How to generate conflict between staff and volunteers! #wiseupwednesdays

argumemntWhilst sorting through some resources for my volunteer management training, I came across this document by Steve McCurley & Rick Lynch. It’s still as relevant today as it was when I printed it out. I thought I would share it over a series of blog posts with you, following a rather heated case I was called in to mediate.  These are sarcastic, but straight to the point!

“Don’t involve staff in the decisions as to if and how to utilize volunteers within the agency. Everybody loves a surprise.”

It really isn’t recommended that you involve a volunteer, or team of volunteers without consulting your existing staff team first.  However, before you consider talking to the staff you really need to verify some important things first:

  • Is the role appropriate for a volunteer – volunteers’ roles should complement your paid staff, not replace them!
  • Would the involvement of volunteers jeopardise the wages or employment conditions of paid staff, particularly those in low-paid jobs?
  • Would the volunteer would be performing a task formerly (or even currently) done by a paid worker and his/her involvement would reduce the likelihood of staff being replaced

If you answer YES, NO, NO then you are ok to chat to your staff. After all you will want to reassure them that involving volunteers isn’t going to threaten their job stability, take work from them or even make them more work. Encourage your staff team to embrace volunteers [not literally obviously] and hopefully you will all reap the benefits. It could offer opportunities for your staff to support the volunteers and develop management skills, plus it will bring an influx of fresh ideas and enthuiasm to your organisation.

“Don’t plan in advance the role descriptions or support and supervision systems for the volunteers. These things will work themselves out if you just give them time.”

Oh dear that’s not going to work is it?  Planning the role/task descriptions and identifying who will support the volunteers is a key to success for any volunteer programme. When setting out the role ensure that you aren’t giving the volunteer[s] tasks which would be done by a paid member of staff. Why not involve the staff and see what a volunteer could do to complement their paid role? If they are involved from the start there are less likely to be issues later!  Also, have your staff got the right skills to support volunteers? If not, you need to ensure they receive the right training and support themselves.

“Accept everyone who volunteers for a position, regardless of whether you think they are over-qualified or under-qualified. Quantity is everything.”

This is going to be another recipe for disaster isn’t it? Although  adhering to diversity/equal opps is important, you need to ensure a volunteer is right for the role.  When you’ve drafted the role description, think about some key questions you should ask potential volunteers to ensure a good match for the role.  Remember too, that although qualifications may be desirable for paid staff, you could be excluding a potentially brilliant volunteer because they haven’t got the right skills on paper!

“Assume that anyone who volunteers can pick up whatever skills or knowledge they need as they go along.”

Not everyone is going to take to the role straightaway and all volunteers will need a thorough induction, ongoing support and quite possibly training.  You need to monitor how volunteers are doing through regular support/supervision and assess their training/development needs as they volunteer.  Many organisations new to volunteering assume that volunteers should bring the same skills as paid staff, without having to pay them!


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