Yesterday I presented at the CIPR Council meeting, the third of the year, to my fellow Council colleagues. We’re all elected to Council on a two year term. We are volunteers and as far as we’re concerned, it’s all about people.

People are what drive us, motivate us and people are essentially what we buy. People do business with people they like. If you are harassed by a sales person, you probably won’t buy from them. I more than likely wouldn’t.

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I’ve been a CIPR volunteer for many years in Scotland and at a UK national level. I understand what it’s like to start as a volunteer and have to find your feet. Scrambling about for information and seeking guidance on what the expectations are. I also understand what it’s like to be helping set the CIPR’s strategy and not seeing that filtered down. None of this should be about scrambling or lack of filtering.

At the April Council meeting, when the three-year strategy was presented, I spoke out about the value of volunteers and the lack of engagement. It’s critical to the CIPR. The CIPR is a member-led organisation and members should be at the heart of it. It was agreed I could go off to explore how we can engage volunteers. A small group of Council colleagues offered support – Jason MacKenzie, Lisa Jones, Jenni Field, Katherine Raven and Jenifer Stirton.

We set up a conference call to discuss what the objectives were and how we’d plan to go about the project.

The project objectives:

#1 Integrate communications across all groups and levels of CIPR work
#2 Make it easier to share, find relevant members, ask for help and suggestions
#3 Retain previous quality volunteers by ensuring they feel valued and achievements recognised

It’s all centered around people.

We set up the survey and the CIPR distributed it to Board, Council, Group Chairs, standing committees and asked everyone to share with their committees.

We got 144 responses which is over a quarter of the CIPR volunteer network. Not bad – they clearly had something to say!

We analysed who was responding, what type of membership they held, how many years they had volunteered etc. This gave us some insight about how they may have developed their responses.

Here’s some interesting information:

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The CIPR has committed to recognising, valuing and listening to its volunteer community – its biggest asset.

Priorities agreed:

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At the moment, there are different communities spread across different platforms. The CIPR doesn’t engage in conversation across them, but they are missing out on many opportunities. There is a desire to have meaningful discussions, but if the CIPR doesn’t know about them or isn’t a part of them, how can they use the conversations to make things happen?

Having one community will enable two-way conversations. It will allow debate, idea sharing, sharing of best practice and it will be clear what volunteers and members want.

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It was great to see that nearly everyone who completed the survey felt that CPD was a huge benefit to members. Some said it was vital and necessary and others were more forceful saying it should be an essential part of membership. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re working towards it!

It was agreed that we need to look at CPD and develop it so it’s more in-line with a quality over quantity system, so it’s not just about ticking boxes. We need to consider how we make CPD part of someone’s planning process for their professional development, rather than haphazard ‘nice to have done’.

The vast majority of respondents agreed that the professionalism is essential and the CIPR needs to continue to push harder. Please note the difference between PR as a profession and the current push for professionalism. Two different things.

How groups communicate with members

Group are too reliant on the CIPR’s weekly emails. If you were to be honest, how many people read and click through to the stories in the email? It’s nice to have the emails as a heads up, but it shouldn’t be the main source of information. Discussions and involvement in communities are what interest people and get them talking.

We need to consider consistency of group communications and ensure there is a two-way mechanism, not just the CIPR disseminating information.

What are we going to do now?

Well now we’ve agreed to progress to phase two, we’ll be scoping out the priorities which came out of the survey:

#1 Acknowledge, value, recognise and respect volunteers – the CIPR has an opportunity to engage volunteer and members in conversation. It has an opportunity to use the data help inform strategy. It will also allow the CIPR to identify trends and indeed gaps.

#2 Develop a volunteer induction which explains the role of the CIPR, the role of groups, expectations and resources. This needs to be something available digitally given the different group AGM timings. The induction can be fairly quickly developed and can be made available as an online resource. By volunteers sharing documents, ideas and best practice, it will allow new volunteers to search for information and indeed other volunteers.

#3 Create a community – for sharing, helping, connecting, collaborating and listening. It needs to be a community led by volunteers and members. The CIPR needs to be involved in this community – it will foster relationships, introduce people to new connections, encourage sharing of best practice and help in the push to professionalism. It will aim to give members a place where they feel part of something. It will be a huge member benefit.

For a start though, we’ve got an idea and the CIPR needs to get behind it in order for it to be successful. The President, Rob Brown and President Elect, Jason MacKenzie, have both given this their full support. The CIPR CEO, Alastair McCapra and Deputy Chief Exec, Phil Morgan also agree that this project could be the catalyst for greater two-way conversations. Also an opportunity for the industry to practice what it preaches.

Now, I’ll be working to develop a small R&D group to help me progress the project. Your thoughts and ideas will always be welcome.

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