamant that if she didn’t have the bully pulpit of the Mayor’s office, she wouldn’t have been able to get the things done that she wanted to get done and that needed to be done. Senior support gives you permission to open doors, ask hard questions and meet people. But you need to make use of that permission, build real relationships across services and demonstrate value through your actions.

Invested leaders add credibility to the work you carry out

As our Associates and Chief Service Officers have experienced, engaged leaders add credibility to your work, so it’s your job to keep them informed and engaged.

Find different ways to engage them: encourage them to visit projects to help them build a personal connection; provide them with specific talking points and elevator pitches (as discussed in our previous blog, building a movement) to make it easy for them to convey your key messages; position your desk near them to increase chances of contact! You could even get them to host a tea party of recognition or host an awards ceremony to help them meet volunteers and partners. Keep them updated and engaged with what’s happening and keep your work at the forefront of their minds.

Getting your leaders to consistently and convincingly talk about your programme will offer the starting blocks for building those relationships to help your projects flourish and become relevant in conversations where using service as a strategy may not have previously been considered.

Our Associate Joe Micheli heading up the Love Where You Live campaign for Barnsley Council recently told us of a well-known strapline that seems to have been adopted by their leader when it comes to getting volunteers involved: ‘Just Do It’. I have to say has never sounded so good, and it comes from him being out on the ground.

Leaders for change aren’t always the obvious person

A strong leader isn’t essential but definitely helps.

Your mayor or city leader will bring you into contact with the right people, make connections and build awareness of what you are doing – but bear in mind anyone in a leadership role can help you with this. Take time to identify who those leaders and influencers are within your own organisation, at your partner organisations, and even within the community. The more people you can keep on side, the more you can build up an army of influencers and supporters who can advocate for you.

Think about those that ask for your assistance in getting initiatives off the ground, they may not have the ask quite right, and may even refer to you as 'the one who organises the volunteering'. However, building that relationship and educating them about what volunteer “service” is creates another advocate, and potentially one you can call on for those bankable favours we mentioned previously.

- Catie Wolfgang, Chief Service Officer, Philadelphia

Photo Credit: StockMonkeys.com via Compfight cc


Lynette Lucas

Lynette Lucas

Lynette Lucas

Programme Coordinator

Lynette worked in the business support team, providing practical support across a number of programmes. This includes organising events, managing processes and making sure that program…

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