Managing and Supporting Volunteers
The purpose of volunteer inductions is to ensure that volunteers are able to carry out their volunteering role as effectively as possible, feeling comfortable that they fully understand your organisation, and its policies and procedures. The problem of volunteers leaving an organisation too soon after being recruited is often due to poor induction procedures.
As a minimum, you might go through your volunteer handbook with inductees; however, you may wish to supplement this process with extra information and activities, or create a PowerPoint presentation about your organisation to show to groups of new volunteers.
It can also be helpful to use an induction checklist as a record of what has been covered, for you, and your volunteer.
What should be in the handbook?
This really depends on your organisation. Some things about your working environment or office culture may seem perfectly obvious to you but could be mystifying to an outsider. Volunteer handbooks are a useful resource to complement your induction process.
Areas covered could include the following:
- Background information on your organisation
- What does your organisation do and why?
- Day-to-day life in your organisation
- Practical health and safety information
- Policies and procedures
Different Forms of Support For Volunteers
Support is vital for all volunteers and can be offered in a variety of forms including:
- Initial briefing meeting as part of induction
- Peer to peer support and buddying
- Volunteer meetings
- Informal Support
- One-to-one support
- Formal supervision
Training For Volunteers
The purpose of training is to ensure that volunteers are able to carry out their volunteering role as effectively as possible. Training must be well planned and appropriate to the needs of the organisation, the individual volunteer and the specific role they are carrying out.
Styles of Training:
- Volunteer inductions
- On-the-job training
- Practical demonstrations
- Work shadowing
- Buddying/mentoring systems
- Visiting other organisations/inviting outside organisations to visit you
- Attending conferences, workshops, lectures, seminars, etc.
- Problem-solving exercises, group discussions etc.
- Utilise online training programmes and check to see if your local volunteer bureau can provide any free or discounted training to volunteers
- Contact staff or volunteers from other organisations who may be able to help
Recognition of Volunteers
- Make time to thank them for their contribution to your organisation
- Give them opportunities to be part of your decision making processes where appropriate
- Ask them for their input at meetings
- Offer training and progression opportunities
- Mention their contributions at meetings and in any reports your produce
- Where their role involves using equipment, make sure it is well maintained and in good working order
- Organise a social event or outing as a thank you
- Consider producing a volunteer’s newsletter, or include a contribution from them in your existing newsletter
You can minimise the likelihood of problems arising by ensuring that you have planned well for volunteer involvement, by regularly recognising the contribution your volunteers make and fully briefing your employees prior to recruitment.
Should problems arise, you will need clear procedures in place for dealing with them. You might consider sharing your problem solving procedures with volunteers at induction, so that they know what to do if a problem arises.
All complaints should be resolved openly, fairly and as quickly as possible.
Problem Solving Procedures
Problems arising from either side should be dealt with informally and quickly, whenever possible. Minor issues should be dealt with during supervision sessions with the aim of resolving them without entering into formal procedures.
Problem Solving Checklist
This checklist suggests how some issues can be dealt with and offers practical suggestions:
- A well thought out induction programme with training in the specific role, should provide the volunteer with a good foundation on which to undertake their volunteering. However, you may need to remind the volunteer of the policies and procedures within your organisation and additional training may be required in specific areas.
- Check if the volunteer has training needs. Everyone learns at a different pace and in a different way. Do you need to adapt your training materials, or change the way in which you deliver training?
- Does the volunteer need extra support or supervision?
- Is the volunteer feeling unfulfilled in their current role? Have their needs changed, or would they like to use different skills to help your organisation? If so, you may be able to modify their role description or develop a completely new role for them.
- Is the volunteer unable to cope with the demands of the role anymore? They may need to take a break from volunteering or may prefer to volunteer in another organisation.
- Always aim to find the best solution for both you, and the volunteer.
Handling Complaints From a Volunteer
A complaint from a volunteer, whether against a member of staff, your organisation generally or another volunteer, should be discussed with the volunteer. The volunteer’s supervisor or manager should do this. If the issue cannot be resolved at this stage the volunteer should discuss the complaint with the area manager, or someone in a position at the next level of management responsibility.
If the issue cannot be resolved at this level, volunteers should put their complaint in writing to the customer services manager, or equivalent, within one week. They should investigate the complaint and respond within four weeks of receiving the written complaint. Their decision is final.
Handling complaints about a volunteer
If a complaint is received about a volunteer, the first step is to discuss the complaint with the complainant, and then the volunteer. The seriousness of the complaint will dictate the response. In some cases it may be appropriate to offer extra support, supervision and training. For more serious complaints, a formal approach may be required.
If the complaint cannot be resolved informally by discussion, addressed through additional support or by further investigation by the area manager, customer services manager or equivalent, the volunteer may be given a written warning outlining the reason for the warning. In some cases, you may decide to withdraw the volunteering opportunity. The decision to do this should be a last resort.
Right to Appeal
If a volunteer has the volunteering opportunity withdrawn, they should be allowed the right of appeal to the head of your organisation/service. Their appeal should be sent in writing and can be investigated by the addressee or an officer appointed by the addressee. It is good practice to respond within four weeks of the appeal and the decision should be final. The volunteer can have a nominated person present at any meetings they are required to attend.
Dismissal of a Volunteer
Conducting the Dismissal Meeting
If a decision is made to dismiss the volunteer, the following guidelines might be useful:
- Be direct and explain clearly the reasons for the dismissal;
- Follow up the meeting with a letter to confirm the decision to dismiss the volunteer, outlining the reasons why. Include any information relating to their departure;
- Inform staff that the volunteer has left, but the reasons should remain confidential.
There are some occasions on which volunteers can be suspended immediately while an investigation is carried out. These include, but are not limited to, complaints of theft, assault, an act of violence, malicious damage, deliberate falsification of documents, harassment or being under the influence of drugs or alcohol and breaches in policy relating to the safeguarding of children, young people and vulnerable adults. The decision to suspend a volunteer needs to be confirmed in writing to the volunteer but in an emergency their supervisor/line manager may make the decision to suspend immediately pending written confirmation