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Four Top Tips for Managing Volunteers

1st to 7th June is Volunteers Week which has been set up to celebrate the contribution that millions of people make by volunteering.  According to NCVO, in 2018/19, 19.4 million (36%) people volunteered through a group at least once a year and over 11.9 million (22%) of people did so at least once a month.  With so many individuals getting involved, it’s important for organisations to understand how best to look after people who are offering to help out.  This is especially important if companies are going to stay the right side of employment law and not end up in a situation where a volunteer could be classed as an employee.  Below are some helpful ways points to remember when considering utilising volunteers.

Set the stage

It’s a good idea to set out a plan which shows how your company will look after employees.  Consider creating a volunteer strategy outlining what you want to achieve by using volunteers and how they will help you accomplish the organisations aims.  If you are planning on paying expenses, define what will be reimbursed in an expenses policy.  Volunteers are not employees so grievance and disciplinary processes should not be used – instead, set up a problem-solving process which outlines how your organisation will handle any issues.

Putting in place a volunteer policy will allow you to create a useful guide on how your organisation plans to recruit, induct and train, treat, supervise and look after the health and safety of volunteers.

Finally, make sure you have a volunteer agreement ready to use.  This should not read as an employment contract and you should avoid using contractual sounding wording such as ‘you agree to volunteer for at least six months’.  Volunteers should not be paid for their work and should not be obligated to work specific hours so the volunteer agreement needs to be carefully worded to avoid an employment situation.

Offer support

Volunteers offer a valuable resource and, although they are not employees, they will still benefit from guidance and support.  Have regular meetings where your volunteers can discuss the successes they have had, what they’re enjoying, where they may benefit from further support/training and any difficulties they are having.  This can be a valuable opportunity to provide and take feedback which may show areas where the organisation can improve the volunteer experience.

Peer support can also be invaluable for volunteers so consider setting up a buddy system, or similar, to allow volunteers to learn from each other and discuss any problems.

Make sure you say thank you!

Volunteers are giving up their time for free so make sure they feel appreciated, a simple thank you goes a long way.  Although they cannot be paid for their time, you can pay expenses such as travel costs, meals and refreshments, equipment costs and costs for looking after dependants.  It’s important that any expenses paid are for out-of-pocket costs, otherwise they will become taxable.

Solve problems quickly

As mentioned earlier, disciplinary and grievance processes should not be used for volunteers as they are not employees.  This is where the problem-solving process is important.  The process should explain how the organisation will investigate problems, who will look into issues, what will happen if problems continue and how volunteers can appeal decisions taken as part of a problem-solving process. 

If there’s a situation where there’s a breach of conduct or the services of a volunteer are no longer needed, the problem-solving process should be used to manage the situation.  NCVO recommend scheduling time to meet the volunteer, and giving them the opportunity to bring someone with them to the meeting.  At this meeting, you should explain that they are being asked to leave and give them the reasons for this.  After thanking them for their contribution, the meeting can be ended, and should be followed up in writing.

Volunteers can offer a valuable resource for businesses and you can read more about how to manage them at the National Council for Volunteering Organisations website,  If you would benefit from help in setting up volunteer agreements or getting advice on how to ensure you do not end up inadvertently employing a volunteer, please get in touch with View HR for an initial discussion.