Looking back – Thinking about the future of your volunteer programme

The minute New Year kicks in, we start thinking about new beginning, resolutions and hopes for what’s ahead of us. I would like, however, to challenge ourselves to take few moments to look back and reflect on the past year. I believe that taking a proper time to look back can help us plan even better for what’s new to come. I decided to pull out the magnifying glass from my backpack and look closer at our volunteer programme we run here, in our centre and reflect on its highs and lows of 2018.

Over a year ago we started a process of building up structures around our volunteer programme. At first, it involved a consultation with our volunteers and staff in order to identify what works and what doesn’t. (We involve a small team of volunteers and we tend to have around 10-15 active volunteers at any given time). Up until then our programme was quite informal and managed by all the staff, in other words everybody was responsible for recruiting and overseeing their own volunteers. The feedback received was suggesting that we needed to centralise our volunteer programme and make it more streamlined and consistent, in other words to make it more professional.

Some of the changes we introduced involved the following:

  • Appointing a Volunteer Coordinator who could oversee the entire programme, be responsible for recruitment, induction and training, policies and procedures, support and supervision, exit interviews as well as budgeting
  • Ensuring that each staff member was aware of their own responsibilities involved in managing their volunteers, e.g. task specific training, ongoing supports, references
  • Updating our volunteer policy to reflect all the changes as well as creating expenses policy
  • Updating the current documentation, including agreement, confidentiality form, induction presentation, interview form, references form, support & supervision sheets and exit interview form
  • To improve communication we started to send out monthly e-zine to our active volunteers (it’s a short two pages of updates from the centre)

We were conscious that we wanted to strike a balance and ensure that we have a robust programme that is not overly bureaucratic and remains very much inclusive and accessible to all.

Below are some of the main learnings/discoveries:

  • Building structures around your volunteering programme takes time and effort but it’s totally worth it! It helped us ensure that we offer the same quality of experience to all the volunteers, that we communicate with them better and they know where to go in case they have questions and/or queries
  • Having a designated contact person for the volunteers is crucial and I wonder how we managed without it beforehand… It’s much appreciated by the staff to have a person who can help out with recruitment, support and supervision and management; someone who can take that helicopter view over the programme; at the same time volunteers appreciate having that other person they can reach out to
  • Managing volunteers isn’t an easy job! It requires a lot of time and skills to recruit right people and manage them and ensure they are happy and able to see through their commitment; It’s not only the time spent recruiting and training, but also checking in on them, understanding their motivation and expectations
  • Introducing few extra steps in our induction and training meant that people had more time to think over if they are suitable for the role; It meant that we lost one person recently (after all the recruitment, reference check,etc.) but it was a positive outcome after all
  • Support and Supervision is a must, even if it’s not easy to find the time and space; it offers a much needed opportunity to catch up, allows a safe space to explore the progress of the role and how the person is fitting in with the organisation. I also learned that having those regular checks allowed me recently to end a relationship with a volunteer in an honest and respectful way
  • It’s encouraging to receive positive feedback from the volunteers who leave the organisation and hear how much they enjoyed the experience with us and how they appreciate all the steps along the way

I hope that we can make the programme even better and the only way to do it is to ask volunteers to reflect on the past year too. They will soon receive a short survey to tell us what they think.

If you would like to find out more about our Volunteer Programme or if you are looking into re-structuring it, please get in touch with Kasia on kasia@volunteerdublincity.ie. I’ll be happy to share more details with you.