Last week in this blog we talked about volunteers – the good, the bad and the better! This week I want to focus on how non-profits and volunteers can get the most from the experience – or my top tips for working with volunteers!
While there are a number of ways that volunteers can work with your organisation, and some do one-off events and specific projects, this post really refers to a more regular volunteer. Someone who comes in a day a week to do more office based tasks.
The right fit
It’s really important that the volunteer is a good fit for the work your organisation does. One way to ensure that the volunteer is a good match is to have them complete an application form outlining their previous experience, skills, interests as well as personal or work referees.
By having the conversation regarding the organisations expectations, role description, necessary skills as well as what they can gain from the experience, everyone is aware of what lies ahead and there are no nasty surprises!
Have a clearly defined role/position description
If you treat the volunteer position similarly to that of a paid employee it is more likely to be a positive outcome for both the organisation and the volunteer. So, just as you would for a paid employee, it’s important to be clear on the position available and the organisation’s expectations.
Developing a position description will ensure that the role is clearly defined. Vague notions that it would be handy to have a volunteer for some envelope stuffing are likely to end in frustration for everyone!
Tap into volunteers’ motives
Most volunteers have additional reasons for volunteering beyond helping a cause they believe in. These can include things like, developing skills, meeting new people and being a part of the community. By asking volunteers during the application process what they would like to get from the experience and then creating opportunities for that to occur the volunteer is more likely to enjoy and thrive in their position.
For example if a volunteer wants to practice their writing skills, they could write a piece for the newsletter. If they would like to meet people try to organise for volunteers of similar age/interests to be rostered on the same day.
Start as you mean to continue!
Make sure you are prepared for your volunteer – desk is clear (yes, they will likely need their own desk!), equipment ready, get them set up on a computer and give them information about the organisation to read to get them started.
Make them feel welcome! Show them around – where the kitchen (tea and coffee – very important) toilets, printer, photocopier – all the essentials. Having these basic office tasks in a little volunteer manual is always handy too, so they can have it to easily refer back to.
Introduce them to other staff and volunteers. Let them know right from the beginning that you value them and the time they are giving.
Training and development
By spending time in the initial weeks offering good training you are laying a solid foundation for the future. Taking time to explain an assignment, demonstrate how to do a particular job and answer questions, will help the volunteer gain a sense of confidence about what is expected of them and how to go about it. Time taken in the beginning will pay off in the end.
The feel good factor
Setting your volunteer up at a desk, a to do list and leaving them to get on with it is a recipe for seeing them quickly walk out the door!
It’s important that your volunteers feel good about being there, that they are needed, not just doing the boring jobs or the jobs that the paid staff don’t want to do. For example, if a volunteer is assisting with an event, in whatever capacity, get them involved so that they can see the bigger picture – include them in the meetings regarding the event, ask for their suggestions and ideas.
The feel good factor is essential to retaining your volunteers and a good volunteer is worth retaining. The time and resources spent in training them is lost if you see them leave after a few weeks or a couple of months and especially disappointing if it could have been avoided with a little time and attention.
I’ll be exploring ways to acknowledge and thank your volunteers and keep them happy and coming back for more in a future blog – so stay tuned.
Does your organisation use volunteers? What top tip would you have? We’d love to hear from you.
See you in the pond,
The Fish Chick.