Our third sin is NON-COMMUNICATION – ignoring enquiries from potential volunteers. This ‘sin’ has been a constant issue whilst I’ve been in the Volunteer Centre and a recent Guardian article [‘I want to volunteer but I keep being ignored’] made me realise it could be a more widespread issue than I first thought! Here’s an excerpt from the Guardian article:
“With a more flexible work diary – having just started freelancing – and a sense that charities need people to donate their free hours and expertise more than ever, I decided to spend more time volunteering. However, trying to find a voluntary role has proved surprisingly difficult.
I’ve been repeatedly frustrated by charities who say they need volunteers, actively advertise for them, and yet don’t follow through on their promise. These charities include small charities working in the health sector, to large environmentally focused organisations.”
We have a wide range of volunteering opportunities with a diverse range of groups and organisations, and as we signpost volunteers, at least they have someone to come back to if their contact fails to be acknowledged. Unfortunately volunteers applying to an organisation direct, do not have that support and it could make their first attempt at volunteering a negative experience.
Every volunteer we signpost to organisations is asked to contact us if they haven’t heard in two weeks, so we can follow up to check the organisation has received the referral. Most organisation contacts are apologetic as they never got the referral email, or have been on holiday, or off sick, however, there are some organisations who simply ignore referrals. Our policy is to contact these organisations and check if they are in fact still looking for volunteers, but if we don’t hear back after a repeated contact, we remove that organisation and its roles from our current list, as it’s quite simply not fair on the volunteers if they build their hopes up about a role, only to meet a brick wall when they attempt to make contact with the organisation concerned. The problem is that not all volunteers like to bother us when they don’t hear, but having spoken to many of them over the years, many feel that if the organisation doesn’t respond, they don’t want them and they can take it personally, feeling like it’s rejection. The hardest hit are those with poor self-esteem and little confidence and it’s quite simply not fair!
When we do follow ups with the volunteers coming through the Volunteer Centre, the greates percentage response to the question “Have you started volunteering?” is “No, the organisation never got in touch”.
Let’s be honest, ignoring enquiries is quite simply bad manners!
So what can you do to ensure that you don’t ignore enquiries?
- Identify someone to respond to enquiries– if the person responsible has a busy role, delegate this to another member of the team.
- Keep contact details current– ensure that the person responsible for volunteers has an active email address or contact number [with an answering machine if possible].
- If the person in question has a busy role, could you have enquiries directed to acentral contact point [phone or email] for the organisation such as a member of your admin team? They could then log enquiries and share them with the volunteer co-ordinator. It could be explained if it’s an automated email response, that someone will contact them within a certain period and if the potential volunteer does not hear, to let them know. This solves the problem of staff changing roles or leaving too, as the contacts all go to one place.
- Ensure the contact point is checked regularlyfor new enquiries. Once a month is quite simply not acceptable, it should really be at least once a week.
- Remove your volunteer adverts if you don’t need volunteers!This is a simple way of managing expectations.
- Register your roles with a Volunteer Centre– they are brokerage specialists and at least potential volunteers have someone they can approach if their enquiry fails.
Remember for many potential volunteers first contact is important and failure to even acknowledge a simple thing like a volunteer enquiry in a timely manner, does not reflect well on your organisation.
To be honest if you do ignore enquiries, it serves you right if the volunteer goes to another organisation who does respond!
To conclude, I’m taking another quote from the Guardian article which I loved, but just remember, not all volunteers will have this attitude and you may just have lost your dream volunteer if you don’t respond to enquiries!
“I understand the charity sector and I know the amazing things that can be achieved so I haven’t let the bad experiences I’ve had put me off. But I fear if others are treated the same way, they may not be as persistent – nor should they have to be.
My point is this – volunteers can bring a lot to a charity, but charities shouldn’t set up false hope or waste people’s time. If charities wait until they have capacity and expertise to follow through on requests for help then it’ll work better for the organisation and the volunteers.”
I need help!
The Volunteer Centre can help you with any area of good practice when involving volunteers, so please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org or 01384 573381 and ask for Eileen