Whether you have 1, 10, or 500 volunteers for your organization, you need to know the ins and outs of how to manage unpaid staff. Here are the top 5 things you’ll need, to excel at volunteer services.
1. Actively understand the definition of a volunteer! This might seem simple and already implied, but for organizations that are just starting or a program that is newly recruiting volunteers it’s a good place to start. A volunteer is described as a person who donates their time and energy without receiving financial or material gain. The basic outlines of a volunteer is that these individuals are to be working towards a humanitarian, public service or religious objective, not expect any form of compensation for their services, and not displace any genuine employees of the organization. This means – the individuals you hire as volunteers for your organization need to understand up front they are donating their own time/resources free of charge and as an employer/volunteer manager you cannot utilize volunteers to push out or replace existing paid employees.
2. Comply with state and federal regulations. Regardless of employee status, you and your Human Resources team need to comply with state and federal regulations during the hiring process for volunteers within your organizations. This means following the guidelines for diversity laws and discrimination acts that are in place. These include but are not limited to (depending on your state) – Affirmative Action, Age Discrimination Act, ADA, Race/Religion/Sexual Orientation and all Sexual Harassment laws.) So, how do you comply with these guidelines and laws for volunteers and how will you organization cover itself for potential upsets? Keep reading for topic three.
3. Create a Volunteer Manual. Creating a volunteer manual will enable you and your organization to showcase exactly what volunteers within your organization do, why people should volunteer, what state and federal regulations volunteers have a right to understand, and a whole plethora of useful information that is important for someone dedicating their own free time to your organization! All organizations have a employee manual, but creating a specific manual for volunteers aids in understanding those key differences between volunteers and paid employees and ensures these individuals have the knowledge, skillset and most basic understanding of their role within your department and organization. A volunteer manual should cover the following:
1. Introduction about your facility – Mission, Vision and History
2. Description of volunteer services (what will they be doing?)
3. Tangible and intangible benefits of volunteering for your organization (why your organization? what kind of experience will entice them to join and stay!?)
4. Volunteer Matching Procedure – how they will be placed within the organization (is there more than one department they could work with/and the qualifications for volunteer services)
5. Diversity & Inclusion – ensure you include those diversity and inclusion laws you organization follows to cover yourself and your potential volunteers
6. Expectations of Conduct and Behavior (What are they allowed to do? What should they wear? Can they have their cellphones? – Don’t leave anything ambiguous)
7. Open Door Policy – who do Volunteers report to? What is the hierarchy of the department or organization
8. Operational Procedures – evacuation procedures and safety rules
9. Acknowledgement of receipt of the Volunteer Handbook – ensure they sign this paper and keep for your records
These are certainly starting points that can and should be elaborated on. Many of these topics should already be within your employee handbook and tailoring them to volunteer services will showcase your commitment to the volunteers of your organization.
4. Volunteer Orientation. Holding a formal orientation/training specifically for your organizations volunteers is a critical component to having a solid volunteer program. Orientation should cover background information about your organization, your specific department, YOU as a leader and what you expect from your volunteers. If your volunteers are unsure what to do, who to go to for help, or feel they’ve been lost in the shuffle of paid vs. unpaid staff it will lead you down a rabbit hole of lack luster volunteers, and constant turnover. So, here are the quick basics of what this orientation should cover.
- Explain what your charity does and its history. How did it come to be and how has it evolved?
- Describe the programs and whom your organization serves.
- Provide an overview of how your organization is set up. Go over the organizational chart so that volunteers understand who does what.
- Introduce volunteers to your facility. Take them on a tour, introducing them to key staff along the way.
- Go over general policies and procedures, spending the most time on those that impact the volunteers directly.
- Explain how the volunteer management system works. How do they schedule their time? Does the volunteer need to check in? How do they log their hours? To whom can they turn for help?
Remember that handy dandy volunteer manual we covered earlier? It’s a great guideline to utilize during orientation and training! Just because volunteers are not paid staff, does NOT mean you should not use your resources, time and energy into ensuring they are the right fit, and trained properly before throwing them into the wonderful world of recreation services.
5. THANK THEM!!! Volunteers hold no obligation to you or your organization. What they are doing (unless mandated by some outside force) is from the good wills within their hearts and hopefully the drive to aid you push the organizations mission forward. Ensuring you thank and show appreciation for your volunteer staff is critical and does not need to be a pain staking process. People love to be recognized for their hard word and dedication! Just simply make sure you remember to thank your volunteers, whether it be a shout out on social media, a coffee and donut breakfast social, or a formal volunteers picnic day. The choice is up to you, and ultimately what you feel your organization and volunteer group would most enjoy and find fun and effective!
A few quick ideas to thank your volunteers:
1. Get published – Connect with a local magazine and give them the scoop on what’s new with your organization. Ask the reporter to shine a spotlight on your top volunteers.
2. Share results – Don’t let your volunteers’ efforts drift off into oblivion. Send regular updates to show them what their work is accomplishing.
3. What’s in a name – For super-stellar volunteers, consider naming something in their honor.
4. Newsletter – Whether you publish on paper or in the digital form, carve out some space to thank each volunteer by name. Soon everyone will want to see their name in your newsletter.
5. In person whenever possible – Of course!!!!
Do you have advice on volunteer management strategies? I’d love to hear them. Comment on this thread and lets get the conversation going!
“One of the greatest gifts you can give is your time”