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Volunteers - Training & Expectations - Think Tank

30 March 2005 at 1:03 pm
Staff Reporter
Suitable training for volunteers as well as managing their expectations were the key issues to emerge from our first Pro Bono Australia February Think Tank survey.

Staff Reporter | 30 March 2005 at 1:03 pm


Volunteers - Training & Expectations - Think Tank
30 March 2005 at 1:03 pm

Volunteers – Training & Expectations – Think Tank

Suitable training for volunteers as well as managing their expectations were the key issues to emerge from our first Pro Bono Australia February Think Tank survey.

Some 93 Think Tank members from six states completed the survey – 75 % are employed within the Not for Profit sector, 18% within the business sector and 7% from the government sector.

Of all the participants, 20% were volunteers.

More than 50% of participants felt that better training and supervision of volunteers in their organisations including addressing their job expectations, and job descriptions and skills were needed.

Many pointed to more effective program structures to positively engage and retain volunteers.

Feedback from the Not for Profits included :
Clear guidelines on role, reporting lines, rights & responsibilities, & expectations. Good support & mutual respect – volunteers should be treated as if they are employees. Staff who interact with volunteers need to have the right attitude & understand their value (even if it means taking extra time/effort to ensure they can fulfil their volunteer role properly).

Appropriate recruiting and selection; appropriate use of their skills; assumption that volunteers are unskilled; need for good briefing and communication; good acknowledgment of the work and value.

Some people can be hard working but disruptive or blocking agents to others, and its almost impossible to move them (volunteers) on.

And from the volunteers:

I like to be validated for work performed and ideas that I have otherwise I’m wasting my time. I’ll take my volunteer hours elsewhere where I can receive a sense of achievement in contributing to the community work.

Clear agreement between the organisation and the volunteer is required to ensure the volunteer adds effectively to the organisation – Appropriate recognition system are needed to acknowledge the service provided by volunteers.

Many participants recommended specific job descriptions and some suggested that volunteers provide their CV to assist in finding the right unpaid work while others discussed volunteer ‘contracts’.

Some suggestions included:

To respect the volunteer’s time; give them a job description; evaluate their work; treat them as respected unpaid employees; acknowledge and thank them regularly; and politely ease them out if they don’t meet requirements.

Informal market forces can operate. For example it may be beneficial for a volunteer’s CV to be provided to be able to cite the volunteer experience. Training programs that carry some sort of credentialing can also contribute to ‘marketable’ skills.

It is advisable to have an interview process, an agreement of tasks, responsibilities & boundaries. Respect from both parties is essential.

A voluntary position should not replace a previously paid position (I have seen this occur in several organisations).

Questioned on how to value volunteers resulted in a resounding number suggesting the use of feedback surveys. While most thought feedback surveys were appropriate few used them.

Only 18% of participants used feedback surveys and of those who used the surveys only 5% analysed the survey to create ongoing resource data. Some 51% used informal discussions to evaluate their volunteers.

They said:

Getting them to give feedback on their volunteer experience to tell us what they think we can do better for them is a good idea…

Feedback surveys or some way of non threatening opportunity to give true responses. Some sort of tangible document to be used for ways of improving the system or maybe noting not to use the services of that volunteer again.

Volunteer surveys are a useful tool. However, because the volunteer is already giving up much of their time, the last thing you want to do is inundate them with more work….like a feedback survey.

One participant offered a more detailed plan to ‘value’ volunteers:

Publish in the annual report and on the website the dollars saved through volunteer use. eg; minimum wage level multiplied by volunteer hours equals $x saved per year. Track in-kind support and worthwhile networks/contacts made. eg; a top donor introduced to a NFP by a volunteer is more profitable than if they are solicited by a paid staff member. Some databases allow for in-kind support to be tracked.

On the topic of the processes for handling volunteers one participant wrote:

1.Interview for specific roles which require one or two days a week. 2.Interview for general roles which are occasional – ie, when specific jobs are available.
3.Trial period of three months to see if the volunteer can ‘mesh’ with the rest of the team (if the position is an ongoing one)
4.Weekly one-on-one ‘casual’ discussions with the manager to ensure that both parties are being fulfilled.
5. Problems dealt with immediately they arise.
6. People who can’t commit to a specific task are only invited to participate in small, ad hoc activities, when they are available.
7. People who can’t commit to a task that they have the skills to do, receive no additional training. Commitment has to be on both sides.

Stepping outside the sector one participant offers the following:
The government needs to play the important role of creating demand for volunteering and educating individuals on the importance about giving and helping others.

Volunteers were handled in a variety of ways and by different people within organisations. Only 20% said they had a specific volunteer co-ordinator. Volunteers were handled by specific program coordinators, the office manager, or existing HR processes.

Just how much time is spent handling all aspects of volunteer work varied greatly. 5% spent just one hour per week, 35% spent up to 5 hours per week, 11% spent up to 10 hours per week and 29% spent more than 10 hours per week. 14% of the survey group were not involved in handling volunteers.

Pro Bono Australia will be collating the information from all our Think Tank surveys as a published resource for the sector and the information will be presented to the Philanthropy Australia conference in October.

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