Once the volunteer has started, it is essential that you provide adequate supervision and support for them. Providing adequate supervision of volunteers has many components and needs to reflect the role, level of responsibility and personality of the volunteer.  There are some elements you should always consider:

Ensuring effective paid staff/volunteer relations

The goal of effective staff relationships is not to assume “we are all the same”, but rather to foster complementary relationships. It is an environment in which paid and volunteer staff are working in different roles toward the same vision, and sharing the same fundamental values about how to get there. When paid and volunteer staff recognise and value their different roles within the organisation, it creates an exciting synergy. While there are many strategies for achieving this, it is important that fears and concerns of all staff are addressed before seeking to work together. 

There are several approaches you can use to develop effective relationships:

  • Encourage positive feedback and constructive criticism about the volunteer program.
  • Encourage paid staff to voice their fears and concerns and show you are open to working with them to resolve these issues
  • Be a role model. In your dealings with volunteers ensure you follow your own advice. Demonstrate the skills so that paid staff can model your behaviour
  • Use a positive approach to organisational issues. Consider how volunteers could assist or add additional value to the projects being discussed. Paid staff should be sensitive to allowing volunteers to raise matters of concern
  • Involve paid staff in all aspects of the program
  • Develop a rationale for volunteer involvement that is understood and embraced by the paid staff
  • Highlight the benefits of volunteer involvement whilst at the same time considering the fears and concerns that staff may have about working with volunteers
  • Hold joint planning and staff meetings, so that volunteers and paid staff can share ideas, understand each other’s issues and develop more effective and friendly relationships
  • Appoint a Volunteer Advocate to represent volunteers in decision-making processes

Effective communication

Good communication is a two way process, with regular communication and input coming from the volunteers to the organisation as well as from the organisation to the volunteers. Relying on personal communication can be difficult, particularly because of the part-time nature of much volunteer work.

Approaches to facilitate communication within your organisation could include:

  • Team meetings
  • Regular reviews seeking volunteers’ feedback and insights about programs
  • Opportunities for debriefing after significant events, where volunteer feedback is sought and valued
  • Notice boards
  • Pigeon holes for volunteers
  • Volunteer newsletter
  • Communication book
  • Mail outs of specific information
  • Distributing minutes of meetings
  • Including volunteers as members of committees throughout the organisation
  • Promoting awareness among volunteers of any volunteer representatives on various committees
  • Program newsletters
  • A close relationship with the supervisor
  • Updating orientation after a period of time
  • Spending time working with volunteers
  • Social events with interactions between volunteers and paid staff
  • Team/role specific updates and newsletters
  • Telephone trees to ensure information is dispersed across the organisation and to encourage all to take responsibility for communication

Working with volunteer motivations

Volunteers come with a variety of motivations. These include wanting to put their values into action, seeking to learn new skills, wanting to meet people, gaining a job or wanting to develop self-confidence. Dealing effectively with different types of motivations is a critical element of effective volunteer management.

In more general terms, we can build on volunteer motivations through how our organisation works and how we manage our volunteers.

Organisational factors facilitating volunteer motivation include:

  • Efficient processes for dealing with paperwork
  • Minimal red tape and bureaucracy
  • Systems and processes that support the volunteers’ work
  • A busy work environment
  • A fun work environment
  • Opportunities for interactions with others
  • A focus on the significance of all work to the organisation’s goals
  • Displays of appreciation and public recognition
  • A system for the recognition of volunteers
  • Opportunities for volunteer comments and complaints to be shared and considered
  • An appreciation of volunteers sharing areas of concern and dissatisfaction
  • Opportunities for career development based on individual volunteer aspirations
  • Opportunities for volunteers to take on roles with greater responsibility based on their performance
  • The identification of clear and consistent objectives for the organisation as a whole and the volunteer program
  • Clear communication of the direction of the organisation and the volunteer program
  • A system where change is managed so the change and the need for it can be readily understood by the organisation’s volunteers

Organisational factors require commitment across the whole organisation and from the highest levels of management.

Managerial influences on motivation relate to the relationship that exists between the volunteer and the manager/supervisor to whom they are directly responsible. Managerial factors influencing volunteer motivation include:

  • A balance between autonomy and supervision to meet the needs of the individual volunteer
  • Provision of understanding and assistance to volunteers when problems arise
  • Providing volunteers with the support necessary to enable them to solve problems themselves
  • Managerial confidence and trust in the volunteers, evident through the manager’s behaviour and speech
  • Open, easy and honest communication
  • Personal appreciation of volunteers by their manager
  • Expression of the value of the roles of volunteers and of the work they do
  • Facilitation of open discussion and encouraging volunteers to raise areas of disagreement and complaint
  • Provision of training and support to enable each volunteer to achieve the best performance possible
  • A sense of purpose and direction for the program

Recognition

Recognition is the means by which volunteers are appreciated or rewarded for their contribution to the organisation. Recognition for volunteers can be conveyed in a number of ways including both formal and informal approaches. Formal recognition strategies consist of planned approaches to formally recognise volunteer contributions. These include badges, awards and annual recognition dinners. Informal recognition strategies are usually fairly spontaneous acts of appreciation for the volunteer’s contribution and can happen on a day-to-day basis. These can include personal thanks, cards and morning teas.

There is a range of ways for providing recognition beyond the morning teas, certificates and badges that are bestowed upon the volunteers. Here is a selection of approaches for you to consider.

Individual

  • Thank you note
  • Certificate
  • Birthday card
  • Personalised mug
  • Lotto ticket
  • Greeting on arrival
  • Positive comments about their achievements
  • Smiles
  • Taking a personal interest
  • Offering a coffee or drink
  • Medal
  • Honour Board
  • Volunteer of the month award
  • Promotion
  • Newsletter article
  • Letter of appreciation
  • Trophy
  • Representation of organisation
  • Presenter of a training session
  • Appointing them as mentors

Group

  • Morning / afternoon tea
  • Notice board
  • Involvement in decision making
  • Banner to celebrate accomplishment
  • Informal chats with organisations
  • Plaque
  • Incentive system
  • Training opportunities
  • Uniform
  • Newspaper article
  • Providing effective equipment
  • Team building workshops

Support

A good support system is based on clear rights and responsibilities for volunteers. In developing and implementing effective support it is necessary to balance responsibility to the project or organisation and the needs of the volunteers. Support needs to be:

Accessible

Volunteers must be able to access support. This means that the support should be available at appropriate times and places, and in ways that volunteers can use

Flexible

Support strategies should be able to accommodate the needs of individuals

Appropriate

Support strategies should be applicable to the work volunteers are undertaking. We can consider these in terms of both individual and group support strategies

Here is a selection of approaches for you to consider:

Individual

  • Mentoring
  • Buddy system
  • Open door policy
  • Personalised reward system
  • Personal conversations
  • Personal debriefing session
  • Shadowing

Group

  • Team meeting /team building
  • Training
  • Workshops
  • Peer discussions
  • Newsletters
  • Critical Incident Analysis
  • Develop team coordinators
  • Volunteer get-togethers
  • Debriefing

Dealing with difficult situations

No matter how marvellous the volunteers and the program, on occasion there will be difficult issues with which you must deal. Your organisation needs to have good processes in place and deal forthrightly with the issues. Volunteer grievances, conflict within the program and disciplining a volunteer are three of the most common.

Managing a grievance

Having a grievance procedure is important to allow volunteers an opportunity to raise questions, express dissatisfaction or discuss problems or concerns. It ensures volunteers are listened to and aren't powerless within the organisation if they have a problem. A sample grievance policy and procedure is provided on Volunteering Qld’s website in the nonprofits resource library under volunteer management.

Dealing with conflict

On occasion, conflict will arise in your program between volunteers, between volunteers and staff and between volunteers and the organisation. It is essential that you address this as soon as it comes to your attention, ensuring you are even-handed in your dealing with the issues. Suggestions for managing conflict are provided on Volunteering Qld’s website in the nonprofits resource library under volunteer management.

Discipline process

At times disciplining a volunteer is necessary for the protection of the rights of stakeholders of the organisation or program. It is essential that disciplinary procedures are transparent and maintain social justice for those involved.

The aim of a discipline procedure should be to ensure that the standards of performance and behaviour of the organisation are maintained. A discipline process should:

  • Be part of the volunteer program procedures which are clearly communicated to volunteers at intake
  • Be used with consistency across the organisation
  • Not negate the need for supervision and feedback. Providing volunteers with adequate supervision and feedback on their performance is the best way of ensuring a disciplinary procedure will not need to be enacted. If discipline is required, it should follow attempts to rectify the situation, followed by feedback that a discipline process will need to be initiated if behaviour or performance does not change
  • Be timely – implement a discipline process as soon as possible after the incident.
  • Focus on restoring performance or behaviour required by the organisation (should not focus on the person)
  • Retain respect for the individual, without denying the seriousness of the situation or losing control of the process
  • Approach the issue in a calm and objective manner stating the problem clearly and allowing the volunteer to explain the situation from their point of view
  • Explore alternatives
  • Develop an agreed plan of action and clarify how that will be implemented
  • Explain the consequences should subsequent disciplinary action be required relating to the same matter

Always abide by the ethics of Equal Employment Opportunity legislation when terminating volunteers. Similar systems for managing employees and volunteers are appropriate.

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