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In this series of posts we'll be looking at some of the basics of volunteer recruitment, performance evaluation and feedback, the changing face of volunteering, disputes, corporate volunteering and ending the relationship.

In this first post we'll focus on the start and the end of the relationship.

There's a job to do...

Volunteers exist to fulfil a role, they are there because a work needs to be done not just for a nice time.

So first things first,

  • What's the job to be done? Is this a paid or volunteer role?  Although volunteers can do virtually any job (and amazing things) there are some jobs which your organisation might require to be a paid role.
  • How many people are you recruiting? Most volunteers are not able or willing to dedicate themselves to a full time role (unsurprisingly) so how many people do you realistically need. Could the role be a job share or does each volunteer need a specific responsibility. Maybe you're recruiting a completely new team or into an existing team.
  • How do they fit into the existing team? How the volunteer fits into the org chart depends on their role and responsibilities, this then determines who their line manager is going to be? Getting their line manager to be an active part of the recruitment phase is essential, they have to manage them so they should be involved in selecting them. Line manager buy in as to the need for the volunteers or selecting volunteers over paid staff can be the difference between success and failure so make sure you're all committed.
  • Time. When do you need your volunteer(s), days and times. This might not be important to you or it could vital. Don't expect your future volunteers to be available at your beck and call, they have lives and it's no use going though the recruitment only to find out your dream volunteer can't actually make the only day you need them.
  • Write a role profile, as if you were recruiting for a paid role. This will form the basis of the volunteer role profile.
  • Where are you advertising. Just as if you were advertising a paid role are you going to reach the people you need to fulfil your vacancy? Specific volunteering sites such as do-it.org link you with people wanting to volunteer.
white and black ceramic cup filled with brown liquid on brown wooden sufface
Photo by Nathan Lemon / Unsplash

Budget

Can you afford to have volunteers?

Volunteers are not free. This surprises many people. They might not be on the payroll but they are many hidden costs, you'll need a budget to cover these. For example some costs include travelling expenses, training, clothing, PPE,  extra equipment, staff management time, recruitment expenses, volunteer benefits and even tea/coffee and cake.

Keeping an eye on just how much your team of volunteers is costing is essential. Volunteering should not cost volunteers anything except their time, they are donating their skills however you do need to make sure that your costs are under control.

Interviews

Always, always, always interview.

Depending on the role depends how rigorous your interview process is. This could range from an informal chat over a cuppa to discuss what you need, what they can offer and also what they hope you get out of volunteering to a selection day with formal interview and presentation/ assessment.

This is a person who will be working either in or alongside your team and that you'll need to manage, meeting them in person is essential. We're all different and not everyone gets along, this is an opportunity to check they'll fit in with the team dynamic. Selecting the wrong candidate can cause more problems than not having the role filled so if in doubt wait and go for another round of recruitment or consider setting a probation period where after a set amount of time both parties re-evaluate how this is working.

Interviews also offer an opportunity to make sure that they're clear what the opportunity is and you're clear what they're offering. Crossed wires can be very frustrating for everyone later on.

Disclosure and Barring Service checks

This used to be called CRB and has now changed to DBS. For most roles this isn't necessary but if you're working with children or vulnerable adults it often can be required, your HR department will be able to advise you.
Your organisation may also wish to do a check on anyone who will be handling money.

Always state in the role profile if this is going to be required.

Induction

Once you've recruited and selected your successful volunteers you'll need to induct them into the organisation, this is a very important stage and will be covered in Managing Your Volunteers.

It's no different to starting a new job or a new school, making your volunteers feel welcome and in the swing of things quickly promotes the sense of belonging that leads to lasting happy relationships and we all want those.

flat lay photography of coffee latte in teacup on table
Photo by Hanny Naibaho / Unsplash

Parting of the Ways

All good things must come to an end and most volunteer journeys are great, celebrate it (usually with cake) and thank them for all they've done. It's not rocket science.

However, some journey's are not so great and sometimes difficult conversations need to be had. Each situation is different and needs to be handled with care. Here are some things to think about when you're ending a volunteers journey with your organisation:

  • Discuss it with your line manager first

If you're having difficulties with a particular volunteer or group of volunteers talk to your line manager. If you're having regular one to one's this is something you should already have discussed with them. No Head of Department wants the first they hear about it to be when things have gone wrong. They may know the parties involved and can offer advice on how to handle the situation, they should know your organisations policies regarding exit and also the complaints procedure.

  • It doesn't have to be the end of volunteering

Just because an individual hasn't worked out in your team doesn't mean they need to leave the organisation entirely. Having regular catch ups can help identify and solve problems early, just because they're not right for your role doesn't mean they wouldn't be perfect somewhere else. Try and identify why this role isn't working as it might highlight a role which would be a better fit for everyone.  

  • Don't let the first meeting to discuss issues be the exit meeting

If things are not going well you need to discuss it earlier rather than later. Often if the issues arise due to behaviour the volunteer may be unaware of how their behaviour is affecting others, an early meeting may mean that problems are headed off early and exit doesn't have to be the solution.

If parting ways is the outcome the volunteer needs to be prepared for this and understand the reasons why.

  • Check your policies

Each and every organisation has it's own policies for dealing with volunteers and staff who are not going to continue working together. Check these carefully. For example you may need to give warnings before action can be taken or an allegation may be so serious that the police need to be informed. HR will be able to guide you and talk to your line manager.

  • Confidentiality

As with most things in this area confidentiality is key.

  • Be prepared

Some meetings you can get away with a quick read of the agenda while you make your coffee before walking in, an exit meeting is most certainly not one of them. Make sure you know what you're going to say, if you have evidence make sure you're familiar with it and have it at hand. Think about the setting:  a confrontational setting doesn't get the best out of people. Does it relay the seriousness of the meeting? Do you have what you need, for example tissues? Is it private?

If you've laid the groundwork the outcome of this meeting should not be coming as a surprise, however even the best people can be ostriches and it may come as a shock. Be prepared for tears, anger, blame, the list of emotions can be endless.  

Look after yourself. You may feel that you need a colleague to sit in the meeting with you especially if the issues have been due to a personality clash or maybe threatening behaviour. Never put yourself in a situation in which you do not feel safe. Equally offer the volunteer the opportunity to bring someone they trust along with them.

Don't forget to make notes of what was said during the meeting and anything that was agreed.

These meetings can be emotionally draining for all concerned, especially if you're not used to doing them. Don't schedule this meeting to be on a day that you're especially busy or stressed. Give yourself extra time before and after the meeting so you don't have to worry about being on time or rushed at the end.  

  • Complaints procedure

Make sure the volunteer knows how and to whom they can talk to if they disagree with action taken. They are allowed to disagree.

  • Thank them for their work

No matter how the journey ends they have given you their time and skills for free, so say thank you. Feeling appreciated can mend a lot of bridges.

For more information other posts in this series include Managing Volunteers and The Changing Face of Volunteering.