Are Volunteers Only There to Take Work Off My Plate?

ruth-mason_200x200By virtue of their name, volunteers are essential to the voluntary sector. But what can we do to support them so they feel valued and ultimately want to continue volunteering with us?

We must get to know them, as Supporting Volunteers trainer Ruth Mason explains:

Volunteers come and volunteers go. We must accept this fact, however frustrating it can be when one decides to leave after just a few weeks. Given the time and energy it can take to develop and deliver projects and training, times like this can be a significant source of frustration.

I’ve been in these circumstances more times than I can remember. Frequently in my previous roles, managers and trustee boards didn’t appreciate the amount of time I spent managing volunteers. In my darkest – and probably most egotistical – moments, I wondered ‘why don’t I just do it myself?’.

Leaving aside my ego, it is really important that small organisations with limited capacity don’t see volunteering as a trivial thing or as a panacea for staff shortages. Volunteers need management, support and infrastructure to ensure the work gets done to standard and to ensure the safety of service users and the reputations of organisations.

My ‘turn-around’ moment came when I took the time to understand the motivation to volunteer. Motivations could be similar between volunteers and volunteer groups, but often they were quite different and sometimes even contrasting. Under time pressures and high stress environments, I had fallen into the trap of believing that volunteers were simply there to take work off my plate. I had lost focus on the fact that we shared a passion for the work – and that these unique individuals might need to feel like they were feeding that work.

Understanding the “why here?” of your volunteers is key to successfully motivating and retaining them. Senior managers and boards of trustees need to consider what makes an organisation attractive to volunteers and build into recruitment processes questions about what they want to get out of volunteering. Most volunteers ‘want to make a difference’ but may have different expectations of what working for a charity or NGO might look like and the degree in which they can get involved.

If not managed appropriately, this is can be a major source of discontent for both parties.

Clarity is the answer.

In general, the clearer your volunteer agreements, task lists and responsibilities are, the more straightforward and effective volunteering will be. Treating people as different individuals is – I believe – key to building responsive volunteer management. While this can take time and resources, volunteers will feel valued and respected for their contribution as a result.

Volunteers’ time commitment should be agreed with them from the start and their involvement should always be met with gratitude. Initial training and on-going support is also essential for volunteers to feel confident in their role. Additionally, their experience and skills must be considered – and utilised where appropriate – so they continue to feel valued and also valuable to the team for the duration of their relationship with you.

Ruth will deliver the Supporting Volunteers training on Wednesday 15 July.

To book your place, complete a booking form and return the form to it to us via email

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