An overview of what you should think about when involving volunteers
When you begin to consider involving volunteers in your organisation You need to think about:
- Why you want to involve volunteers?
- Want you want them to do?
- When you want them to do the tasks?
- Where they will be volunteering?
- How to retain them?
Specific questions you can ask yourself to help determine what roles or tasks a volunteer can help with.
- Are there general roles that can be filled, as well as specialist opportunities for people with specific skills?
- Is there flexibility in the way the tasks can be accomplished?
- Is there something for people who have a lot of time to spare as well as those who have a small amount of time?
- Is there something for people who only want to volunteer occasionally or for a short time as well as opportunities for those who are happy to make a long-term commitment?
- Do we have opportunities that fit in with people’s availability, such as during the day time, evenings and weekends
- What are we doing now that we would do more of if we had the resources?
- What tasks are we not doing that would improve the quality of our service?
- What parts of the work are time-consuming or less satisfying? Might a volunteer with the right time/skills enjoy getting involved in these?
- What could we do if we had specialist skills?
- What could we do if we had unlimited resources?
- Who will be responsible for training and supervising the volunteers?
- These questions will also help you when designing role descriptions
- It is important to be pro-active in what issues could arise – the best way for this is to plan ahead.
It is good practice to consider creating a volunteer policy which will set out the principles that your organisation follows when involving volunteers. This does not have to be a large document. In fact the bigger and more un-wieldy it is; the less likely it is to read and acted upon. It needs to fit in with the size of your organisation and what you do.
A volunteer policy sets out how volunteers can expect to be treated and shows its commitment to good practice in all aspects of the involvement of volunteers. This is where staff should be reassured that volunteers will not be used to replace paid workers (contact us for an example)
It is important to have clear procedures for recruitment. This ensures consistency, clarity and is in line with equal opportunities. The manner in which volunteers are recruited will vary depending on factors such as the type of work they will be expected to carry out, the expected length of commitment and so on. A one off weekend moving furniture will have a different approach to the recruitment of a volunteer counsellor. For most roles an application form, interviews and the taking up of one or two references is appropriate. Your local Volunteer Centre can help with marketing and recruitment.
Organisations where volunteers will be working with vulnerable clients need to have strong procedures in place to help screen volunteers and ensure adequate support and supervision is provided whilst making use of Disclosure and Barring Service checks, references and interviews. However it is important to do some form of risk assessment to help you decide whether a particular role requires DBS checks so you do not just ‘blanket’ check which is unnecessary.
You can find out more at https://www.gov.uk/disclosure-barring-service-check
While organisations will want to avoid creating a contract of employment between themselves and their volunteers, a volunteer agreement sets out the commitment an organisation makes to its volunteers. It is recommended now that the volunteer does not sign as it could be interpreted as a formal contract. Some organisations have a checklist which the volunteer does sign to show that they have understood the information given to them at induction (contact us for an example).
Role or task descriptions are helpful as part of the recruitment process. They allow volunteers to see what is being asked of them. It also allows organisations to be clear and identify where they set boundaries. This avoids volunteers being set in mundane, unfulfilling tasks for them as individuals. There should be a degree of flexibility however, so that volunteers can develop or re-negotiate their roles.
Payment of out of pocket expenses is a very important issue. It insures that potential volunteers are not excluded due to lower income; volunteers donate time, and should not be expected to in effect donate money as well.
Reasonable expenses volunteers can expect to be reimbursed for include travel to, from and during the voluntary work, lunch, special equipment or clothing, childcare and telephone and postage costs.
To avoid problems with the Inland Revenue and benefits agency, the legal status of the volunteers and possible minimum wage implications, out of pocket expenses only should be paid, measured against receipts, bus tickets and so on.
Induction & training
You need to have some form of induction that gives the potential volunteer information about what the organisation does what roles are available for the volunteer, introduction to other people and / or staff members of the organisation and any important policies and procedures the volunteers need to follow. Some organisations produce an induction pack for volunteers but it depends on how big your organisation is and how much information the volunteer is required to understand and follow. It is important to ensure that volunteers understand what they can and cannot do to save confusion. This will make sure that the volunteers will feel confident in the work they will be doing.
Thought needs to be put into how volunteers are introduced to both the organisation, and the specific role they are taking on. Volunteers need to be introduced to staff members and volunteers; told where bathroom and kitchen facilities are; shown the fire exits and so on. A volunteer handbook and induction pack can be very useful.
As well as adequate training in the initial period, the training needs of volunteers should be continually assessed as with any other member of staff. Where appropriate, volunteers should be given training to enable them to carry out their role.
Volunteers need support, feedback and encouragement. How this is done depends on the nature of the organisation and often takes the form of both formal and informal support. Many find it useful to arrange regular supervision/review meetings, to allow volunteers and their supervisors to discuss how the work is going, assess training needs and possible changes to the tasks the volunteers are undertaking.
The volunteer's voice
Volunteers should be included in the day to day life of the organisation. They should have input along with the staff in how the organisation is run, through participation in staff meetings, volunteer forums and so on. For larger organisations having in place volunteer co-coordinators/managers can help tremendously to ensure volunteer’s needs are met and good practice is pursued. This also offers structure and consistency to volunteering practices across an organisation.
Organisations must make sure that volunteers are covered by their insurance policies. They can be covered by either employers or public liability policies. Employer's liability insurance is generally a more comprehensive cover, but you should also check that your public liability insurance covers you for the acts of volunteers. Some policies have age limits. To avoid discriminating against younger or older volunteers you should shop around until you find a suitable policy.
Organisations owning vehicles driven by volunteers are responsible for insuring the vehicles appropriately. Volunteers driving their own vehicles should inform their insurance company that they are using them for voluntary work. The organisation should check regularly that the insurance is up to date.
Health & safety
Organisations do have a duty of care to ensure that they avoid carelessly causing harm to volunteers. This means that adequate risk assessment should be made, with steps taken to avoid potential hazards. Making volunteers aware of fire exits and fire drills and giving them adequate training such as first aid are just examples of the sorts of steps that should be taken.
The nature of volunteering is such that it is open to a very wide range of people, including those who may have difficulty finding paid work in similar fields. Care has to be taken to avoid closing off opportunities for any potential volunteers. Diversity is one of the main assets that the involvement of volunteers can bring to an organisation.
The organisation's equal opportunities policy should include volunteers as well as paid staff. Equal opportunities should touch all areas of a volunteer programme, from recruitment to day to day management and support.
While many problems can be resolved within supervision meetings, it may be that volunteers have a serious grievance with the organisation. Equally, their conduct could be called into question. It is important to have clear and open procedures which can be followed to ensure that concerns by either party are fully and fairly investigated.
Volunteers should have the right to appeal against decisions, and to be accompanied by union representatives, colleagues or friends at any meetings undertaken as part of such procedures.
The level of confidentiality required depends on the nature of the work carried out by your organisation. The general rule is that volunteers should be bound by the same confidentiality guidelines as paid members of staff. Even if volunteers are not engaged in 'frontline' work they are still likely to come across confidential information. Ensure your confidentiality policy includes volunteers, and include it in your volunteer handbook or induction pack.
This tends to be created in medium to large organisations where there are a number of different roles. Small voluntary organisations / community groups with one or two roles generally do not produce volunteer handbooks though it might be useful to consider for the future if you increase the number of roles.