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Volunteers - issues for consideration

Topic

Comments/questions

 

Defining their role

Why do you need them? How much time will you expect them to give? Are there clear descriptions of the required tasks so that people know what they are volunteering for and you know how to assess potential volunteers?

 

Volunteer policy

Have you thought out and recorded your policy for using volunteers that can be shared with them setting out your responsibilities to them and theirs to you?

 

Recruitment

There are innumerable outlets for advertising: which you use will depend on what you are recruiting for and, for example, whether it is to meet a short term emergency or provide a longer term service. 

 

Selection

The process needs to be rigorous and thorough without being so bureaucratic that it puts off or precludes individuals who might otherwise be suitable.   Are you clear about the distinction between reasonable and unreasonable restrictions when selecting volunteers?   Have you checked about particular restrictions and the screening necessary (Criminal Records Bureau checks), for example, in relation to work with children and vulnerable adults?  Restrictions are justified in certain circumstances but it is important to be aware of good practice in equal opportunities. More generally, the clearer the pre-information about what will be expected (written or oral), the more likely it is appropriate people will put themselves forward.  Although it does not need to be a very formal process, it is important for both sides to be able to assess the suitability of the individual for the role. 

 

Budget

Have you included the costs of using volunteers in your budget, to cover possible outlay? There may be set-up costs, such as provision of a desk, computer or phone line and there will be running costs such as reimbursing expenses, insurance, training and support and management time.

 

Management, support and supervision

Management encompasses all the issues mentioned in this note.  Support of volunteers requires consideration of their needs.  Are there adequate induction arrangements? Do they have someone they can turn to for immediate help or advice? Do they have enough information? Are they thanked and do they feel their contribution is valued?  Do they feel involved in wider aspects of the project, in policy making and reflection both on past performance and future directions?  The level of supervision will depend upon what they do, how long they have been doing it, how experienced they are.  The effectiveness of both support and supervision will be linked with wider policies, internal communications and working practices, including relationships between volunteers and between them and staff and trustees. 

 

Insurance, health and safety

You are legally liable for your volunteers and clients, which means taking out suitable insurance (public liability, employee liability, personal accident and professional indemnity) and being aware of the relevant legislation. Under the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, you must have a health and safety policy.  It should include reference to volunteers and they should have a copy.

 

Training

Training can be informal or formal and accredited; internal or using outside agencies.  It might be a matter of keeping volunteers up to date with what is happening within the project or in the policy context they are working in.  It might focus on imparting skills, such as listening or IT skills and, for some, there may be the possibility of volunteers getting NVQs or other qualifications.  What is appropriate will depend on the nature of the volunteers, what they are doing and how long term they are.

 

Expenses

Have you thought through a policy so that volunteers can be treated consistently? For example, when will you pay travel expenses and how are they calculated? Do you provide subsistence to volunteers working a full day? Do they need uniforms or protective clothing? Are they expected to go to conferences or training? The process for claiming expenses needs to be simple and clear and payments should be regular and sometimes in advance for people on low incomes. Beware of making ex gratia payments that could create tax, benefit or national insurance problems.

 

Provision

The budget section above indicated that volunteers do not usually come without some associated cost.  In addtion, This note underlines the need to ensure that volunteers are sufficiently well informed and feel confident about their place in the project, how they will be treated and what is expected of them.  In some projects, this may require the provision of guidelines, for example, about confidentiality or protection issues.  Conversely, volunteers have a right to information as well as safeguards if their own safety might be at risk.

 

Inclusion

Volunteers need to feel that they are part of the wider team, that they are trusted and their role is appreciated. Demonstrating this may entail more than treating individuals respectfully to, for example, having places for volunteers on the management committee and involving them collectively when there are major decisions to be made.  

 

Calculating their contribution

It is helpful to have evidence for funders of the in kind or cash value of volunteers.  This might be calculated on the basis of the minimum wage hourly rate, or the rate for the job of roles such as lawyers, counsellors or drivers, or volunteer time could be computed in terms of full-time equivalent staff.  Alongside this quantitative information, there can be commentary on to roles of volunteers (including trustees) and what they bring to the project (enabling greater reach, work with specific client groups, more activities, etc).