Approach to brief

To design and produce part-conference, part-festival for 146 volunteer managers from across the UK. The name Convestival is the name which has been adopted by the conference but the theme changes every year. This year the part conference, part festival was turned into an airport.

The National Trust conference is there to create a platform on how to improve volunteer management across two days that involves a range of workshops and plenary sessions.

With nearly the entire organisation being made up of volunteers, 65,000 compared to just 5,000 employees the organisation wouldn’t work without them; proof that the conference is crucial in delivering the volunteers message that couldn’t be communicated otherwise.

The conference is designed to inform, educate and entertain Volunteer Managers and then pass this onto their volunteers across the country. Given the number of volunteers it was essential that specific volunteer messages were filtered amongst the managers, discussed in a creative way in order to inspire the volunteers for the year ahead.

The budget was extremely restricted due the Trust’s charity status and their need to save costs, further limited on events which don’t touch the public. The main focus for the National Trust is to raise money to preserve and maintain their properties and bring them to life for visitors – through interactions with volunteers.

There were five key goals as part of the objectives of 2014. The conference set out to increase the confidence and skill of volunteer managers in supporting volunteer involvement. To inspire, challenge and support volunteer managers to develop the volunteer offer at their location. To build effective local and national networks of volunteer managers to facilitate sharing of learning and encourage ‘stealing with pride’. To increase the volunteer recommendation rating KPI score (target 67%). To raise awareness of and engage people in the 2020 ambition for volunteering.

Creative solution

Given the limitations of the budget there were numerous challenges involved in producing the conference. Keeping venue costs to a minimum was vital but holding the conference at a venue that reflected the National Trust was equally as important. It was on Cascade’s recommendation that the National Trust hold the conference at one of their venues, Calke Abbey, Derbyshire.

Given the budget, producing the conference in Derbyshire was the single most effective intervention that could have been made within the volunteer managers training and development. Keeping the venue within the organisation reduced onsite costs and enabled the money to be spent elsewhere, including dressing and theming, staging, lighting, artwork and additional marquees. Using a National Trust property as a location and including volunteering contributions in every aspect ensured that, it provided value for money for the charity.

In order to keep the budget as low as possible negotiating with suppliers was necessary. Reduced rates were obtained from a number of hotels that gave government rates keeping costs low. Our AV partner, PSP, also reduced their rates by 30% across all projection, switching, staging, sound and lighting. It was not only supplier rates that were negotiated but Cascade also waived their management fees. We provided specific items free of charge, including the creation and maintenance of the Convestival website, printwork design and all video recording.

Delegates came from all over the UK across numerous National Trust properties; we worked alongside the National Trust to manage the registration of all delegates online as well as coordinating their travel. Once the online registration was complete we collated the list of delegates by area and property so all delegates were able to car share to save the environment. Once on site, delegates were transported by coach to and from the hotels, organised by Cascade.

Impact and Effectiveness

It was important to build a clear volunteer management message throughout the conference and underpin everything with an informal feel where delegates could feel confident about sharing experiences.

The plenary sessions were held in the riding school with keynote sessions on a stage from a variety of speakers, including Hilary McGrady and Helen Timbrell. Each presentation used lighting and video projection throughout.

The riding school was a perfect fit for the plenary sessions, having the capacity and space to create whatever the National Trust needed as well as having the space outdoors to make the conference become airport.

These additional areas were provided on the grass directly outside the riding school having enough space for 6 extra tents, a central star marquee and catering van. Locating a space that allowed for a conference message to be delivered to 146 people and have an outdoor area to bring the conference alive whilst simultaneously mirroring the organisation, displayed why Calke Abbey was the perfect fit.

During the welcome address all delegates were given a festival style lanyard and plastic wallet with the agenda across the two days.

The lanyard reflected that of an airport, with a passport which gave delegates the chance to choose which breakout session they wanted to be involved with. This created a relaxed environment to encourage inspiration and motivation across the four breakout areas including the Gate 1 Destination…Career Path, Gate 2 Destination…Leadership, Gate 3 Destination… Diversity, Gate 4 Destination… Communications. The workshops equip the manager’s with practical tools and tips to put change into practice and create an opportunity for them to network with others in a similar role. Classes were given on topics that would inspire and help the delegates such as communicating with volunteers, dealing with difficult situations and working with interns and social media.

The evening entertainment was a covers band, Travelling Polar Bears playing songs through the ages to suit any delegate.

The delegates were surveyed before and after the event with key measures to do with volunteer management, they were asked to rate their confidence and knowledge before and after the event. Understanding after the conference had improved significantly and showed clear ROI.