Recruiting volunteers

Tuesday 14th April 2015

As an organisation you need volunteers to operate. You simply could not deliver the services you aspire to deliver without them. You generate your finances based on grants and donations and they often are totally focused on the recipients and not on the administration (although without administration you can’t deliver – I know). So volunteers are necessary and you need to ensure you are getting the best from them to ensure your organisation performs.

So how do you go about recruiting them?

I am a firm believer in the need to set expectations for your volunteers. This covers a variety of things:
Is there a job to be done?

Make your needs known.
If you need a person to hand out food parcels then say so. If you need someone to help you with your website, then ask. People in general assume that because the organisation is up and running then everything is being handled. It may be handled by you with 50 hats on but unless you tell them – they won’t know – and usually won’t ask.

What is the job you are asking them to do?
This should be similar to a job brief. Be really clear about what the task is. Don’t say “just come along and we’ll find you something to do”. For the most part – that’s a turn off. This communicates that you are doing them a favour rather than them doing you one – they are volunteering after all (see my previous post). Be specific and cover off as many of the tasks that you see fits into this role. If it’s a reception job then explain if you want them to lock up, open up, answer phones, take messages, make the coffee, etc. If its car parking then explain if you want them to manage other parkers, find replacement people if you are off. This level of clarity also shows that their input is valued and important to your organisation. Leaving it loose means their commitment can also be loose.

Who will they report to?
They need to know they are part of a team and won’t be left in the lurch. They will need a go-to person. They also need to know how to get a hold of that person if they are not around when the volunteer is doing their task.

What training will be given and when?
It’s unlikely that they will know everything they need to know before they start – so someone needs to be there to get them started. Make it clear who that person is, how long they will be around for and how much training time will be given. Basically, how long before the volunteer is expected to ‘go solo’. This can be adjusted as you go of course depending on the volunteer, again make that clear as well.

How much time do you think it will take them?
Is this a 10 minute job, a few hours a week or more? Also make it clear when those hours can be performed. e.g. is it office hours or not? Consider when their team leader is available too in this.

When does it need doing by?
Is this a time critical project (e.g. for an event) in which case the flyers need handing out within the next 7 days – or it is a ‘whenever you get to it’ project. Be very clear about this because it can happen that your ‘whenever’ is not their ‘whenever’ and before long you have to change the goal posts.

I see this as a way of bringing a volunteer on board who will add value to your organisation. Not only will they have a clear task to do with clear timings, you will be able to manage your health and safety better (because of the training), you can bring people on in an orderly fashion (correct paperwork) and not swamp you staff with processing volunteers at random times. In addition you will be able to reduce your interruption times because the person will know who to go to and when – and you will know when they are there – and not!
I believe many organisations fear being so upfront with this type of information because it may turn people away because it makes it visible the demands you as an organisation are placing on them. I suggest that those volunteers who sign up with this clarity of information will be better informed and therefore better volunteers – and add value.

Lastly – these terms are of course something that can be discussed when you ‘interview’ your volunteer. They will approach you (because you have made a need known) and you work out where they fit. From there you can agree a terms of reference. You can tailor the tasks to fit the person so you all ‘win’.