Some volunteers will be happy to come in and carry out the same tasks week in and week out for years, but others may need a fresh challenge, or will have specific aims that they want to achieve through their volunteering. If you don’t take this into account your volunteers may end up leaving before they otherwise might, or at the very least will not be giving as much time and effort as they could. For many people the benefits that volunteering can bring around work experience, confidence building, learning new skills and trying new things are exactly what they are looking for, so it makes sense to highlight and enhance these aspects where appropriate. Ultimately, the more you put into volunteering, the more you will get out of it
However, not all volunteers want to develop their skills or attend training and I can attest to that as I have memories of trying to persuade two octogenarian volunteers that they needed to attend child protection training during one of my numerous volunteer roles. That’s the challenge though don’t you think? Striking a balance between essential training for a voluntary role, such as child protection, food hygiene, dementia awareness etc. and offering training which could be considered not relevant, possibly unwittingly creating a contract with your volunteers. You have to be careful with offering volunteers opportunity to develop beyond that which is relevant to their role for the same reason. I think the secret is possibly about managing expectations and offering appropriate development, and training should a volunteer require it.
I had a full skills analysis when I started my role
“As part of my induction I was encouraged to do a skills analysis myself, then discussed the results with the volunteer co-ordinator. It was a bit scary and I don’t think I have many skills, as I left school with poor grades and haven’t worked for years. Mark helped me identify skills I did not realise I had and also talk about new ones I would like to learn. The skills are a real mix and include things like dealing with telephone calls, learning how to use the photocopier and also personal things like feeling more confident about my own abilities. We have a plan which we’ve worked out together and I record what I’ve learnt in my volunteering journal. When we have support sessions we sit down together and see how I’m doing with my plan. There is no pressure and I can do as much or as little learning as I like, but I feel it’s really helping me identify the skills I need to get back into employment and push myself. This is really helping me with my self-esteem”
This sounds like a really good thing for a volunteer to do doesn’t it? It’s offering the volunteer the opportunity to go at their own pace and the journal is a great way to log what they have learnt, which in turn will help them with job applications. It’s also really clear that the organisation is offering tailored development and training opportunities. Unlike employees, volunteers should not be saddled with too great a burden. This is not meant to belittle the volunteers, but rather to present them with realistic goals. Provide volunteers with clear, accurate, and concise goals from the beginning so they have direction and can produce quality results from the start.
“Training means different things to different people and there are many ways that people learn. Volunteers may need less formal training than paid staff as they may be doing very specific roles for limited periods. However, it is important that they be given opportunities to get feedback on how they are doing in the role.
Without being too formal, supervision and support sessions can provide these opportunities. Volunteers can think about their work and how they contribute to the organisation’s objectives. Volunteers like to know about any changes coming that are likely to impact on them! “
Volunteers obviously need to be trained to carry out their role, but there is no reason for training to stop there. Opportunities for ongoing learning mean volunteers have the chance to grow and develop. This does not have to be whole day training courses – you could run short workshops as part of a volunteer meeting for example. Training must be relevant to the role however. Training that is merely offered as a perk and not to support or develop what the volunteer is doing could affect the legal status of the volunteer, giving them access to some employment rights. Ask the Volunteer Centre if you want to know more about this issue.
In Service or Core Training
Look at your organisation to see whether there are core elements which apply to all new volunteers, and which you do not think are currently included in your induction programme. Volunteers may require training in respect of their tasks, together with additional training in relation to:
- equal opportunities – everyone is entitled to expect equal treatment
- rights and responsibilities of volunteers
- basic listening skills (if in times of emergencies/busy periods, you require all volunteers to answer telephone enquiries)
- Health & safety, first aid etc.
What have I done? I’m now trapped with expectations I can’t manage!
“So I started volunteering for XXXXXX 2 months ago and when I first started I was told I could take my time to work through the various training modules I need to do to be a fully-fledged volunteer. Unfortunately I’ve now been told that I have to complete all 7 modules in my first 6 months and up by commitment from 4 hours a week, to 8! I can’t do that many hours as I work part-time and have caring commitments. It seems really unfair and they have also made me fill in a holiday form for when I need to take time off, plus I have to ring at 9:00 am to notify them if I can’t come in. Last week I was really poorly with a bad cold and they were texting me every morning, asking when I was coming back.”
Reading this through this voluntary role it’s starting to look like an employment contract – completing training in a fixed amount of time, having to make a fixed larger commitment and also having to fill in a holiday form – don’t you think? It sounds like the training and development goals set when the volunteer started have suddenly been changed without consulting the volunteer.
I was offered this great training but it’s been a disaster and I’ve now been slapped with a bill for £1200! Should have read the small print!
“I’ve wanted to be a counsellor for as long as I can remember but the training courses are quite expensive, so I could not believe my luck when I found a charity who offers a training course as part of the role for free. I had been on the induction, they had sent off my DBS Check and I had one more session to go on the training when we were told that if we did not commit to 250 hours of counselling support in the six months after qualifying, we were liable to repay the cost of the training – £1200! When I worked it out that’s 10 hours of counselling support a week and that does not include supervision for us, which we have to pay for ourselves! What am I going to do? I have two little ones and work three evenings a week.”
Sometimes things are too good to be true and some organisations are so desperate to recruit trained volunteers to support vulnerable clients that they unwittingly end up creating a contract with their volunteers. Insisting that volunteers have to offer 250 hours of counselling over a 6 month period, or have to repay their training costs, is creating a contract with any volunteer who commits to undertake the training, which could result in the organisation being sued for employment rights!
I’m moving on
“I’ve really grown whilst I’ve been volunteering with XXXXXX and I now feel confident enough to start applying for paid work again. The things I’ve learnt have all helped me grow as a person and the training I’ve attended such as listening skills, mental health awareness and basic first aid, means that I no longer have great gaps in my CV. I can’t thank them enough for giving me a chance to volunteer in the first place and I am more than happy to tell my story to help encourage others to volunteer there too.”
An argument against putting effort into volunteer development could be that you will lose some volunteers as they use their skills and confidence to find work. This is true, but it should be seen as a success, not a drawback. By their nature, volunteers come and go. If they leave having had a good experience, they will tell friends and family – good word of mouth is a valuable recruitment tool. In addition, they may still wish to support your organisation in future, through donations or one-off/occasional volunteering.
Developing volunteers is about helping them to achieve their aspirations, both personal ones about how they want to develop and mutual, where their development will help the organisation they volunteer for.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org