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Working with volunteers

Return to the main Swale Borough Council website - Volunteering page.

Source: Survey conducted across East Kent, 2011

For recruitment of volunteers you can register with Swale Volunteer Centre who will promote the opportunities on your behalf, including uploading the details to the national volunteering website national volunteering website Do It. Please contact Julia Watling on 01795 473828 or email julia.watling@swalecvs.co.uk.

Guide to working with volunteers

Volunteers can prove themselves a worthy asset of any organisation, offering much more than simply an extra pair of hands. It's not just the volunteers themselves who can benefit from the experience; you too can reap the rewards.

While volunteers appreciate the skills and knowledge you can share with them, they can teach you a lot too. Many will work in jobs outside of their volunteering roles or will have experience with other voluntary organisations. They can bring with them their own knowledge and training and provide useful input when it comes to developing new campaigns or thinking up fresh ideas.

Additionally, hiring volunteers offers a degree of flexibility; you can recruit volunteers as and when you need them. You do not have to commit to taking people on for a certain length of time, nor do you have any obligation to keep volunteers on if you no longer require their help. Volunteers give you the opportunity to enlarge your team, take on more work and manage bigger projects while still allowing you to stick to your budget. What's not to like?

Overcoming barriers

While many people are keen to lend a hand if the opportunity presents itself, some find that certain obstacles prevent them from helping out.

What can your organisation do to overcome these barriers?

Barrier 1: Time commitments

This is one of the most commonly cited reasons why people do not volunteer. Therefore, it's really important that you make the commitment required clear when you advertise. Often people presume that they have to give a lot of time every week; if you make it clear that this is not necessarily the case then you'll likely get more interest.

Barrier 2: Stereotypes

Sometimes people think that only those in a certain age group or people in a certain financial position volunteer; an off putting stereotype. Make it clear that volunteering is open to everyone. Keep your English plain and simple and note down if you do not require specific skills or qualifications. The more open and inclusive you come across, the better.

Barrier 3: Overformal recruitment

People are often scared off by the idea of being scrutinised in a very formal setting. Interviewing potential volunteers is important but try not to make the process too formal; you don't want to come across as intimidating and put volunteers off.

Barrier 4: Confidence

Many people get into volunteering because they want to get back into the working world after taking time off. This may mean that their confidence levels are lacking and they doubt their skills; this does not mean that they are not capable. Encourage volunteers to try new things and step out of their comfort zone. With some help and support you can really help build their confidence, which in turn can improve their performance, making them a happier and more productive member of your team.

Preparation

Preparing for the arrival of volunteers is an important part of ensuring the experience is positive for both you and them. Before you even start advertising for roles you should ensure that you are equipped to deal with any issues that may arise…

Check that you have relevant policies and procedures in place to work with volunteers. Decide who will look after your volunteers, who will support them, who will give them an induction and who can help them when they first arrive; this person doesn't have to be with them 24/7 but there should be somebody around who volunteers know they can turn to for guidance or support.

Make sure that the rest of your team are aware that you are taking on volunteers and know what their roles and responsibilities will be. Sometimes members of staff are resistant to the idea of volunteers; volunteers will need initial training which staff will have to give, despite the fact they have their own work to do. However, it's important to make them aware that a few hours of training now will lead to a greater number of hours of help in future.

Try to identify as many opportunities for your volunteers as possible. Ask yourself where volunteers can be of most use and allocate them jobs which will be beneficial. Nobody's job can be exciting 24/7 but you do not want your volunteers becoming dissatisfied because they find themselves doing the same mundane tasks day in day out.

Once your volunteers are in place don't be afraid to give feedback. Volunteers want to know what they are doing well and what they can do to improve; criticism should be constructive.

Respond to issues efficiently. The quicker you respond to problems, the sooner they will be resolved and a happier place your working environment will be.

If you find that a volunteer is not suitable for a role you are not obliged to keep them on. While it might be a difficult conversation to have with a volunteer, it is better to explain the problems to the individual early on rather than let the situation get out of hand.

Appreciation

Some people think that their efforts as a volunteer will not be appreciated and this putts them off taking part. Where you can, show your appreciation for your volunteers. Some organisations like to put on an annual ceremony or dinner where they hand out certificates and other awards, but many organisations do not have the capacity to do this.

Instead, it is often more effective to show more informal appreciation; involve volunteers in decision making, show them the same level of respect as you would paid staff, offer them training and support where possible and quite simply, say ‘thank you'. Little gestures can go a long way.

Working with volunteers might require a bit of time and organisation, but with the right preparation, coordination and enthusiasm, your efforts will be greatly rewarded. Teach volunteers, learn from volunteers and enjoy working with volunteers. Register you interest for volunteers now and start reaping the benefits; see what volunteers can do for you.

Return to the main Swale Borough Council website - Volunteering page.