Ways to support volunteers

A volunteer coordinator has a responsibility to support and manage volunteers to achieve the best possible outcome. A key part of their role is to ensure that volunteers are happy in their role and feel safe and respected. Volunteers also have responsibilities to their volunteer coordinator which should be clearly defined in the volunteer's position description. It's a two-way street.

Supervisor and volunteer responsibilities

The roles and responsibilities of both the supervisor and the volunteer must be clearly articulated to all involved. Volunteer inductions or information sessions are the best way to outline and discuss these things.

A volunteer coordinator must provide volunteers with:

  • Support
  • Flexibility
  • Direction and guidance
  • Information and resources

Volunteers need to provide the coordinator with:

  • Reliability
  • Responsibility
  • Effort
  • Flexibility
  • Communication

Day to day support

Volunteers should be supported as soon as they step in the door. They need to be welcomed into the organisation and treated like a staff member by everyone in the organisation, including those outside of the immediate department. For a volunteer program to work well, all staff need to understand the dynamics of working with unpaid staff and understand why volunteers donate their time and talents to work for the organisation.

A good way to get started is to introduce new volunteers to staff members and make sure there is a spare desk or office space for them. Staff should be encouraged to know each volunteer's name and their role in the organisation.

Formal support

Volunteers need to receive formal support to give them direction, guidance and purpose. They are giving up their personal time to help your organisation grow and develop and want to know that what they are doing is effective and not a waste of their time.

It is important to document what support volunteers receive and how they are incorporated into your organisation for succession planning and consistency. It will also make it easier to prove volunteers are working to achieve outcomes and are part of the long-term future of the organisation.

The following are ideas on how to provide formal support for your volunteers:

  • Incorporate volunteers into your organisation: volunteers should be included in your organisational chart and given a copy so they can identify where their role fits into the big scheme of things
  • Give volunteers access to services: volunteers should be treated like paid staff and given the opportunity to access all of the services available to paid employees. Occupational health and safety procedures, bullying and sexual harassment policies and health checks should all be available to volunteers
  • Give volunteers supervision: clear direction on who to report to and who their supervisor reports to
  • Organise one-on-one, regular catch-ups with the volunteer coordinator or manager
  • Provide name badges and uniforms (if appropriate) to build team spirit and help volunteers feel part of the organisation
  • Hold regular volunteer meetings or team meetings
  • Give constructive feedback.

You can provide this information as a booklet or handbook for your volunteers to refer to.

Partnership approach

A successful approach to supporting volunteers is by creating a partnership between paid and unpaid staff.

In a partnership, volunteers should be treated like an integral part of the organisation rather than a resource to be used by the organisation. Volunteers should be regularly asked what aspects of their job worked or didn't work.

Another way a partnership approach can take place is if team leaders are developed with appropriate skills, there are regular volunteer get-togethers and group briefings.

Tools and resources