The annual National Volunteers Week (1st-7th June) is a great time for charities and community groups to thank their volunteers for their help and support. But are you getting the best out of your volunteers? Are you truly happy with how you approach, manage and work with volunteers? Check out our top tips to see if you have all the key basics covered.
Volunteers can have a variety of motivations for wanting to get involved in your organisation and giving their time which can even be multiple reasons from: gaining new skills and experience; building their CV for career development; wanting to make a difference; having the warm and fuzzy feel good factor; having an affinity to the cause. If you can understand the reasons why each of your new volunteers wants to volunteer, its much easier to help ensure they are fulfilling their needs. If they are, they are more likely to stay as volunteers
Its good practice to have a well defined volunteer role description for each role that outlines the purpose and the key tasks involved. This may also include whether there is a certain level of knowledge, experience or skills that are required to undertake the role. Remember to avoid any terminology that makes it sound like a paid role so you don’t risk getting into any ‘hot water’ from treating volunteers as employees (which they are not!). The role description may also outline what out of pocket expenses you provide and what training you can offer to enable volunteers to undertake the role.
Volunteers are there to add value, to support and assist what your organisation does – volunteering should not be thought of as ‘cheap labour’ and definitely not to replace paid roles. See more information on this point from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).
The time, skills and talents of your volunteers should be respected and valued (as we talk a bit more about under point 8). When tasking volunteers I always keep in mind whether what I am asking them to do is something I would be prepared to and like to do. Of course volunteers come in all shapes and sizes and from all backgrounds and will therefore have a range of likes and dislikes, but if you are noticing you are keeping all the less favourable tasks for volunteers, please ask yourself is that fair.
There is a myth that voluntary work needs to be done a regular basis and perhaps at a set time, such as giving up a day or afternoon a week every week. Whilst there are some roles that require this regularity and routine, consider if you are making your volunteering opportunities as flexible as possible to accommodate volunteers who often have busy lives and are usually juggling other committments (from work to family life or other volunteering etc).
You may see your volunteers on a regular basis go about their volunteering roles, but when was the last time you stopped and gave them quality time to review how their volunteering is going? Are they enjoying their role? What do they like about what they do and what has gone well? Do you know what they don’t like about their role (if anything of course) and also what they have found challenging?
Time is precious and if volunteers don’t feel their time is being used in an effective way, they are unlikely to continue in their role. Its sometimes easy to think volunteers are being busy and to list the activities they are doing, but what difference are they making? How is the work the volunteers are doing making an impact to the beneficiaries of your charity?
Have you got a clear strategy for acknowledging the contribution your volunteers make? A simple thank you at the end of their volunteer shift doesn’t take much effort but it does take some thought. Some organisations send birthday cards to their volunteers, award them with certificates to recognise their contributions and even have volunteer of the month or year awards for example. How can you make your volunteers feel special and valued. Have you asked your volunteers what they would like?