How do you keep volunteers enthusiastic? How do you communicate with them to make them feel part of your organisation? What are the things that cause volunteer relationships to go wrong?
Investing in Volunteers
Recognition of volunteer contribution
Volunteering England has lots of suggestions on ways to reward, recognise and retain volunteers.
Informally, telling volunteers they are doing a great job, asking their opinions on internal developments, getting them to feel comfortable with being a part of the organisation’s social life – all are important
More formally, volunteer events (part of Volunteer Week maybe), where group recognition takes place, the awarding of certificates, helping volunteers gain accreditation, including volunteers in staff meetings and inviting them to be members of working groups offer possibilities. These will demonstrate a recognition both to all volunteers, staff and committee members of the importance of volunteers.
NCVO members can download a free guide on thanking volunteers.
Solving volunteer problems and handling complaints
Problems can arise because different priorities come to the fore, volunteers don’t get the resources they think they need and money goes to a part of the organisation, other than the one they are serving. Where good support and supervision procedures are in place, problems may get solved without prolonging the difficulty.
On the other hand, a volunteer may bring a complaint about a member of staff, or vice-versa, or a client may complain about a volunteer. Volunteers need to feel complaints are handled with sensitivity and they receive a fair hearing and that the complaints/grievance procedure of the organisation will be rigorously followed. This procedure should be in writing and available to volunteers, and will ensure a consistency of response.
Letting go of volunteers
An organisation should be prepared to ‘let go’ of volunteers as well as retain them. For one or a combination of reasons some may be ‘let go’ as they have volunteered in one role for a very long time and run out of steam; for some their personal circumstances have changed to the detriment of their volunteering; others may, after all, show themselves to be unsuitable in spite of good recruitment procedures. Knowing when to let go is as important as knowing how to retain.
Unless there has been serious misconduct, a departing volunteer should receive thanks and be offered an Exit Interview opportunity. At this the totality of their volunteer experience, short or long, can be evaluated and views sought from the departing volunteer about possible improvements that might be introduced for future volunteers. Be as positive as possible so the departing volunteer will retain positive views about the organisation and not seek to lower its reputation. Try to agree the benefits the volunteer has gained whilst with the organisation and offer them appropriate support in seeking new opportunities.
- NCVO members can download a free guide to managing and retaining volunteers
- Charities, volunteers and the law: Q&A guide written by lawyers at Bates, Wells and Braithwaite as featured in Society Guardian.
- Keeping Volunteers: A Guide to Retention: The Art of Volunteer Retention ('How to' Management Series) (Paperback) by Steven McCurley and Rick Lynch.