The heart of good practice in volunteer management

NCVO has over 12,000 members, all of which are engaged in some form of volunteering (trustees are volunteers too!) and volunteer management. Thousands of people manage and oversee the activities of volunteers every day, from established volunteering programmes to one-off volunteering events.

Our extended Volunteers’ Week, 1-12 June, is an opportunity to celebrate this. And the opportunity is all the more important because we know that volunteer management continues to be undervalued and overlooked.

Volunteering is an unstoppable force across all types of communities and people will inherently self-organise within or outside the structure of an organisation. In February I blogged about a David Bowie tribute, which is a shining example of this.

People continue to contact NCVO asking how they can help the refugee crisis in Calais and elsewhere, not wishing to be constrained by NGO procedures or formality. People want to do social good and response to a crisis is not the only way to achieve this.

One of NCVO’s strategic aims is to grow and enhance volunteering. We advise organisations on good practice and how best to go about growing their volunteering efforts. Through training on volunteer management, practical support on our NCVO Knowhow Nonprofit website, our national volunteering forums and consultancy.

We are producing a new Studyzone video training course on good practice in volunteer management, free to NCVO members. This course will take you through practical tips which can be applied in you volunteer management role.

Five things to consider when managing volunteers

1. Think about the role you are creating

How have you identified the need for this role? If you have paid staff, how is this role going to compliment the work of your paid staff? If you have no paid staff, think about what volunteers will do and how their work will contribute to your goals as a project or organisation.

2. Make volunteers feel welcome

It’s not enough to say it on your website! How do volunteers feel when they are with you? Is there a commonly understood appreciation across your organisation or project of the value that volunteers bring?

3. Help your volunteers to take pride in the difference they make

The role may be small-scale or episodic but will your volunteers be able to say with pride that they have made a tangible difference? Stanislavski once said, ‘there are no small parts, only small actors’. Come up with something that shows that you as a volunteer manager are ambitious for your volunteers.

4. Communicate and manage boundaries

If your volunteers are doing things you haven’t asked them to do or are doing things that you have expressly told them not to do, why is that? Set boundaries and communicate them regularly. This will enable volunteers to align their expectations to your vision.

5. Learn to say goodbye graciously

Ever outstayed your welcome somewhere? Goodbyes are loaded with learning for your volunteer and you. Your volunteer may be leaving after many years; leaving will be a milestone for them, and you may need to review your own practice or rethink how their role add values to your organisation. Try to see them as a way of bookending a stage in your volunteer’s life. Goodbye means you are helping a volunteer forward to their next step.

Volunteers are your public relations

Your volunteers are your informal and formal public relations. For example, in their outward-facing roles such as fundraising or customer service they are representing your organisation to partner organisations or the media. They carry your organisation’s reputation on their shoulders. Their voices can and do go far and wide in singing your praises or spreading bitterness about their volunteering experience with you.

If a person has a negative volunteering experience, this can damage their willingness to volunteer in future. Reflect on this; what would your volunteers say about their experience with your organisation and what would you like them to say?


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Avatar photo Jarina is our volunteering development consultancy officer. Jarina develops consultancy and training services with the aim of improving volunteering practice across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

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