So many managers I meet can be anxious about working with volunteers. Sometimes there is a great sense of fear and uncertainty about how to find and support volunteers. Often there is a little embarrassment about asking someone, who is not paid to work, to undertake tasks. When I deliver training on working with volunteers, these are the first barriers and issues we have to deal with before we can move on to real practical considerations.
Like in staff recruitment, safeguarding is of paramount importance when selecting a volunteer. The process should be exactly the same as employing members of staff. Importantly, volunteer recruitment gives you the opportunity to not select a candidate who does not meet your person specification. It may seem obvious to say, but it’s amazing how many practitioners I have met who were afraid to say ‘no’ to a willing volunteer that was unsuitable. Sometimes our overzealous health and safety culture also prevents us from taking volunteers. But there are ways forward that safeguard the welfare and health and safety of all involved.
This is a great opportunity to include the community, and extra capacity and skills into your business. It can widen the impact and benefits you give to your community. Crucially, it can help you raise your quality, or bring new ideas. Let’s be clear, this is a two-way relationship. There are benefits for you and for the volunteers. Think: what can your staff team learn from a new and skilled volunteer?
Who volunteers? Lots of people volunteer from all walks of life, and from all ages and stages of their careers and lives. Some volunteer for brief periods. Others for most of their lives. What is volunteering? Volunteering England defines volunteering “as any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone… other than, or in addition to close relatives… Volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual”. Using that definition, I guess many of you reading this article will think you do lots of volunteering, at least unpaid tasks – now and in your own early career development. But it is a serious concern, there does need to be practical support and supervision in place, this is a professional practice and quality issue. Policies and procedures protect you, the volunteer and your children and families. They also make things clear and professional right from the start. I firmly believe that the more you put in, the more your volunteers will succeed and contribute to your setting, and ultimately achieve their goals.
Why do people volunteer? It is a way to develop a route into employment by providing the peace of mind their children are being cared for. And through volunteering we can help parents, and others for that matter, with routes to employment for their first time. We can also help with returning to employment after a break. And for some returners to work, like women returning from a maternity leave, a positive confidence boosting experience as well. We are told the days of having the same career for life are over, and many of us could have 2-3 different careers, and we are working longer into retirement, so volunteering helps people to make those changes in direction in their employment.
Some people simply want to try something new, give something back, or add interest and flavour to their CVs. Or they focus on the softer outcomes of meeting new people, making new friends, being social, or getting to know the local community. The emotional benefits can be transformational. Feeling part of a team, feeling valued, building self confidence and self-esteem are all vital for an individual’s well being and self-actualisation. They are also the skills and qualities employers look for in job candidates, and in well-functioning ‘performing’ teams. There’s going to be plenty of people needing this step into employment in coming months. Let’s do our bit to help them.