Top three secrets to successfully managing volunteers

Top three secrets to successfully managing volunteers

A group of people listening to a woman speak.
The most important thing to remember when it comes to recruiting volunteers is that they are not unpaid employees.

This means that they don’t have employee or worker rights (like pay, holiday, or pension) and that you can’t treat them like an employee, by asking them to complete tasks in a specific way or expecting a minimum commitment from them. Nor can a volunteer expect to be given something to do if they turn up.

If you’re just looking for casual volunteers, a simple briefing on the task to be completed will probably do. Do a risk assessment on the task or activity and give them a basic overview and some health and safety advice.

If you need ongoing help, then it’s probably worth creating a Volunteer Agreement. It’s not a contract and isn’t binding for the volunteer or the organisation; it just provides background on some of the following:

  • the amount of supervision you’ll give them;
  • any training you’ll provide;
  • whether or not they’re covered by the organisation’s insurance or by public liability insurance;
  • any health and safety issues;
  • which expenses (if any) you intend to reimburse. Ensure they give you the receipts to prove it’s an expense, otherwise it could be regarded as a payment for services, essentially making you their employer — which comes with all sorts of other responsibilities.

Here are a few pointers on how to retain volunteers:

Make sure they benefit

People volunteer for all sorts of reasons — interest in your project, work experience, the chance to use existing skills or learn new ones, or just to get out of the house, and in many cases all of the above. It’s essential to understand what an individual hopes to get out of volunteering, in order to get the best out of them. Make sure that they’re equally clear about what it is you need and don’t make promises about tasks or specify how much time you’ll require of them personally.

Don't micro-manage

Volunteers decide how much time they want to volunteer and can turn down any task you give them — though they can’t expect to be offered another task instead if they do. They can also complete a task any way they like, as long as they’re within health and safety guidelines (and the law).

If you micro-manage a volunteer and specify exactly how something must be done and by when, then you’re starting to behave like an employer — which gives them the right to challenge their status as a volunteer and ask for employee benefits.

You’ll already know what the benefits of volunteering are: recognition, a sense of purpose and achievement — don’t take them for granted and they’ll be worth more than any grant you might get.

Be inclusive

People will make more of an effort if they feel like they have an equal stake in the project and can make a creative contribution. If you’re all pitching in to do a project or activity then you’re all equals.

Now you've got your group of volunteers together, here's how to break the ice....