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Annual survey and EDI data: why now?

Our head of volunteer relations, Kate Apley, explains how we are gathering new information from our volunteers, and why.


Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

For the first time ever, Sing Inside is running an annual survey for all of our volunteers and supporters. We are collecting data about how engaged you are as our supporters, how you perceive our work, and the impact our work has on your knowledge about the wider prison and criminal justice system. This is all crucial information to help direct our future work, and make sure we are heading in the direction our stakeholders want us to go.


We plan to start some wider volunteer engagement projects over the coming months, including working groups on diversity, equity and inclusion, and on the interaction between Local and Executive Committees. The survey will help us establish how involved our wide volunteer base wants to be. It will also help us to report on our impact as a charity: are we successfully advancing the musical and leadership skills of our volunteers, and are we successfully dismantling harmful stereotypes?

So why now?

To put it simply, Sing Inside has never had the capacity before. Since Sing Inside became a registered CIO in March 2019, the (voluntary) time of the Executive Committee has been focused on financial reports, business plans, safeguarding policies, and all sorts of less glamorous or outward-facing pieces of work. When I joined the Executive Committee at the beginning of this year, my main focus was volunteer management, so I was able to take on some of this work that the team wanted to do but didn’t have the time for. A bizarre positive of the pandemic has been the time it has given us to work on strategy: while we aren’t planning visits, we have had more space to make progress on work like this survey. We have also had the time to transfer our database from Mailchimp onto a new bespoke Salesforce platform, which will give us much greater efficiency in managing volunteer engagement and communication. Now that we have the structure in place, we can run the same survey every year to track our progress. I never thought I could be so excited about collecting data, but here we are!


Equality, diversity and inclusion

Alongside the survey we are also sending round our first volunteer Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Monitoring Form. For some time, we have been discussing the best way to collect this information safely and to ensure maximum response. EDI data collection and the policies that come from them can easily become a tick-box exercise for organisations: as Sara Ahmed writes, ‘it is as if having a policy becomes a substitute for action’ (I would recommend Ahmed’s book On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (London: Duke University Press, 2012) for more on this!).

Sing Inside is determined for our EDI data collection to be a stepping stone rather than an action in itself. We need to see and fully acknowledge the existing racism and lack of diversity in our structure in order to effectively move forward as an anti-racist organisation. This data on our volunteers will act as a concrete reminder and push to change: we will use it to reform the ways in which we have truly welcome volunteers from certain spaces and certain backgrounds. For Sing Inside to be a fully community-based charity, it needs to serve the whole community, both inside and outside the prison walls.

All of this is really to say: please fill out these forms when they arrive in your inbox! Check your junk mail in case they get lost in there! Encourage your friends to fill them out too! For this data to be meaningful, we need as much as possible; even if you have never been on a visit, especially if you have never been on a visit, we need your thoughts to make positive change. You might even win a £25 John Lewis voucher.

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