The Volunteering sector in New Zealand is transforming rapidly. Thousands of people volunteer their time, skills and company across the country every day. Organisations, both for and not-for-profit, rely heavily upon volunteers to keep functioning. There are young adults seeking vocational experience, retired folk who wish to keep busy and pass on their years worth of experiences, those who are struggling with personal issues which may be holding them back from being employed in the wage economy, and professional people holding down full time jobs who devote their spare time to the cause or causes that tug at their hearts.
One of the most important roles in this new climate is the Volunteer Coordinator. This is an incredibly special role, and is becoming increasingly specialised. This key person will set the tone for how volunteers are treated by the organisation they are working for. The volunteer coordinator must make every single volunteer feel valued and appreciated. So many times an organisation has toppled over because the volunteers have felt used, or worse, useless. Volunteers know they are not being financially recompensed (though organisations with integrity will encourage their volunteers to put in expense claims if they spend their own money on fuel or stationery for instance).
Volunteers get so much satisfaction from their roles. Being a volunteer is great way to be rewarded on a whole being level. As you see the positive influence you are having on a person, or an organisation, your self esteem sky rockets and your confidence soars.
The last thing any volunteer wants to feel is that they are not appreciated for what they do over time. Quite simply, people will shut down and walk away from their role eventually if they are not acknowledged appropriately. We need to retain great volunteers
So how do we go about thanking these incredible people who give so much? It may seem really basic, but the first thing is to actually say, “Thank you”. Often. Whether in person, via text, phone, email or social media platforms, thank you should be expressed. It amazes me how many people ignore this fundamental step when it comes to their volunteers. So many organisations are stuck in ‘expectation’ mode, and not ‘gratitude’ mode. They expect their volunteers to give up their time. To often manage large workloads while balancing their won personal lives. Volunteers need to be thanked for all that they do. Any less would be a huge disservice to all involved.
Another mistake poor people managers make is that they boss their volunteers around rather than guide them in their roles. Many volunteers have had successful careers, businesses and achieved academic prowess. They are motivated, no matter what their age. No one deserves to be disrespected through bossiness. Great structures and training need to be in place so everyone who puts their hand up to volunteer is offered the right support to get started in their role, and then guided and coached so that they can perform their duties to the very best of their abilities.
Giving Up Control
Another crucial characteristic that great volunteer coordinators possess is the ability to give up control of the varied roles that volunteers fulfil. So often volunteers are micro managed to the nth degree. Volunteer coordinators need to trust the systems and process in place so that the volunteer is free to make decisions within their role. Simply put, at some stage micro control needs to end and trust in your people needs to begin.
Of course strict volunteer guidelines will be developed so that that these decisions are being made in good faith. If mistakes are made, then these instances should be seen as growth opportunities for all concerned. Adjustments will be made accordingly and everyone will move on without recrimination. Volunteers are human after all, often learning lots of new skills on the way, and they should be encouraged to take on as much as they feel they are able while maintaining a balanced life.
This ties in with Gratitude and Guidance and Giving Up Control. You must communicate regularly with your volunteers to deal with any issues that arise, to develop better systems of service delivery, to acknowledge, celebrate and encourage your team. You must be approachable and be known as someone who is respected by all members of the organisation the volunteers are working for/with. Communication is two way. You must be prepared to answer questions, put people’s minds at ease (both the volunteers and any stakeholders of the company/organisation) and make sure everyone has the information they need to do a great volunteering job. Communication needs to be professional, respectful and genuine.
Team work is the key to success in any Volunteering endeavour. Great teams communicate clearly, support each other, respects the efforts that the volunteers put in, problem solve through difficulties and work well under pressure. Most of all great teams celebrate the achievements of all the team members to encourage even more participation.
Good volunteer teams make sure they support one another in their roles. We may not all be experts in every field, but being aware of the responsibilities that the other team member has allows us to give the right support to make sure pressure is released. And we must remember that volunteer rosters change as life circumstances change. Unless we are fully aware of what each team member does we get completely stuck if a team member leaves.
Team work. Crucial to the success of the organisation and crucial to encouraging passion and enthusiasm amongst the volunteers.
So many organisations and people in the community are benefitting incredibly from the contributions made by Volunteers. People’s lives are being authentically enhanced by others who give their time to help, in so many ways. We must make valuing our volunteers a top priority so we can retain and attract more highly skilled and compassionate community heroes. Let’s raise our volunteers up so that they in turn will give more to their communities and, in their own way, make the world a better place.