A volunteer manager may be coordinating several hundred volunteers or managing volunteers that are working remotely, so finding the time to talk to each individual or group may be difficult. However, volunteers, like most of us, need some form of ongoing support to help them to do their role to the best of their abilities.  

Implementing a robust support system will keep your volunteers happy and enable them to talk through any issues and problems that they may have, while helping to ensure that your volunteers’ energy and enthusiasm is harnessed to benefit your organisation.  

Support should:  

  • Focus on the volunteer as a person 
  • Create an environment where volunteers can express themselves 
  • Reassure where necessary 
  • Ensure the volunteer feels that their work is valued 
  • Alert you to possible changes or personal issues affecting the volunteer 
  • Provide an opportunity for both positive and negative feedback 
  • Pick up on any concerns or problems the volunteer has with their work and deal with them before they become more serious  
  • Enable the volunteer to cope with effects from their volunteering role 
  • Help to identify ways in which volunteers can grow and develop in their lives and in their volunteering roles. 

As with most areas of volunteer management, there is no single ‘right’ way to offer support to volunteers. Different volunteer tasks will require different types of support and you will also need to take into account the differing needs of individual volunteers. For example, a befriender in a hospice will need different support than a volunteer in a community café.  

Further support might be needed if an individual has an illness, additional support needs or generally lacks confidence. Although different volunteers need different levels of support, it is important that all have equal access to support, whether they use it or not. 

Ways of offering support 

All volunteers should have a named person who will offer ongoing personal support that allows them to talk through any issues and problems that they have. This can be offered in a variety of ways, including: 

  • Informal day-to-day support e.g. checking in with the volunteers at the end of each session
  • Regular telephone calls or e-mails. This is an especially useful method for volunteers who don’t work in the office
  • Peer support – using experience long standing volunteers to support new volunteers  
  • Specific session times when the coordinator is available to volunteers 
  • Formal supervision meetings which allow for a regular one to one discussion following a set agenda 
  • Group support - getting volunteers together to share ideas and experiences
  • Meetings of staff and volunteers 
  • A volunteer newsletter, social media group or notice board 
  • Regular social events or training  
  • Getting in touch at key points, e.g., after a potentially stressful session. 

The way in which your organisation offers support to volunteers will be determined by a variety of factors, such as the type of organisation, the nature of the volunteer task, the needs of individual volunteers and the resources available. A good support system will incorporate elements of practical, organisational, information and personal support to volunteers.  

At the start of a volunteer’s involvement with the project, you should take the time to discuss what they think their support needs will be and what you feel is appropriate to their role and agree on the best method of providing support. Remember that a volunteer’s support needs may change during their involvement with you and so it is important to regularly review the way in which support is offered. 

Resources  

In order to provide support to volunteers, someone in the organisation needs to have the skills, time, resources and support to carry it out. Staff who manage volunteers need training and support and it should be part of their job description. Wider staff also need to understand that supporting volunteers can benefit everyone.  

NCVO Know How - Supporting your volunteers