You can’t take a holiday, we’re a community group!

Running a community group is hard, especially when you only have one, maybe two members of staff and often rely on volunteers. So what do you do when one of your staff or volunteers utters those dreaded words ‘I need to take some time off, I have booked a holiday’?  Like me you probably smile, say that’s fine then go into panic mode!!

Joking aside, running a community group over the holiday season can be difficult. Of course you want your staff and volunteers to take their annual leave, they’ve certainly earned it, and you want them to spend quality time relaxing and enjoying life, but the needs of the community don’t take a holiday, so what do you do?

Here at Community Group Training, we have come up with a few little hints and tips that we hope may help, happy reading!

1.  Plan, plan and then plan some more!

Knowing when a person is taking their annual leave puts you in a strong position. It means you can plan accordingly. What meetings/appointments do we have in that period? Can we change any appointments to the week/s before or after? Who can cover the telephones? How many people do we plan on helping/supporting/engaging with? How can we meet deadlines? etc… If you know what you are expecting in the time when someone is on leave, you can better plan your duties and responsibilities.

The funder needs to understand and feel confident with exactly how you will use their money. Make sure you have answered all the basic the questions. A good way to think about this is: What? Who? Why? Where? How? When? you will carry out your project.

2. Work out what is urgent, what is important and what can wait.

When you are planning, use the urgent and important task matrix. If something is urgent and important, prioritise that and work out how you will manage it over the holiday period. If something is important but not urgent, can you dedicate certain times of the period to work on it so it doesn’t lose momentum but frees you up to manage other aspects of the business? If something is unimportant and not urgent ask yourself, does it need to be done at all? If the answer is yes, move it until you are back to 100% capacity and look at it then, if the answer is no, bin it!

3. See who can help you for a short period of time.

What support networks do you have that can step in and offer additional help and support if you need it? When I was setting up my business and my business partner went on holiday for a family wedding, my Mum (who is retired) helped me to answer the telephone and did my book keeping. This was support was invaluable, and while it seems like a small thing, the pressure it took off me was immense, it freed me up to run the business and concentrate on the most important thing, my customers. If you do not have a support mechanism, contact your local volunteer centre. They often have volunteers looking for short term placements while they look for paid work. You could also advertise in the local community for short term help, often community members will be more than happy to step up, especially as they will see first-hand the great work you are doing and how it benefits their community.

4. Look at where other staff and volunteers already involved in the community group can help.

I now have two young apprentices who both have very clear roles. This does not mean however that when one is on annual leave, the other can’t take on elements of their role. One of my apprentices does instructional design for e-learning, while the other apprentice can’t do that job, what he can do is support with the testing of the e-learning design. My apprentice that was going on holiday started to make a list of jobs that the other could support with two weeks before his annual leave. We then used the matrix in point two to work out what jobs were important but not urgent and then changed the apprentice’s role for the week the other apprentice was on leave to incorporate some of the testing.

5. Make use of the free tools that are out there.

My other apprentice is studying digital marketing and one of the things that he is really good at is helping to raise our profile on social media. What we realised very early on in the apprenticeship is that to have a presence on social media you have to be active! This does not mean posting on Facebook once a week, tweeting once a day, posting a blog here and there, it takes time, dedication and a tremendous amount of research to get the messages just right, it really can be very time consuming. When he was going on holiday earlier in the year, this caused quite a dilemma, as a small business myself and my partner just did not have the time to do all of the social media but we also recognised that we couldn’t just stop doing it as we were so active on a daily basis. Our apprentice looked into this and came across Hootsuite. This is a fantastic tool for any community group as it keeps all of your social media in one place, it allows you to ‘bulk upload’ which means you can schedule social media updates for weeks in advance, it also allows you to schedule updates at set times on set days or Hootsuite can auto schedule updates when the social media channel you are uploading to is at its busiest time. We also use a free CRM system so that all of our information is in one place, this makes it easier for anyone in the company to speak to customers and know what help and support they have already accessed from us. I can’t recommend these tools enough.

While you can’t stop your staff and volunteers taking annual leave, and deep down, I know you wouldn’t want to, I hope that by reading this blog you will be able to manage it better and do the amazing work for the community that you serve.