Most volunteer-involving organisations will have some form of volunteer manager or volunteer coordinator. It might not be their job title – they may be an office manager who has been given responsibility for looking after volunteers – or it might not even be part of their job description at all. For some people this work has fallen to them by default.
This is a good thing (less so for the harassed individuals in the latter categories). It means that someone can take an overview of volunteer involvement in their organisation. They can coordinate recruitment and support for volunteers, plan for future volunteer involvement, create policies and procedures, and support colleagues who directly line manage volunteers.
Many organisations – and size or income are no barrier to this – will see this role as ticking a box. Our volunteer involvement is in hand now, we’ve recruited Krishnan to look after all of that stuff. And for the reasons I gave above, to a certain extent it’s true.
Here comes the ‘but’: volunteering can’t be the responsibility of one person alone. A volunteer coordinator can get the formal stuff in place, but what they can’t do without help is create a volunteer-friendly culture. What I mean by that is that volunteering doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It needs a supportive environment to encourage it to thrive.
If staff don’t feel that volunteering is important, they won’t devote the time needed to supporting the volunteers they manage. If staff in general don’t understand what volunteers do or what volunteers are about they are less likely to be welcoming to volunteers. If the organisation doesn’t seem to acknowledge volunteering, how valued are volunteers likely to feel?
To quote an old piece of research, ‘Volunteers want to feel welcome, secure, accepted, respected, informed, well-used and well-managed’. This relies on an organisational commitment, not just to provide adequate resources for this, but also to ensure that there’s an internal culture that supports volunteering.
I sometimes put it this way: you know when things are working well if, when a member of staff suggests that people go to the pub on a warm Friday evening, it’s natural to invite volunteers too.
This is all very well, but I’m guessing most people reading this will be volunteer coordinators of some kind or another. You know that your job would be easier if there was organisational buy-in for volunteering. What can you do to change things? Think of it as an internal marketing exercise: you’re seeking to influence upwards – managers, trustees - and horizontally - your colleagues.
- Let people know! Talk to managers, use staff meetings to raise the importance of everyone understanding and supporting volunteering.
- Measure impact. This is such a powerful way of showing what a difference volunteers make to your organisation and your service-users. In the volunteering world we often talk about how volunteers are our greatest resource, how they change people’s lives, how they transform communities. What we often fail to do is give hard evidence of this. If you’re interested in demonstrating the impact of volunteers get in touch with Adam Hunt, our Development Officer (Outcomes and Impact). He’s happy to give people advice on any aspect of measuring the impact of local organisations.
- A good example can go a long way. If you can work with one person who recruits/supports volunteers to show how giving a little more time or thought to volunteering then you’ve got your own case study, and an advocate for better work with volunteers.
- Suggest a ‘volunteering champion’ at board level. This is an old idea, but one that was never fully implemented. It comes from the Compact Code on Volunteering – that is, from a national agreement between government and the voluntary sector. In the code voluntary organisations undertook to identify volunteering champions – trustees who would take a special interest in volunteering, and speak for volunteering issues at that level.
- Look for small scale opportunities to promote volunteering internally. Changing an organisational culture might be a big task, but think of it as a process based on little wins. Encourage volunteering to be on the agenda at staff meetings, or to be a regular feature in bulletins and similar publications. Run volunteer thank-you events. Introduce satisfaction surveys for volunteers and highlight any areas that need improvement. Start a working/advisory group of staff to look at volunteering internally. Introduce regular volunteer meetings. Try to get information about your volunteer involvement as part of all staff inductions – even where people aren’t going to be working with volunteers.
If you have any suggestions on how to create a volunteer-friendly culture, let me know - or come to our Volunteer Coordinator's Network Meeting. It's a great opportunity to network, share information, and discuss issues.