The information in this section will provide readers with the tools and strategies required to improve the number of volunteers.
To develop an environment that entices people to volunteer willingly requires your organisation to understand why people currently don’t volunteer. Recruitment is only the first step.
If your organisation does not support its recruitment strategy with strong volunteer human resource (HR) management you will stand to lose them, and more importantly, the potential for future volunteers.
Before you recruit anyone it is critical that as an organisation you are clear on what positions are needed and what legal requirements are must be met to deliver your organisation’s services. For example, the organisation must have a President, Secretary, Treasurer, qualified coaches and personnel with blue cards if you provide activities for children.
The most common mistake that exposes organisations today to physical, legal, financial and ethical risks, is the manner in which the organisation recruits its volunteers to specific roles. Electing round pegs to fit into square holes leaves the organisation and the individual clearly at risk of failure.
It is critical that your organisation develops a system that enables it to be more flexible when it comes to selecting and recruiting the volunteers it needs. The organisation will need to ensure that it develops a framework that is easily adjusted to suit the volunteer pool available at any given time.
Therefore a crucial responsibility for the organisation is to adapt its key positions to best suit the capability and the capacity of the volunteer. If they don’t have the specific skills or the time to complete all the tasks currently allocated to the specific position…..adjust the role so they have opportunity to be successful. Remember a successful volunteer is a Happy Volunteer.
The first step towards effective management is getting the right people with the right skills and experience into the appropriate positions.
To know if you are getting the right people you will need to:
Develop equitable workloads for committee and technical positions of responsibility
Develop an overview for all key positions
Develop a position description that clarifies the key responsibilities for all such positions. Individual position task sheets need to articulate the specific task/s, risks and timeframes for when each task needs to be completed.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. To assist your organisation in implementing these steps, position overviews, position descriptions and task sheets with completed samples are available for your use. See Hot Tips Recruitment, Selection & Placement for details of how to access samples.
If your organisation implements the four steps below you will be well on the way to decreasing your organisation’s and your individuals’ exposure to risk.
Step 1 - Share the workload - positions need to be more equitable. Ask yourself “Why is it that a secretary has much, much more to do than any other position”? (This may be a key reason you cannot recruit new Secretaries)
Step 2 - Develop clear equitable position overviews, job descriptions, position tasks, roles and responsibilities for key positions using the available samples as a starting point.
Step 3 - When you have developed these position overviews, job descriptions, position tasks, roles and responsibilities they need to be used as a base only as they may need to be adjusted to suit the ability of the specific individual/s you are recruiting.
Step 4 - Then ensure you have defined the volunteer benefits and/or rewards to be offered for each of these key positions. See Section 5 – Volunteer Recognition and Reward for further information on how to achieve this.
You can no longer throw volunteers in the deep end and let them sink or swim. If your organisation chooses not to utilise an appropriate recruitment, selection and training process it must be prepared for increased exposure to risk and poor performance.
Volunteering Australia defines a volunteer as ‘a person who chooses to contribute their time, skills and experience, for no payment (other than reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses), to benefit the community’.
If you continue to throw volunteers in the deep end or provide them with a too steep learning curve you will clearly be exposing your organisation to vicarious liability, meaning that you will be held accountable for the liabilities caused by your volunteers’ actions or inactions.
Therefore if your organisation has the foresight to adjust the volunteer’s responsibilities based on their knowledge and ability you will clearly decrease the likelihood of vicarious liability and litigation.
If your organisation wishes to be consistent with its recruitment of volunteers it will require a policy and procedure for conducting and managing the recruitment process. If your organisation does not have or does not know where to start, see Hot Tips Recruitment, Selection & Placement for details of how to access completed samples of Recruitment, Selection and Placement Policies.
You need to get people interested and motivated to take on a role in your organisation. You cannot lie and say it is easy and won’t take much time if that clearly is not the case. That is how organisations currently expose themselves and their volunteers to legal and ethical risks.
Once you’ve prepared the position overviews, the organisation will become more aware of the positions you need to fill and the attributes you need from individuals to fill these positions. You are now ready to RECRUIT. See Hot Tips Recruitment, Selection & Placement for details of how to access completed samples position overviews documents.
In most volunteer recruitment manuals the authors talk mostly about methods of marketing – “why people volunteer” and the “benefits” of volunteering. To increase the number of volunteers and improve the volunteer experience, community organisations need firstly to understand the reasons why:
people don’t or won’t volunteer; or
if they do volunteer, why they don’t stay long!
Therefore before your organisation can move forward it will have to understand the pros and cons of being a volunteer in your organisation. Once you have established these pros and cons you can develop strategies to make volunteering in your organisation more attractive.
Let us look firstly at the reasons why people currently volunteer and then we will look at the reasons why they don’t, and how we can change behaviours to better improve volunteer numbers.
Dislike the way things are being done
They have been talked into it because nobody else will
They were made feel guilty otherwise
To support their family member/s who participate/s in the activity
Want to help others or make a difference
The top ten responses to a national survey conducted by Volunteering Australia include:
Help others and/or their community
Personal satisfaction and/or family involvement
Do something worthwhile
Learn new skills
Opportunity to use skills/experience for community benefit
Gain work experience/reference
Once you know the positives of volunteering, your organisation needs to know and understand the negatives of volunteering.
In many cases the benefits clearly are out weighed by the reality (the negatives). The reality is that most of the population have had a negative experience when they have volunteered. The following are a sample of the negatives experienced by those currently volunteering:
Individual cost of volunteering (as determined by those who are currently volunteering)
Costs dollars and time
It places stress on relationships with partners and children
Requires much more time than they were told to expect
Volunteers can be expected to be on duty 24/7
Made to feel guilty if they are not available 24/7
As individuals they can be disrespected and treated poorly by the members
They are often exposed to personal criticism
They are over worked and often feel used and abused
They feel betrayed because there is no recognition, reward or support
They can be made to feel incompetent when they are thrown in the deep end
They worry constantly about not completing their tasks in time or well
They worry about the money available to do what they have to do
They are concerned about their legal exposure
They see current volunteers being badly treated; working far too hard; stressed most of the time and certainly never happy; and they see them being exposed to personal criticism. They feel if they put their hand up once to help they would be in for life just like the current volunteers.
A non-volunteer responded as follows when asked why he had refused to volunteer: “My mate whose son plays in my son’s team pays the same amount of fees I do but I get to come along to my child’s game and enjoy the social contact with the team and the other parents. I get to participate in my son’s game from start to finish while my mate who volunteers, never gets to socialise or sees his son participate, he is usually stressed and tired from working all day. All I ever hear is people criticising him and the others for the poor job they do anyway, nobody ever thanks him or appreciates the sacrifices he has made to help the sport. So why would I put my self in that situation. I considered offering to help him once because he’s my mate but I knew I would end up just like him - a volunteer for the duration of my child’s involvement or worse ….longer– I’m not that stupid.”
Current volunteering systems (a few do everything)
The benefits of volunteering verse not volunteering
What you expect of the individuals
Time required of each volunteer
Attitude to new volunteers (you don’t own them)
Level of support and training provided
Level of respect – by members and by the organisation
When asked how long most volunteers have been involved the usual response is 10 to 20 years. When asked why they have volunteered for so long, their response is almost always that “nobody else will stand”.
The key risk is that once somebody has been in a position for 10 years it is almost impossible to replace them as nobody is prepared to fill the shoes of someone with 10 years experience. Therefore, it is critical you avoid this situation. Recruitment involves telling people both internally and externally of your organisation what positions are available; what these positions involve; the time required to fill the role; and the resources, support, reward and recognition provided. Recruiting volunteers involves attracting people who have the motivation, skills, experience, knowledge, attitude and time to suit the positions and needs of your organisation.
Most community organisations need to improve their standard of marketing positions available in their organisation and sell the benefits and the rewards offered to those who choose to volunteer. This can be done through promoting/advertising, headhunting, or as is most often in community organisations, coercion.
Don’t restrict your promotion. Advertise through a variety of media (newsletters, websites, direct correspondence, emails, notice boards, newspapers etc) to make sure your community knows about the positions in your organisation. Distribute application/nomination forms as widely as necessary to attract the right volunteers (reduce the pressure on core volunteers by decreasing the number of tasks required of them and spread the responsibility. Project manage your volunteers by utilising volunteer consultants. See Section 1- The Volunteer Consultant for further supporting information.
If you cannot recruit volunteers with the abilities, skills or sufficient time to complete the tasks of a specific position, your organisation will be required to “buy in” the service. If you cannot afford to “buy in” the service your organisation has two choices:
attempt to source a professional who will donate or reduce their fees; or
increase the membership fees to reflect the new costs.
Decrease the number of tasks required of each position (even if somebody has the time to do it.). This will increase the pool of volunteers to select from.
Increase the benefits for those who volunteer and/or increase the cost of membership to your organisation to those who choose not to volunteer (otherwise there is no incentive to volunteer).
Avoid volunteer burn out by setting timeframes for commitment. If a volunteer knows how long they are in for they are more likely to give more if the time frame is small.
If you cannot fill a position, buy the service in and charge the members appropriately. Don’t load the responsibly onto the few who do volunteer.
CONTACT US for details of free courses available on Modern Volunteer Management.
For further information on how to best ensure you have an effective committee management system see Section 7-“Committee Functions” for full details of the dos and don’ts required of a community organisation’s committee of management. Utilise the recruitment strategies provided in this section as the first step towards effective committee management.
The key to successful committee recruitment is to make sure you have enough people interested in the positions available so you have choices for the organisation, rather than having to “fit round pegs in square holes” – a recipe for disaster for all involved.
Ensure that no committee member can hold a position on your committee for more than 4 years. Make them take a break for a year before they can apply for a committee position again. This will ensure that you don’t burn your volunteers out and assure them that it is okay to volunteer as they are guaranteed they won't be in for life.
Your organisation needs to have flexible positions. You need to understand that your responsibility as an organisation is to adapt your key committee and key technical positions to best suit the capacity of the volunteer.
If they don’t have the specific skills or the time to complete all the tasks currently allocated to the specific position, adjust it so that it best reflects their capacity to get the job done. Remember that a successful volunteer is a happy volunteer.
Benefits for the individual - Providing an opportunity for the individual to be part of the position negotiations will enable them to be more familiar with the role and give them opportunity to clearly articulate what they are comfortable with and what they don’t believe they have the skills to do. Once negotiations are completed they will have a much clearer understanding of what the organisation will be expecting of them prior to the commencement of their duties.
The organisation benefits when a volunteer participates in the position negotiations as this increases the likelihood of a more successful outcome for the organisation. The key benefit is that the organisation will be in a much better position to plan for all necessary training, recognition and reward, and risk reduction strategies for all positions. The organisation, after discussions with all the key volunteers will be clear on what services it will be required to buy in.
Prepare position descriptions for every committee position and key technical position in your organisation with the specific individual who will be responsible. No longer can you throw volunteers in the deep end and let them sink or swim.
Buy in all or some of the services required. For example - If you are unable to fill the role of Treasurer, buy in the services of a bookkeeper to manage the accounts, reporting formats, audits and tax obligations. Then elect a Treasurer whose tasks would only be the financial administration needs such as banking/cheques/ book keepers report.
First and foremost, prior to your organisation’s election process being implemented, determine if all the applicants are capable of delivering the expected outcomes of the positions. If appropriate training cannot be provided to up-skill the individual in a reasonable time frame, the applicant’s application or nomination should not be accepted.
Please note that if you only have one nomination for the position your organisation is legally required to ensure that the individual has the skills required in the position overview.
A solution to the lack of capacity in modern community organisations is to buy in the service if it cannot be filled with competent, capable people from within the organisation. The buying in of service/s clearly lowers an organisation’s likelihood of risk exposure. Community organisations have a moral and legal obligation not to set an individual or the organisation up for failure by placing a volunteer in a role they clearly don’t have the skills or capacity to deliver.
During the selection process you must conduct a discussion with the individual to negotiate the tasks and the time commitment required from the role and any minor adjustments needed to better reflect that individual’s ability and capacity to fulfil the requirements of the position &/or job. If the position is controlled by your constitution you must firstly assure that all constitutional and legal requirements are met prior to the election process.
If it is a key position, you may consider conducting a face to face interview with a nominated interview panel. The personnel for this panel may consist of internal and external personnel. The panel should be no more than five people; three though is a good number for an interview panel.
If an interview process is to be utilised, the organisation will be required to record its procedures and findings. See Hot Tips Recruitment, Selection & Placement for details of how to access completed samples of the interview documents required.
If you wish to improve your organisation’s future success, change the volunteer selection process to firstly be from a skilled selection process then utilise the popular vote once skills have been established.
An interview process will assist with determining individual/s capabilities. See Hot Tips Recruitment, Selection & Placement for how to access sample interview tools & documents.
Utilise the position overviews, position descriptions, and position task sheets as the tools to measure if a person has the skills, ability or time required to be selected. See Hot Tips Recruitment, Selection & Placement for details of how to access completed samples of these position documents.
Placement of volunteers involves matching the individual’s qualities with the particular position most suited to their attributes. This is a critical phase of the volunteer management process. This is where future potential issues can be avoided by putting the right people in the right jobs.
Matching people with positions appropriately is a step in the right direction towards managing volunteers effectively, minimising future conflict and giving both the individual and your organisation the best chance of SUCCESS.
Once you have identified a particular position for the volunteer, the organisation and the individual must agree to and ‘sign off’ on the position description and a Volunteer's Code of Conduct to finalise the placement. See Hot Tips Recruitment, Selection & Placement offers details on how to access completed samples of these position documents and the Volunteer’s Code of Conduct.
Matching people with positions according to their motivation, knowledge, skills, experience and time is essential for SUCCESS. See Hot Tips Recruitment, Selection & Placement for further supporting information and samples
The volunteer may request redeployment if he/she is not comfortable in a role, or has been unhappily placed there by a higher level of authority in the organisation. The result can be a valued volunteer showing loss of interest or leaving the organisation.
This situation should be followed up with the individual immediately to ascertain if redeployment would be a suitable alternative for them and the organisation. This may be a short term or permanent change depending on the circumstances. To ensure you keep your valued volunteer, successful redeployment requires tact, sensitivity towards the person and their situation, patience and a desire to find an appropriate solution for the organisation and the individual.
Firstly, organise to meet with the individual to ascertain the difficulties they are facing in their existing position and clarify their interests, motivations and time available.
Secondly, discuss alternative roles and utilise the position description to ensure a clear understanding of the new role.
Finally, through these discussions, decide whether or not the volunteer is willing and able to be redeployed to continue their involvement with the organisation.
If issues cannot be resolved and the decision is “no”, the volunteer should be thanked at the meeting for their contribution to the organisation and encouraged to become involved again sometime in the future. A follow-up letter and appropriate gift recognising their contribution should be presented or forwarded as soon as possible. Other volunteers who worked with this volunteer should be informed of the outcome of the meeting, while still ensuring full confidentiality (according to the Privacy Act Legislation).
If the volunteer decides to remain with the organisation, it is critical for other volunteers within the organisation who have worked with or will be working with the redeployee are informed of the outcome of the meeting, still ensuring full confidentiality (according to the Privacy Act Legislation). To provide the best chance of success, the redeployee must be supported while becoming familiar with their new role and new interactions with other volunteers.
Yes you can discipline or dismiss volunteers!!! However, to do so requires an appropriate management process. The process needs to follow modern human resource practises and the requirements detailed within your constitution. See Section 4 “Volunteer Management and Support -Disciplinary Action & Dismissal”.