WHAT MAKES A GOOD EXPERIENCE FOR A VOLUNTEER
During 2020/21, a year-long county-wide engagement exercise took place to understand the volunteering landscape across Gloucestershire. This involved volunteers themselves, VCSE organisations, health, local government, police and fire, and employers and employees. Many thousands of responses were received through surveys, structured interviews and focus groups. Based on this feedback, a ‘good practice guide’ was produced (see below) on what makes a good volunteering experience. It is hoped this information will be useful to organisations recruiting volunteers, recognising that many will already be doing some of these things, if not all, already. The feedback is set out under four thematic steps:
FOUNDATIONAL WORK/LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS
§ Acknowledge that often the volunteer (especially those in more formal volunteering roles) will need similar support to a member of staff - onboarding, induction, role descriptions and management. At the same time, it is vital to recognise they are not members of staff and will often have different motivations that should be incorporated into volunteer support and acknowledgement systems, whilst still allowing for flexibility in the way individuals are supported;
§ Have a system in place that allows active discussion with individual volunteers to determine if they want to develop any new skills/experiences as a result of a specific volunteering opportunity;
§ Work to reduce bureaucracy where possible at all points across the whole recruitment and retention process;
§ There is a need to balance both safeguarding and health and safety requirements with a reduction in bureaucracy. Consider how to best protect potentially vulnerable people in need of help through the appropriate use of the DBS checks, whilst also minimising the risk of creating a barrier to volunteering through any unnecessary bureaucracy, along with the wider health and safety agenda;
§ Ensure as many paper-based processes are replicated and/or converted to digital methods as appropriate;
§ Have a good induction process in place (ideally involving existing volunteers and open days) that includes relevant and appropriate training (some of which may need to be bespoke to individuals), with ongoing training provided. Where appropriate, online media can be used to support the training process, for example using short videos;
§ Design new fast-track ways of volunteer induction/training, building on examples of existing good practice. This is especially important where volunteers are needed to provide emergency support;
§ Have clear supervision and support arrangements in place. Where possible, there should be a designated volunteer co-ordinator(s) who, in addition to being first port of call for all volunteer support needs, can lead the integration of each volunteer into the relevant team; this individual(s) could be a volunteer themselves. Working with the volunteer and the relevant team, the organisation must also think carefully how they can ensure the volunteer feels part of the wider team. Allocate funding to support good access to a person with dedicated time/responsibility to co-ordinate and work with the volunteers;
§ Have a well-managed multi-channel communication strategy in place, including digital (incorporating social media) and non-digital (e.g. the power of printed newsletters/leaflet drops, word of mouth).
VOLUNTEER RECRUITMENT - PLANNING
§ Only recruit volunteers when a volunteering opportunity is definite and available recognising the potential adverse impact on volunteer motivation when their offer is not acknowledged or used;
§ Ensure role descriptions are clear and inclusive, flagging up any opportunities to use existing skills and/or develop new skills. Ensure that clear detailed information is provided about the role/responsibilities/tasks, the organisation, and any training required (what/where/when/why) prior to any commitment. Ideally there should be details provided for a contact person with whom the potential volunteer can contact or speak with to provide more details. Ensure volunteer roles and the expectations are well described;
§ Be clear about the time commitment, i.e. is the role looking for an adhoc or more regular commitment.
VOLUNTEER RECRUITMENT – APPLICATION PROCESS
§ Design the application process to ensure it is as simple as possible, minimising bureaucracy and maximising use of technology, whilst also having a method for ensuring the process remains accessible to those who don't have access to/wish to go online. This process then needs to be clearly communicated to potential volunteers, along with expected timelines, including response times (even if it is a number of weeks away) and ensuring all applicants receive a response. It is important to give potential/new volunteers feedback even if their services aren't required either soon or ever;
§ Where possible, meeting existing volunteers and/or open days (or similar) for potential volunteers would help as part of the application process, supporting a good match between each volunteer and the organisation;
§ Ensure that any adverts for volunteers are closed/deleted/removed once the opportunity(s) is filled.
ONGOING VOLUNTEER MANAGEMENT AND SUPPORT
§ Carefully consider how best to ensure volunteers feel (and are) acknowledged, valued and supported; these processes should be designed in partnership with the volunteers themselves to ensure the outcomes are meaningful. Organisations could work together to demonstrate appreciation of their volunteers, for example through engaging in the development of a county-wide recognition scheme;
§ Ensure there is regular communication and updates throughout the volunteering experience. Communicate with volunteers on a regular basis with relevant tailored communications, along with a structured process for ensuring two-way feedback can be given/provided. Volunteers should co-design these processes. Furthermore, the key partners should work together to best realise the benefits of social media, for example training on how to use social media as a tool for attracting new volunteers. The increasing use of social media to support a wide range of volunteering and community action-related activities has the ability to fundamentally change the face of volunteering by bringing many benefits, including the speed of response and communication, helping to raise the profile of volunteering itself and people in need of help, reaching new audiences, and supporting responding to emergencies etc.
§ Organisations recruiting volunteers should consider allocating each volunteer a mentor/buddy, at least for the early stages of their volunteering. Consider provision of mentors and/or buddies for new volunteers;
§ Provide peer support as well as team building activities;
§ Ensure volunteers have time/opportunities to feedback and work as equal partners so that the volunteers' experience and the environment within which they are volunteering can be continuously improved;
§ Ensure regular and timely information sharing with volunteers in a way that works best for them, for example through email newsletters.
Jonathan Jeanes and Serena Jester
On behalf of the Enabling Active Communities and Individuals Board