Your volunteers with stick with you if they feel appreciated, they have an appropriate role for their needs, they have opportunities to develop, and they’re busy. At the same time it is also a huge challenge for volunteer managers to find the time to support volunteers effectively.

In this section are a wealth of tips under the following headings:

Saying “Thank You” to Volunteers

Some thoughts on saying “thank you” to volunteers…

  1. Timely
    Make it a timely thank you, so not months after whatever it is you’re thanking your volunteer for.
  2. Honest
    Be honest with your thanks.  Give credit for the part they played.  Give it sincerely and genuinely.
  3. Appropriate
    Appropriate to what you’re saying thank you for.  If it’s “over the top” it may make your volunteer uncomfortable, equally a mumbled thanks for what a volunteer sees as a large contribution isn’t appropriate either.
  4. Need to vary
    Don’t just say a general thanks at the end of each day, or if you do also say thanks at other times, for other things… be specific about what you’re thanking the volunteer for and say it in different ways.
  5. Keep it about the part they played
    Make it personal, so it’s not about the team or about the event, but it’s specifically about the individual and the part they played.
  6. You are responsible
    If you’re the Volunteer Organiser it falls upon you to make sure your volunteers feel appreciated.  That’s not to say you’re the only one showing appreciation, but you have a role in making sure your trustees, committee members and staff are also showing theirs.
  7. One approach doesn’t suit everyone
    Some people will appreciate being recognised for their efforts and thanked in front of the rest of the team whereas others would be embarrassed by the ‘fuss’ – get to know your volunteers and whether public or private thanks works for them.
  8. Understand the behaviours you want more of
    If you know what behaviours you’re trying to encourage in your volunteers, you can frame your thanks and recognition around those specifically
    g. I was impressed with your team working at X event – in particular how you helped Y and Z to take the stand down after everyone had gone home… pulling together to get the job done.  Thank you it’s appreciated.
  9. Nominate them for an award
    either an internal one or external e.g.
  10. and now for your thoughts…..
    How will you improve your thank you’s?
    Who do you need to thank right now & how will you do it differently after reading this?
    How do you like to be thanked & what can you learn from that?

Ten ways to access training for your volunteers without paying (much) for it

  1. Tap into what is being offered at your local CVS
    We are currently offering a number of training courses specifically for volunteers including Volunteer Passport Training.
    as well as training for volunteer organisers (some of whom may be volunteers)…
  2. Speak to local colleges ( Accrington and Rossendale College have many free community learning courses) and Blackburn College, to see what they can provide and what they might be able to provide free (especially if your volunteers are currently unemployed).  If they’re looking for learners and you’re looking for training you might be able to strike up a deal.
  3. See what Community Learning Education is available, through your local council.
  4. Make use of online training which is available such as Blackburn with Darwen’s Safeguarding eLearning courses
  5. Get together with other organisations and pool the money you do have for training (perhaps 4 organisations could share the costs of 1 training course for their volunteers)
  6. When you’re putting in funding bids to support the work of your organisation, make every effort to include a learning element to the bid
  7. Talk to other volunteer organisers in community, voluntary & statutory organisations …do they have spare places on training they’re running for their volunteers that you could make use of? …does their group run awareness raising sessions on a particular subject that you need for your volunteers?
  8. Do you know all the skills and experience you have within your team of staff / committee members / trustees and volunteers?  Perhaps if you ask the right questions you’ll find someone in the team who could provide the training you’re looking for…
  9. Can you convince a training provider to give you free or subsidised places because of your charitable or community interest status (they might be able to get tax relief) …or maybe they want something you have, e.g. access to the community, space for meetings, a minibus, etc. which you could swap in return for the training… what could you give them?
  10. Get your volunteers to take responsibility for their own learning.  By creating a SOLE – a Self Organised Learning Environment.  For some inspiration & a toolkit for this see…– Sugata Mitra’s vision is to use this with children… but why not adults …volunteers …staff … you …me?

Ten thoughts on how to keep volunteers engaged when there’s little for them to do

  1. Phone/Social Media
    Connect with your volunteers regularly by phone and/or text and/or through social media – Facebook, Twitter, etc. to say ‘hi’, let them know what’s going on & ask how they’re doing.
  2. Training
    Run training for your volunteers or alternatively link them in with someone else’s training, either run by statutory bodies or other volunteer involving organisations.
  3. Social Events
    Arrange social events for your volunteers (or encourage them to) where they can get together and get to know one another. .. that way they can support one other and help to keep each other engaged & interested.
  4. Different Activities
    What else does your organisation need to achieve?  How can your volunteers help with these tasks, during a lull?
  5. Newsletter
    Send out a regular newsletter telling your volunteers what’s happening; the impact their volunteering  is having; asking for any help you might need.
  6. Sharing your volunteers
    Perhaps there is another organisation you work closely with who could make good use of your volunteers whilst you’re not keeping them busy…
  7. Ask Them!
    Instead of trying to second guess your volunteers & their levels of engagement over time, ask them about it – check in with them & also ask them what would help to keep them engaged… get them to share the responsibility with you
  8. The right volunteers
    Do you have volunteers without anything to do yet lots of things that need doing?  In that case perhaps you need to think about recruiting different types of volunteer.   We recommend breaking down your volunteering opportunities into as many roles as you can, e.g. if you want someone to do your website, instead of including it in a general admin role, create an opportunity specifically for the website.  If you recruit one person who can do multiple roles – great, but if not, you’re giving yourself the best chance of finding the volunteers you want
  9. Get more for them to do
    Perhaps this isn’t about keeping your volunteers engaged at all… it’s about getting more for your volunteers to do… how can your volunteers help to promote what you’re offering?
  10. Look at the Bigger Picture
    Perhaps if you don’t have enough for your volunteers to do because people aren’t taking up the service you’re offering then you might want to look at what you’re offering and if it’s meeting a need.  Do people need what you’re offering?  If not, you might want to better understand the need in order to meet it or perhaps even stop doing certain activities remembering that needs change over time and based on what is being offered elsewhere.

Ten Thoughts on saying ‘No’ to volunteers

  1. ‘No’ might be the best thing for the volunteer as well as the organisation & volunteer management is about doing what’s in the best interests of the volunteer AND the organisation and balancing the two
  2. If you don’t say ‘no’ to this volunteer now, how do you see that playing out further down the line?
  3. Maybe it’s not a ‘no’, just a ‘not now’ … if you can be clear about what the volunteer would need to do (skills, experience, behaviours, support needs, etc.) to get to a point where you would be happy for them to volunteer
  4. Maybe it’s not a ‘no’, just a ‘not this role’ … if you honestly think there’s a better opportunity for them within your organisation
  5. Maybe it’s not a ‘no’, just a ‘not us’ and you can help them find another volunteer opportunity signposting them back Community CVS.
  6. Where in your work / life, are you able to say ‘no’ – what helps then?
  7. Suppose you said ‘no’, what are you concerned would happen?  How might you address those concerns?
  8. Be clear with potential volunteers at the beginning of any recruitment process that the answer may be ‘no’
  9. Once people start to volunteer, include probationary periods & regular reviews and make it clear that it is possible that you might end the volunteering if it’s not in the best interests of all concerned
  10. ‘No’ gets easier the more you say it!

And in terms of how to tell them… actually say ‘no’… Be PLUCKY!

  • Phone them
  • Let them know clearly that the answer is no
  • Understanding – tell them the reason why
  • Constructively give the message – positive points, not obvious shortcomings
  • Keep away from long explanations, irrelevant information
  • You can still help them – signpost them into for other opportunities, training to help them more forwards

Good luck!  You can do it!

Ten thoughts on supervising more volunteers than you have time to supervise!

  1. Implement a peer support system – create teams of volunteers or buddy pairs so they can talk to one another, share concerns, discuss issues, etc.
  2. Promote one or more volunteers to a position of volunteer organiser and give them the responsibility of supervision (it may be a route to employment for them)
  3. Implement group supervision, exploring different models (google ‘group supervision’ for some ideas!)
  4. Partner with another organisation (with paid staff) who wants to do something similar with volunteers and share the responsibility for supervision
  5. Recruit some additional volunteers in admin, finance, IT, promotions, fundraising, etc. to support you with those functions to free you up for more volunteer supervision
  6. Look at alternative methods for supervision… social media, online forums, etc
  7. Consider supervision requirements on an individual basis – not all volunteers will have the same support needs…
  8. What do other organisations do… in your area… in other areas to supervise large numbers of volunteers?
  9. What other organisations could supervise and support your volunteers as part of the support they already offer?
  10. What supervision do your volunteers want? Ask them!

Ten thoughts on supporting volunteers with high support needs/reducing high support needs

  1. When bidding for projects do what you can to ensure adequate support for volunteers is built into the project.
  2. Consider not recruiting volunteers with support needs so high you’re going to find too hard to meet.  If you recruit them and then are not able to support them neither of you will benefit.
  3. If a potential volunteer is not yet ready to volunteer consider delaying their start date (some organisations don’t let service users become volunteers until 6 months or so after they, or a family member, are no longer a service user, e.g. a hospice might ask potential volunteers to take 6 months after the bereavement of a family member; e.g. if a person in recovery is helping people with their recovery, it’s good to for both the service user and the volunteer if the volunteer is some way along their journey; e.g. a young person volunteering in a youth club, without a break, may find it hard to switch from being a member to being in a role where they’re responsible for people)
  4. If a volunteer was a service user ensure they still go through the normal volunteer process, i.e. don’t assume they already know what it’s like from a volunteer’s perspective.
  5. Look to have a variety of roles so that if a role is too much for a volunteer (& that’s the reason they have high support needs of you) they can do something simpler or that requires less commitment.
  6. Have identified progression routes so that volunteers can start with something simple and of low commitment and work up to something more when they’re ready.
  7. Be prepared to create new roles for volunteers’ progression.
  8. Identify who else can support volunteers in your organisation, e.g. managers / project managers; staff/volunteer through e.g. volunteer buddies and a peer support groups.
  9. Identify who else can support volunteers outside of your organisation so you can sign  post to e.g. health, mental health, etc. services
  10. Regularly have conversations with your volunteers about what they want next from their volunteering, how they can step up and you as the Volunteer Manager can step back to allow them to get more from the role.  Look to delegate more to them (The Fierce Conversations Decision Tree Model is useful to explore how volunteers can take more responsibility little by little ).


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