Avoid assumptions about volunteers
The term ‘volunteer’ applies to all sorts of people giving their time for free. They will come with different skills and experiences and educational achievements. They will come from different backgrounds, with different motivations for volunteering. This might include:
- highly qualified graduates
- those who have left school with no formal qualifications
- people who want to volunteer in roles that are very different to their ‘paid’ work
- people who have retired and want to put skills and experience to good use
- people looking to build experience to get into paid work
- employer supported volunteers
- people who are volunteering in a representative capacity. For example: union rep, local councillor, tenant representative.
In each case the volunteers will need to be inducted into the role and provided with support to enable them (and the organisation) to get the most from their volunteering.
Community activists and campaigning volunteers may be volunteering in more ‘informal’ roles. Induction and training for those roles are likely to look different and come in different forms.
Getting started with volunteer inductions
Induction incorporates orientation, personal introductions, understanding the volunteering role, knowing where to find things and understanding the values and polices of the organisation.
The NCVO site provides practical guidance and resources.
Support comes in many forms and a well-organised induction session can provide volunteers with the support they initially require. Induction should not consist of simply giving volunteers policies to read and introducing them to other volunteers and staff. Getting the induction process right can help your organisation retain its volunteers for longer.
Wales Council for Voluntary Action has a useful information sheet on how to recruit, select and induct volunteers.
Volunteer induction checklist
- introduce them to other staff and volunteers
- show them around the building
- explain who they can go to if they have any questions or problems
- show them where they will be sitting and where they can find any equipment they need
- let them know about breaks
- explain how to claim expenses
- explain your organisation’s policy on volunteers using telephones or accessing the internet for their own use
- ask them to shadow other experienced volunteers or paid members of staff.
These are informal points, but they are important because they help volunteers feel more comfortable within your organisation.
What else will volunteers need to know during induction?
Organisational policies and procedures are better left until volunteers have gone through day-to-day practicalities. Once you have completed the checklist, volunteers should feel more confident about asking you to explain anything they do not fully understand. When you move onto formal matters, ensure volunteers understand the issues by going through policies and procedures with them. These more formal issues could include:
- your organisation’s policies and procedures. For example, equal opportunities, health and safety, risk assessments etc.
- the history, ethos and structure of the organisation
- how to deal with complaints and areas of concern
- the role and responsibility and any volunteers agreement.
The volunteer may find it useful if the information they are given is kept in a handbook or pack.
Further induction for volunteers
The rest of the induction period will be taken up with on-going training, and volunteers trying out the type of work they will be doing. The duration and depth of induction will depend on the role and level of resources available. If you work closely with volunteers during this initial period it will provide you with a better picture of how they work, what support they will need, and what they are hoping to gain.
Wales Council for Voluntary Action provide a range of information sheets on all aspects of volunteering which can be downloaded for free.