Wednesday, 30 March 2016

New to volunteering? Some top tips for successful outcomes (Guest blog from Ruth Kaufman)

Many thanks to Ruth Kaufman (President of The OR Society) for writing this guest blog.

New to volunteering? Some top tips for successful outcomes

“O.R.” is one of the most adaptable disciplines imaginable, and its practitioners are among the most flexible, prepared to bring scientific rigour and methods to any question even if it is outside their previous specialism. Given this adventurous approach, it is always a good idea to see if there are any tips from previous explorers.

For Pro Bono O.R., there are two types of novelty for many of us: working with charities, and working as volunteers. Neither of these are terribly difficult areas, but they both bring special issues which are worth noting. This post looks at working with charities for the first time, and a second will look at working as a volunteer.

In most ways, working as a consultant to a charity is no different from working as a consultant anywhere, and the same success factors apply. Here are five top tips for charity special features.

1) before you meet the client, do prior research. Make sure you understand the basics of the charity sector (there is a useful summary available as part of the Pro Bono resource set). Armed with that, find out, for your client: what are their charitable objects; who are their beneficiaries; what are their main funding sources; how many staff, volunteers, and trustees do they have. These will all be part of your client’s day-to-day reality, and they’re all things you may not have come across in a non-charity organisation, whether or not it is not-for-profit.

2) identify the stakeholders In particular, find out about how the work is split between paid staff, volunteers and trustees (who are usually also volunteers); and in particular how they manage the interface between staff and trustee board

3) understand clients’ time constraints. Charities – small ones, especially – are run by volunteers to an extent that is unthinkable in other organisations. Trustees, in particular, will have a significant role in decision-making, but will be doing this as a tiny part of their day-to-day life. Only rarely will a trustee have signed up in advance to commit a significant amount of time, at regular well-specified intervals, to the charity. This can also be an issue for paid staff, depending on sources of funding; sometimes there is no money for staff to do anything other than deliver services specified by the funder, so thinking about strategy or change is all done in ‘spare time’ snatched from other activities.

4) build communication and trust A critical issue here can be language. Many charities will have staff who are suspicious of ‘business agendas’ and anxious that commercial considerations may be used as an excuse for driving out the qualitative aspects of their work. This is mainly a matter of being sensitive to the fact that terminology or arguments that sound professional and normal in the business world may bring different connotations to people focused on helping beneficiaries. Of course it is important to say what you mean; just do it in ordinary human language.

5) co-producing with the client It takes two parties to deliver a successful consultancy project. Agreeing terms of reference, project plans and deliverables; adapting these as necessary; managing expectations; keeping commitment through to the end; these crucial success factors rely on both consultant and client . The difference with charities is that the charity is less likely to have experience of such things than other organisations you have worked with. Make allowances! Watch out for risks such as specification changes, project drift, misunderstandings, reprioritisation. Never put these down to incompetence or lack of interest from the client, unless the evidence for that is overwhelming – they are much more likely to be due to inexperience with project management, or the organisation’s vulnerability to external events temporarily blowing it off course. Responding with a suitable mix of empathy, sympathy, and professionalism will make all the difference.

To see some of the projects we've worked on and to find out how to get involved please visit the Pro Bono O.R. webpage

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Encouraging employees to take part in Pro Bono O.R.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the BAE Systems offices in Farnborough and talking to the O.R. analysts at CORDA about Pro Bono O.R.

The CORDA senior management have been very supportive of the Pro Bono O.R. scheme and have actively encouraged their staff to get involved. 

The benefits of taking part are threefold:

  • The third sector organisation benefits from free support;
  • The volunteer(s) who carry out the project gain many benefits (see below)
  • The organisation who the volunteer works for benefits from their staff talking part.  There are a range of benefits including:
      1.  higher staff retention
      2. increased staff morale and reduced sick leave
      3. increased work performance
      4. building strong teams  
      5. training and developing
      6. reputation and credibility
(Data taken from Business in the Community and NCVO)

That is why CORDA are supportive of employees carrying out the projects in company time as they see how valuable taking part in the scheme can be.

Having spoken to many of the volunteers here are just a few of the benefits they list:

  • Taking part in the whole project cycle
  • Unique opportunities
  • Use soft skills
  • Develop current skills
  • Learn new skills
  • Make a real difference
  • Build your CV
  • Get to know new people
  • Team building opportunities
  • Project management
  • Work in a different sector
  • Positive learning expereince
So what's holding you back...?  To hear about projects that require volunteers please sign up here  (no commitment required).

Thursday, 24 March 2016

New project: Organisational Strengths Review for Works for Us

Please find details of a new project below that we are seeking a volunteer(s) for:

Work for Us

Information about the organisation:

Charitable objectives: Provide information, advice, guidance, support and training to disadvantaged people to support them into employment

Main activities of the organisation:

One-to-one information, advice and guidance sessions, short courses, workshops, and support groups.

Support to be involved in local consultations that affect their lives and communities.

Support for those considering/in the early stages of self-employment.

Delivery of a weekly Job Club and ESOL classes and support.

Project summary:

Project: Organisational Strengths Review - Enable WfU trustees and staff to self-assess organisational strengths, as a basis for planning how to build capacity for sustainability.

Time commitment: approx. 3 days

Location: Central Milton Keynes (Mix of onsite and remote working required)

Please read the project scope and if you feel you are able to offer your assistance please complete the application form and return to me along with your CV by midday on Monday 4th April.

Please note this project is suitable for an individual or pair of analysts.

If you require any further information please do not hesitate to get in touch: or 0121 233 9300

I look forward to hearing from you and once again thank you for your help and support.

For further information about the scheme please visit:

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Wednesday, 16 March 2016

#ProBonoOR helps Age UK Dacorum secure £66.5k Big Lottery Bid

Back in September 2015 Pro Bono O.R. was contacted by Dave Pearce (CEO of Age UK Dacorum) to enquire if we could find a volunteer to act as an advisor for an application they were submitting to the Local Sustainability Fund. Age UK Dacorum required support to develop and implement (if the bid was successful) a business change plan aimed at improving its long term financial sustainability.

Dave initially registered with Pro Bono O.R. and was then put in touch with one of the Pro Bono O.R. scoping committee.  They discussed the requirements in more depth and outlined a scoping document that was then sent to the Pro Bono O.R. volunteers. There was a very tight deadline for the support Age UK Dacorum required and as such we knew it was going to be difficult to find a suitable volunteer. However to everyone's delight a suitable volunteer was found and Dave and Ken started work immediately.

Initially Ken worked with senior managers to:

(i) help [identify] select and firm up on one or two key organisational or business developments expected to improve sustainability, by:
  • working with them to identify barriers to sustainability and options for change
  • reviewing the logic, rationale and evidence for change proposals; identifying gaps, risks and issues; and concluding which is/are the most feasible, and fit in best with LSF objectives and likely funding level
(ii) helping to plan the change(s) identifying the main actions, timings, resources required, estimated budget, risks and rationale, in a way that assisted them to complete the LSF application form effectively.

After months of waiting Age UK Dacorum were informed this week that their application was successful and they will be awarded £65,000.  We are all delighted with this news as this grant will have an enormous impact.

Now Ken plans to work with Age UK Dacorum as an external advisor to provide support and challenge through the implementation stages of the plan. 

For more information about Pro Bono O.R. please visit our website.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Knowing your audience - completed #ProBonoOR project with Bloodwise

Bloodwise is the UK's specialist blood cancer charity. Bloodwise contacted Pro Bono O.R. to request support from an analyst who could help them to 'know their audience better'.

Bloodwise’s wealth of data presented an opportunity to improve their knowledge about their supporters; they were to keen to understand how many different groups of supporters they had and what makes these groups different from each other.

Details of the project can be seen in the case study slide below.

The volunteer commented about the project: 
'It was a very fulfilling experience, it gave me a chance to meet a nice bunch of people and contribute to a great cause. Moreover it allow me to experiment with different modelling techniques and it was great to see that the analytics outputs were well received. One important aspect is that the analysis identifies some quick wins which should allow Bloodwise to optimise their fundraising efforts. Bloodwise will also be able to re-use much of the R code for further analysis like an attitudinal segmentation.

To find out more about Pro Bono O.R. please click here

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Join the Pro Bono O.R. LinkedIn Group

If you are interested in using your analytical stills to help third sector organisations across the UK please join the Pro Bono O.R. group.

This group is for current volunteers or those interested in finding out more about Pro Bono O.R.

It's purpose is to provide a space for updates, discussion, support, advice and to for members to post relevant information.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

New Pro Bono O.R. projects with The Corpse Project and Wave Trust

Pro Bono O.R. – enabling managers to make more effective decisions

Pro Bono O.R. is a scheme operated by The OR Society that places professional analysts in short term projects with third sector organisations in the UK. 

Projects require skilled professionals who work in operational research, analytics or related professions.  If you have the skills required for a project, we’d love to hear from you.

Please find details of two new projects below that we are seeking a volunteer(s) for:

The Corpse Project
Information about the organisation:
Charitable objectives:  Promotion of and educational around better ways with the body after death, including research and public engagement. 
Main activities of the organisation:  Currently evidence gathering (qualitative and quantitative), communication and networking to identify allies. 

Project summary:
Project: Processing and presenting data in an exciting multi-disciplinary exploratory project.
Time commitment: Up to 4 days
Location:  London.  Most of the work can be carried out by phone and email but some time face to face, preferably in London will be required.
Please read the project scope and if you feel you are able to offer your assistance please complete the application form and return to me along with your CV by midday on Wednesday 23rd March.

Wave Trust
Information about the organisation:
Charitable objectives: Educational charity committed to improving welfare of children with particular focus on improving social and emotional development and mental health and preventing child maltreatment.
Main activities of the organisation:  Research, policy development, educating policy makers, implementing policies to improve welfare of children.
Project summary:
Project: Developing a Cost-Benefit model to support the Pioneer Communities Project
Time commitment: Approx. 3 days
Location:  This project can be carried out remotely. Offices are based in Croydon, CR0 1ED.
Please read the project scope and if you feel you are able to offer your assistance please complete the application form and return to me along with your CV by midday on Wednesday 23rd March.

We also still require volunteer(s) for the following project:
Hoxton Health
Information about the organisation:
Charitable objectives: Holistic care for older people in Hackney at low cost.
Main activities of the organisation:  Complementary therapies and supported exercise classes for older people
Project summary:
Project: To aid the trustees and staff to:
1.       Develop a mission statement and identify ways of measuring impact of Hoxton Health.
2.       Design an improved recording system
Time commitment: Approx. 5 days
Location:  London (N1 5LZ). Much of the time would have to be on site though it will be possible to access computer-based information remotely.
Please read the project scope and if you feel you are able to offer your assistance please complete the application form and return to me along with your CV by midday on Wednesday 23rd March.

Please note all these projects are suitable for an individual, pair or team of analysts. If you would like to volunteer on a project but are not able to commit to the full time requirement please let me know as it may be possible to pair you up with another analyst.  Lastly if you would like to work on a project with the support of a mentor please do specify in your application and I can try to arrange this
If you require any further information please do not hesitate to get in touch: or 0121 233 9300
I look forward to hearing from you and once again thank you for your help and support.
For further information about the scheme please visit:

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Thursday, 3 March 2016

Making a difference with Operational Research - An interactive workshop with Birkbeck Work Readiness Programme

Yesterday myself and two colleagues, Charlene Timewell and Ian Seath ran an interactive workshop for students from Birkbeck, University of London as part of their Work Readiness Programme

It was a really fun session with students required to take part in a 'bubble sort' exercise (which involved chocolate for the winners!) and a practical session solving a 4 month Pro Bono O.R. project with RSPCA in 40 minutes.  

The workshop also covered:
  • An introduction to O.R. and The OR Society
  • Career pathways into O.R. and how to gain experience, including getting involved with the O.R. in Schools initiative.
  • An introduction to the Pro Bono O.R. scheme including some example case studies.

We've had great feedback from the session and look forward to working with Birkbeck again in the future.

You can view the workshop slides here

For further information please contact me:

NEW Pro Bono OR Project: ChaplaincyPlus

ChaplaincyPlus Project Analysis of Communications Data for Continuous Improvement Project : Undertake da...