A volunteer’s eye view of … volunteers’ rights #wiseupwednesdays

 

 

 

Much of the recommended volunteer management guidance focusses around good practice rather than legal requirements and ensuring you have these good practice measures in place helps minimise risk to both your organisation and the volunteers who support you.

Do volunteers have rights?

A few years ago the Volunteer Managers Network in Dudley were asked to write a Volunteering Compact to work across Dudley borough and we felt it was important to create a Volunteer Charter, which outlined both a volunteer’s rights and their responsibilities to the organisations they supported. This, we felt, would form the basis of a volunteer management programme for any volunteer-involving group.  To help I have marked where the various ‘rights’ and ‘responsibilities’ are good practice or a legal requirement.

Volunteers’ Rights

Law

Good Practice

To be given a clear idea of their tasks and responsibilities within the organisation.

yes

To be given the name of someone in the organisation who will look after their interests and who will offer them appropriate support, and supervision on a regular basis.

yes

To be assured that any information shared with the organisation is kept confidential. [Data Protection]

yes

To be given the same protection under health & safety regulations and public liability as paid employees.   [Health and Safety]

yes

To be offered opportunities for training and skills development, appropriate for the voluntary tasks involved. yes
To have a complementary relationship with paid staff, who should be fully aware of the role and responsibilities of a volunteer. yes
To have access i.e. through volunteer meetings etc., and to play a part in the decision-making process of the organisation/project.

yes

To be informed about the agency’s policies relevant to the volunteer i.e. health & safety, grievance and disciplinary procedures.

yes

To be provided with appropriate equipment, tools and materials associated to their tasks. yes
Volunteers may join a trade union relevant to the work in which they are involved. NUPE, MSF and UNISON currently welcome volunteers into their membership. yes
To be supported when things go wrong and to be encouraged to learn from their mistakes or difficulties.

yes

Volunteers should not: –
˜  Be used to replace paid workers [if they do so they may have employment rights]

yes

yes

˜  Have unfair demands made on their time

yes

˜  Be asked to do something which is against their principles or beliefs yes
˜  Be subject to any discrimination e.g. on the basis of race, sexuality, age, gender yes
˜  Be out of pocket through undertaking voluntary work – travel and other expenses should be reimbursed yes

Volunteers’ Responsibilities

To support and embrace the organisation’s aims and objectives. yes
To do what is reasonably requested of them, to the best of their ability. yes
To recognise the right of the organisation to expect quality of service from all its volunteers. yes
To recognise that they represent the organisation and therefore need to act in an appropriate manner at all times. yes
To honour any commitment made to the best of their abilities, notifying the organisation in good time should they be unable to keep that commitment e.g. for holidays. yes
To be willing to undertake appropriate training with respect to health & safety issues, insurance liability and general good practice as necessary for the voluntary work undertaken. [volunteers need to understand they are responsible for their own health and safety and to raise any health and safety issues they observe with the appropriate person] yes yes
To abide by any relevant policies and procedures. yes
To offer suggestions for changes/improvements in working practices to the Volunteer Co-ordinator/Project Officer. yes

 

When it goes wrong …

Good practice procedures around volunteer involvement are essential and should cover all elements of involving volunteers.  If a volunteer feels unfairly treated and the organisation does not have robust, transparent procedures in place to deal with problem solving around their volunteers, they may be tempted to attempt to go to an employment tribunal.

“I’ve been volunteering for XXXX for three years and receive a set sum every week for expenses to make sure that I am not out of pocket.  We also receive this when we do not come in due to being not well or away on holidays with our families.  I had to commit to work 12 hours per week as a ‘volunteer’ and receive £25 per week (subsequently increased to £40) ‘to cover expenses’.  When I became pregnant I was dismissed.  I have taken the organisation to court to claim sex discrimination and unfair dismissal due to sex.”

So has this volunteer been treated unfairly?  The tribunal had to decide whether she was working under a contract of employment in order to claim unfair dismissal. It’s quite clear that the organisation had unwittingly created an employment contract, so she was in fact considered an employee by the fact that she received a fixed payment for volunteering, which was even paid when she was on holiday or off sick, plus she was volunteering for a fixed commitment of 12 hours per week. She thus had rights to claim unfair dismissal.

 “Myself and the other volunteers sign a written agreement and we are expected to attend monthly meetings and induction training. There is no minimum time commitment by volunteers and XXXX reimburse actual out of pocket expenses only. We claim we are employees.”

What do you think about this grievance? Do the volunteers have employment rights?  In this case they don’t for the following reasons:

  1. “expected to attend” – means there is no obligation on the part of the volunteer to attend if they do not wish to
  2. “no minimum time commitment” – the volunteers are not signed up to volunteer for a fixed amount of time per week
  3. “reimburse actual out of pocket expenses only” – there are no fixed amounts

The organisation is clearly very careful to ensure they have good practice in place around involving volunteers, so do not create an employment contract with their volunteers.

Please don’t forget if you need any help or support I’m happy to help and that’s what I’m here for 🙂  Just contact me on eileen@dudleycvs.org.uk

A volunteer’s eye view of … recognition #wiseupwednesdays

 

This really sums up volunteer recognition in a nutshell doesn’t it?  The simplest ways of appreciating what volunteers do are often the best way, but every volunteer is different and once you get to know them you will soon learn that there are those who want to operate under the radar, whereas others love to be in the spotlight!

“On the surface, saying thanks is easy – we all do it every day without thought. But saying thanks in an organisational context can be a very different prospect. Firstly, it can be easy just to forget. If, like many charities, your trustees and leadership team have an ambitious vision, then the pressure is on to always look forward, at the expense of reflection.

Or your charity may be characterised by a rigid hierarchy that doesn’t always encourage positive feedback to be filtered down. Because volunteers don’t get paid, you might think that we should naturally be more inclined to thank them. But it might be just as easy to take their generosity for granted, especially if they have been with you for some time. Perhaps worst of all, though, is the ill-judged thank you – too fleeting, insincere, or undeserved. At best it may fall flat; at worst it can anger and linger.

 So how, how often, and to whom you demonstrate gratitude should be as integral to your volunteer management strategy as their recruitment, training and retention. “

NCVO – Quick guide to thanking volunteers

Let’s get thinking now about how you can show your volunteers you appreciate them, which in turn will lead to your volunteers staying with you as they will feel happy and valued. Retention is a talent volunteer managers need to cultivate!

A simple ‘thank you’ or ‘you’ve been a star’ is a great way to show your appreciation, but as it says above, you should mean it and it should never be a token gesture.  Volunteers need to feel welcome, appreciated and part of the organisation and it needs to be an integral part of your volunteer management.

There’s also the question of who should thank volunteers.  It would be great if it’s not just the person who looks after the volunteers on a day-to-day basis, but the Chairman or Chief Executive. You could put on an afternoon tea or coffee morning for your volunteers and invite the Chief Exec to present certificates.

In Dudley borough we are very fortunate as part of the Mayor’s role is to be Volunteering Champion for their year in office. Our lovely local Mayors are always delighted to host visits for teams of local volunteers, giving them a tour of the Council Chamber, fascinating insight into the local history and also a cuppa afterwards.  They talk to every single invitee and are always happy to present certificates or say a few words of appreciation.

A nice gesture

“Every year we have a volunteer party and the Chairman gives us all a special certificate to show his appreciation for our efforts.  I love volunteering and would do it anyway, but it’s lovely to feel valued as it makes you feel like you’ve made a difference.  I really feel part of the team, we all do and it’s why we give our time every week.”

 Celebrating your volunteers need not cost a fortune and you could design your own certificates in house, or contact the Volunteer Centre who have lots of templates on file and will happily print you some off in colour on white card.  You could also have awards for length of service eg 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years etc.

To nominate or not to nominate – that is the question!

Nominating volunteers for local and national awards is a great way to recognise your volunteers, but not every volunteer is happy to be in the spotlight. You have some volunteers who just want to turn up and help, happy with their ‘thank you’ and attending a low key volunteer gathering, whereas others would love to be the centre of attention and have their evening dress/dinner suit on standby as soon as they receive an invitation to a volunteer awards event.  They have probably prepared an acceptance speech too just in case!  I’m sure you can identify volunteers you know from both these descriptions.  Not everyone likes to stand out and over the years we have had some very shy volunteers receiving awards at Dudley Volunteer Awards, who are really not comfortable with taking to the stage. That’s human nature and that’s why we love our volunteers isn’t it, because they are all unique with different personalities?

I’ve actually written a guide on this topic, which you will hopefully find helpful and get you thinking about how you can celebrate your amazing volunteers. A volunteer is for life, not just Volunteers Week!

Volunteers rarely give their time for the joy of recognition, but that doesn’t mean it won’t drive them to perform at higher levels or keep coming back to volunteer in the future.

In their own words …

Every year Dudley CVS run Dudley Volunteer Awards and this year’s #dva19 will celebrate and recognise amazing local people who give their time to make Dudley borough a better place to live.  Anyone can nominate an individual or group of volunteers and we launch the awards in Volunteers Week each year, with the closing date in early September. Each volunteer who is nominated receives an invitation to this wonderful celebration and have their name called out on the night, so they can be presented with a certificate. Here are some lovely snippets from #dva18 so you can share the pride of these outstanding volunteers.

Please don’t forget if you need any help or support I’m happy to help and that’s what I’m here for 🙂   Just contact me on eileen@dudleycvs.org.uk