Encouraging staff to support volunteer involvement

How we can support staff that may not be very confident about the how’s or why’s of volunteer involvement. Below will address some of the issues and offer some solutions 

Difficulties can arise when staff are not as supportive of volunteers as they could be:

  • Misunderstanding of the volunteers roles/tasks
  • Worry about the time needed to recruit volunteers
  • Worry about the time to show them how to do something – ‘it’s quicker if I do it myself’
  • Staff ownership of job/task – hard to let anyone else in
  • Not including volunteers in meetings, training, communications etc
  • Not regarding them as equals
  • Rigid about how volunteers will be involved
  • Unrealistic expectations/demands
  • Being unhelpful about practical arrangements
  • Not preparing for volunteers to come in
  • Putting up resistance, pro-castigating about getting volunteers involved

Why might staff act like this:

  • Suspicious of motivation, why would someone do this for free?
  • No experience of volunteering
  • Poor experience of volunteer involvement where bad management has led to difficulties
  • Lack of knowledge about what volunteering is and is not
  • Worried about job replacement
  • Not clear about why the organisation makes an effort to involve volunteers
  • Not clear about the added benefits volunteers bring

What can you put in place to encourage staff to support volunteers?

  • Enable staff and volunteers to meet informally, invite staff to volunteer meetings, lunches etc
  • Clear statement about why volunteers are involved that is shared with staff regularly
  • Regular discussions at staff meetings about your volunteers, the value they are adding and any development ideas
  • Have a system for sharing feedback from service users about how volunteers have made a difference
  • Put support for volunteers in staff contracts or Job Descriptions
  • Provide an opportunity for staff to talk specifically about their support of volunteer involvement during staff appraisals
  • Clear volunteer role descriptions that are shared with staff
  • Budget allocated for volunteer costs
  • Include information about volunteer involvement in staff induction materials
  • Share success stories, volunteer awards and achievements
  • Share good practice between projects
  • Share information such as hours done, meetings held, money raised
  • Build confidence in the volunteer management processes, explain how the process works

Which of these ideas could be developed in your organisation?

A good resource to help you plan how to share the positive message of volunteering within your own organisation is the Influencing Up Volunteer England document


Should you friend your befriendee on Facebook?

The expanded use of social networking produces a unique challenge for Volunteer Managers, particularly for mentors and befrienders projects. Many people today use social networking as one of their primary methods of communication and it can be a wonderful way of keeping the lines of communication open. However, social networking can also blur boundaries and this can be confusing to service users if they are given insight into the lives of volunteers in ways that might not be recommended. It can lead to a shift in how that volunteer is perceived by that service user which can change their understanding of the volunteers’ appropriate role in their life. It is nearly impossible to stop the exchange of personal details about oneself in a social networking arena.

Volunteers should consider their role when making the decision to connect with service users through social networking, particularly in mentoring or befriending relationships. Despite mentors and mentees entering into their relationship on equal terms, there is still a power dynamic because the mentor is put into a position of responsibility.

As volunteer manager’s you need to be clear about what the organisations policy is and what the pitfalls of creating social media relationships might be. This should be carried out during induction and training and followed up throughout the volunteering placement.


  • Some people utilize social networking more than they use email. It may be easier to communicate if you are connected through social media.
  • Mentees may feel closer to their mentors if they are connected to them through social media.
  • Social media provides an opportunity to share information quickly through the use of status statements and messages.
  • Social media connections are part of normal adult relationships, to impose a bar on them draws attention to a superficiality in relationships.


  • Social networking can blur boundaries.
  • Service users who are “friends” with volunteers may see information, language or pictures that are not appropriate for them to see because of the nature of their relationship.
  • Mentors may see things on their mentee’s profile that are questionable in nature. Questions arise regarding what needs to be reported to the program. Reporting on these things may cause the mentee to lose trust in the mentor.
  • Service users may have difficulties maintaining healthy relationships and it’s hard to control social media connections once they have been made.

As so often before there’s not a clear right or wrong. It depends on your project, your clients group’s needs and your organisations assessment of the risks. But this is an important topic and if it’s not addressed social media connections will be made without any input or support from the organisation.

Involving Young Volunteers

As summers here and you have been thinking about ways to engage young people in interesting, fun and purposeful activities. Many young people who want to volunteer their time are turned away due to bureaucracy and lack of innovative thinking.

The Mayor of London has funded training and resources to help charities involve more young volunteers. These were shared with groups during May’s Volunteer Co-ordinator’s Forum.

Key messages:

– Insurance can easily be changed to include younger volunteers – talk to your insurance providers about the roles they will be doing and how they will be supported, it shouldn’t increase costs.

– Creating short, flexible roles makes it easier for young people to get involved and it maybe easier and fun for you to manage a short term project.

– What damage are we doing by turning people away when they are young – it’s up to us to find ways to remove the barriers.

Frequently asked questions:

True or False

  1. By law, a young person under 16 cannot volunteer for more than 5 hours per day

False – there’s no time limits on volunteering, but it’s good practice to follow guidelines on employment which on a non-school day is up to 5 hours.

  1. Organisations do not need to get parental consent for volunteers who are over the age of 16

False. Parental responsibility extends to the age of 18. However, for a 16-17 year old, you do not need consent if they are married or living independently.

  1. Staff who work with 16-17 year old volunteers do not need a DBS check

True – For the purpose of DBS checks, 16 and 17 year olds who are volunteers or employees are not considered vulnerable, and therefore staff or volunteers working with them are not eligible for checks.

  1. Under health and safety legislation, risk assessments specific to the individual must be carried out before someone under 18 can volunteer

False. This legislation does not specify this for young volunteers but it is always good practice to carry out regular, comprehensive risk assessments when working with volunteers and you may want to identify any particular risks for young volunteers such lack of maturity when dealing with customers or the need for more regular breaks.

Four Great Reasons for Involving Young Volunteers:

  1. Young people want to volunteer to improve their skills and to support other people – we should give them the chance.
  2. Younger volunteers can bring new ideas and knowledge.
  3. Helping young people understand the work of your charity can encourage them to support the cause for life or to become professionally involved in the future.
  4. Volunteering gives young people the confidence to become active members of our society and helps build positive connections in our community.

Is it too risky?

What can be done to make sure our volunteers aren’t harmed emotionally or physically as a result of volunteering with us?

Working with power tools, young people, people with mental health issues, remote volunteering in people’s homes, volunteer drivers, volunteers mending things….I know of examples where volunteers safely carry out all these roles but I also know that organsiations have stopped projects being developed due to fears of what could go wrong.

It’s best practice for each volunteer role to have a corresponding Risk Assessment. You will almost definitely have carried out a Risk Assessment but it may just be in your head rather than on paper!

Writing it down means it can be shared with volunteers and other staff, it will also be there when you leave.

Identify the risks; How likely is it to happen and what’s the potential impact; Identify how to reduce the risks; Make a decision  – is the risk worth involving volunteers?

Let’s look at 3 basic examples:

Helpline volunteer

What are the risks? * Sitting at the computer. * Too long looking at the screen. * Stress when learning the new role. * Emotional stress when dealing with difficult cases. * Fire in the building.

How likely is it to happen and what’s the potential impact ? * Limited volunteering hours so the likelihood is reduced. * Adapting to the role will depend on personal circumstances. * The nature of the helpline role will mean volunteers are dealing with difficult cases. * Fire is unlikely but could be very harmful.

How can the risks be reduced? * Ensure H&S info about desk and screen safety is shared * Ensure breaks are taken * Communicate with the volunteer about their health and how they are feeling * Ensure initial training includes dealing with emotional stress. Maintain a feedback regime to ensure volunteers share their emotions and experiences. * Ensure fire procedures are explained in full

Is it worth the risk?

Gardening Volunteer

What are the risks? * Injury caused by tool use * Lifting and carrying injuries * Cuts infected by tetanus or other infections * Incidents caused by lone working on a remote part of the garden

How likely is it to happen and what’s the potential impact? * Injury is likely due to the physical nature of the role. * Infections are unlikely but would have a huge impact. * Enclosed garden area but people to wander in.

How can the risks be reduced? * Ensure that tools are well maintained. * Ensure that volunteers are regularly instructed in tool use. * Ensure volunteers are given appropriate lifting and carrying training. * Ensure volunteers are given information about stretching and warming up. * Ensure volunteers are given information about infections. * Work in pairs or teams, within sight of each other at set times.

Is it worth the risk?

Admin Volunteer

What are the risks? * Sitting at the computer. * Too long looking at the screen. * Stress when learning the new role. * Fire in the building.

How likely is it to happen and what’s the potential impact? * Limited volunteering hours so the likelihood is reduced. * Adapting to the role will depend on personal circumstances. * Fire is unlikely but could be very harmful.

How can the risks be reduced * Ensure H&S info about desk and screen safety is shared * Ensure breaks are taken * Communicate with the volunteer about their health and how they are feeling * Ensure fire procedures are explained in full

Is it worth the risk?

Your volunteers will either be adults, who can make a decision about their own risk or under 18’s who will be involving their parents/career’s in the decision. If people are fully informed about what could go wrong and how the organisation reduces the risk they can make their own decision.

As the organisation asking them to get involved we have a “Duty of Care” and all organisation should make sure their volunteers are specifically included in their Public Liability Insurance (or their Employer Liability Insurance but volunteer’s aren’t employees so this needs to be discussed clearly with the insurance company).

The only way to ensure volunteers are never going to be harmed or stressed by getting involved in your work is to not include them. However if you can provide adequate resources and management time you can do all you can to make sure your volunteers are kept safe and happy.

There’s some really useful examples of risk assessments on the Health and Safety Executive website that can be adapted for your work.


Showing you Value your Volunteers

In today’s Volunteer Management forum we discussed ways to show that we value our volunteers. Here’s some thoughts and ideas:

Letting volunteers know that their work makes a difference can be motivating and rewarding: Think about how you could measure the impact of your volunteers. This type of feedback enables volunteers to understand the impact that they have had on the work you do.

Trusting volunteers: Giving volunteers a new task with a different role, or more responsibility, demonstrates trust. Trusting volunteers is an important way to show volunteers that you value and recognise their contribution.

Being organised: Following up on initial enquiries, having work prepared, having an easy, clear system for expenses…all of these show that you are willing to put time and effort into managing volunteers.

Saying thank you: Sometimes a simple thank you is all the recognition that a volunteer wants. This can be informally in person, by telephone, by email, in a Christmas card or formally at the annual general meeting. You may also choose to write articles about volunteer tasks or profile specific volunteers for newsletters, newspapers or volunteer’s week. However you decide to do this it should be consistent and fair. But remember the same thanks every time can end up being tokenistic, so be sure to be personal, genuine, timely and specific.

Keeping volunteers informed: Volunteers can feel valued if they are kept up to date about what is happening with the organisation. Some organisations have started to use social media and set up blogs, or have dedicated pages for volunteers on their website.

Creating an identity: There are lots of different ways that you can do this. Being given clothing to wear and relevant equipment whilst doing their role helps volunteers feel part of the team. For example, some heritage volunteers said that having a ‘volunteer’ identity badge often helps the public appreciate that they are volunteers, and as such this gains respect.

Volunteer events: Providing time for volunteers to get together socially is a good way to acknowledge their contribution and keep them inspired. Meeting new people gives volunteers a chance to share their experience, hear about what others do, feel part of the larger team of volunteers and maybe think about doing more roles in the organization.

Access to training: A volunteer may value being able to attend training for development purposes (this has to be relevant to the delivery of the role so it’s not considered a perk in lieu of payment). This is especially important for volunteers who are looking to develop their CV or boost their employability skills. This can be done face to face or online. Volunteers might value being invited to attend a seminar, convention, or meeting at the organisation’s representative, as it demonstrates to them that they are trusted volunteers.

Volunteer awards: Some organisations nominate volunteers for their in-house awards ceremonies. This could be for team effort, length of time in service, inspiring volunteer or even a life time commitment award. However, it is important if you chose to have awards that you find ways to recognise those who do not get nominated. You should also consider how to recognise volunteers who are not able to attend an awards ceremony. Also look out for local awards, London wide or national awards.

Accommodating needs: Show empathy and try to adapt roles or activities to suit your volunteers. This is most effective when you ask how you can help, instead of implementing change without taking into consideration a volunteer’s views and opinions.

Providing a reference: Sometimes you may be requested to provide a reference for a volunteer if they are moving into paid work, education or another volunteering role.

(With thanks to Volunteer Scotland)

Don’t forget:

Volunteer’s Week provides an opportunity to celebrate and thank your volunteers. Read more about it and download resources.

The Value You reward card, free to organisations and volunteers. A great way to say thanks to volunteers who have given over 100hrs of their time.

As I so often say… giving enough time to support your volunteers is vital. Rushing, cutting them short or cancelling appointments does not show respect. Time spent having a cup of tea is not a break it’s building your relationship with your volunteers.

Volunteers’ Rights

I ran the Legal Aspects of Involving Volunteers training last week. It’s always an interesting when we start with the question “What rights do volunteers have?”

When you sit down and think about it volunteers don’t have many rights. Compared to paid workers they don’t have the right to holidays, fixed hours, maternity, redundancy, disciplinary process, minimum wage…They do not have a legal status.

There’s not even clarity about volunteers being protected by the Equalities Act as this refers to “access to services and goods” (although, I’d hope that as charities and community projects we’d be keen to provide equal access to all those who want to volunteer). And although it’s good practice to refund volunteer expenses there’s no legal obligation to do so.

Volunteers do have a legal right to be protected under Health and Safety legislation but not as employees only as members of the public effected by an organisations work.

However, people offering their time for free will have expectations and if you do not meet these expectations you find it hard to recruit and even harder to retain a team of volunteers.

What I expect when I offer to volunteer:

  • Clear communication about what will happen next
  • A welcoming, friendly and safe environment
  • Information about the organisation and the people I’ll be meeting
  • Clear instructions about what to do and how to do it
  • Details of training, support, expenses etc
  • Feedback about how I’m doing
  • Information about how the process will end
  • and I do expect to be allowed to take a holiday!

It’s not set out in law but it’s the only way to make it work.

The legal status of volunteers is deliberately kept vague in order to maintain the unique relationship that organisations can create with volunteers. This has been reviewed in the past and the conclusion drawn from all the feedback and consultations was that as soon as you added some legal structure it would snowball until it’s undistinguishable from employment law. This means organisations have few legal responsibilities to volunteers but plenty of ethical responsibilities.

You can find out more information on the NVCO website.

We plan to run another Legal Issues of Involving Volunteers training session within the next year.

CV vs. Application Form

Once you have explained what you help you need from volunteers people will start to get in touch offering their time…what will you do next?

There’s no fixed volunteer recruitment system, different methods will suit different projects but you’ll want to know something about a potential volunteer and there’s two main ways of starting to collect this information – CV or application form.

If you ask people to submit a CV…

·      You’ll see all their qualifications clearly laid out.

·      You’ll see all their professional experience.

·      They will be able to demonstrate their ability to create a document.

·      If they take time to amend their CV it shows commitment to the opportunity.

·        It’s a very formal method and may be associated in people’s minds with applying for paid work, could this cause confusion?

·        Many people will not a CV prepared, it could be very off putting to be asked to produce one from scratch.

·        As CVs are mostly prepared with paid work in mind will it demonstrate experience someone has outside of paid work, will it show the range of skills they have, will it highlight their personal skills?

·        Will a CV explain what their motivation is for getting involved with your organisation?

If you ask people to submit an application form…

·       You can ask the specific questions you want eg. experience of using mental health services.

·       You can tailor the form to draw out “soft” skills.

·       The form can highlight the importance of unpaid work.

·       If people take the time to fill in the form then you know they are interested.

·     A blank form can put people off, some look very formal and run to 2 or 3 pages.

·     If people have limited English or literacy skills may be put off.

People are increasingly ‘time poor’ and want to get started quickly without too many barriers.

Some organisations will complete application forms with the potential volunteers when they meet up. This can really help people who struggle with English and it can help draw out full and relevant details.

In my experience an application form is a more useful method for recruitment and sets out a clear distinction between paid work and volunteering opportunities right at the start. I have plenty of templates that I can share if you’d like to introduce an application form into your process.