Volunteer management – insights from Jill Ritchie

We’ve had the pleasure of reading leading fundraising strategist, Jill Ritchie’s latest book – Fundraising for non-profits . It has a wealth of information on relevant topics for Causes – established and new!

If you enjoy and find this content useful – you can buy the book by clicking here.

“Jill Ritchie has spent over three decades raising money for and advising causes as diverse as anti-apartheid organisations, environmental projects and the performing arts. She has raised over R2 billion for South African and SADC region. Combining a background in commerce and marketing as well as extensive experience as a writer, Jill consults on all aspects of fundraising, capital campaigns and resource mobilisation planning.”


We’d like to share an excerpt from the chapter on Volunteer Management

“It is important to understand volunteerism in order to manage people who don’t work for money”

Topics included in this chapter are:

  • Who volunteers?
  • Why do people volunteer?
  • Benefits to volunteers
  • Advantages of having volunteers
  • Does using volunteers save money?
  • Disadvantages of having volunteers
  • Volunteers’ right
  • A volunteer co-ordinator
  • The supervision of volunteers
  • Recruiting volunteers
  • Volunteer application form
  • Orientation of volunteers
  • Contracts and volunteers

Have you ever really thought about WHY people volunteer? We all think we know why volunteers are important & needed, but you may be surprised to hear the reason for people volunteering!

“During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, 40 000 South Africans applied to volunteer for the 4 000 volunteer positions available. Seventy percent were allocated to South Africans, 20% to people from the rest of Africa and 10% to volunteers from elsewhere in the world. The latter two groups had to cover their own travel costs to South Africa. People who elect to volunteer come from numerous groups and include:

  • The unemployed while looking for paid jobs
  • People with independent incomes
  • Students
  • Retirees
  • The physically or intellectually challenged
  • Part- or full-time employees
  • Overseas visitors
  • Foreigners with a spouse or partner working in the country but who don’t have their own work permits
  • People who want to ‘give back’
  • Church, youth or school groups
  • Sports teams
  • Corporate groups.”

Causes should recognise that there are definite benefits to volunteers – understand that volunteering is not just a one-way transaction!

“Everyone who volunteers receives something less tangible, including:

  • A chance to mix with people with similar interests
  • An opportunity to interact with and learn about people from all walks of life
  • Attending social events
  • Opportunities to use their skills
  • Receiving training in new skills
  • A chance to prove their reliability
  • A chance to ‘give something back’
  • An opportunity to consider career options
  • Work experience for CV
  • A reference
  • Having fun
  • Taking on a challenge.

Of course there are also certain disadvantages of having volunteers help at your Cause:

“Downsides of utilising volunteer help could include:

  • Unreliability
  • Paid staff not having enough time to manage volunteers
  • Volunteers’ not doing what is required of them.”

We’d like to highlight Jill Ritchie’s views on what needs to be discussed with volunteers BEFORE they start:

It is vital that potential volunteers who apply to assist an NPO are properly interviewed and requested to supply information. The following list includes useful ‘getting to know you’ points to discuss with potential volunteers and also to include in application forms.

  • The fact that they may not be considered suitable for a specific volunteer task, what will happen in such a case (there may be a more suitable task for them within the NPO or they may be referred to another organisation)
  • Information about the settling-in period
  • Information about the volunteer task
  • Details about the orientation and training offered
  • The volunteer policy
  • Information on the organisation, such as current projects and funders
  • Who they will be working with
  • How long they will be expected to stay
  • Why the organisation requires references and the procedure for checking them
  • When and how they will be informed of the outcome of their application to volunteer.”

A Volunteer application form or vetting form is a handy tool to use to make sure you have all the necessary information before the person starts volunteering at your Cause. We actually have a few examples you can use! Take a look at the Managing Volunteers section on our blog!

Recruiting volunteers is very much like recruiting full time (paid) employees. You need to make sure the person is the perfect fit for the role. A lot of Causes feel they have to accept any volunteers, but this is definitely not a practical approach. Pretend you are running a business and you need to hire the absolute best candidate for the position.

Jill writes: “When assessing completed application forms, don’t only look at the answers, also look at how neatly and legibly the form has been completed and note the spelling and grammar. If the volunteer tasks include writing, this is an opportunity to check whether they have the required skills. Look at questions not answered. Check that dates of previous employment or volunteer work match and that there are no unexplained long gaps in the employment. Note points needing querying with the potential volunteer. There may be genuine reasons for anything that seems unusual but it is better to check these. The application form can be sent after a telephone interview or distributed to interested people after talks. Even if someone proceeds no further than completing an application form, it is useful to keep forms for a few years. If someone else takes over the role of volunteer co-ordinator, they will need a record of all applicants and why they were not successful, in order to prevent time wasted in seeing the same people again. An application form must be easy to complete and reader-friendly and should not be considered a stand-alone selection method. It is important to check the information during the interview stage.”

Contracts are another useful tool to ensure the volunteers abide to the Cause’s rules and there are no misconceptions:

“Many organisations have volunteer agreements, although not legally binding. They are merely informal agreements between the parties. They can be useful as they reaffirm the importance of volunteers’ roles within organisations. Such agreements should also benefit volunteers as they provide the assurance of the organisation’s commitment to the volunteer programme and to them as individuals. Signed agreements do not prevent volunteers from leaving or from breaking rules. They do, however, lower the chances of them doing so as they will have been made aware of the resultant difficulties to the organisation. Instead of drawing up lengthy agreements, reference should be made to the orientation checklist, volunteer policy and volunteer task description.”

Jill Ritchie suggests using a volunteer co-ordinator to make sure you get the most out of your volunteer programme:

“A volunteer programme can only be successful if well planned and managed. Someone should co-ordinate such a programme. Depending on the number of volunteers, a volunteer co-ordinator may be a full- or part-time employee (or him or herself a volunteer.) If an NPO only has a few volunteers, the co-ordinator may have other responsibilities too. A volunteer co-ordinator’s tasks could include:

  • Overseeing the development of volunteer task descriptions
  • Arranging and facilitating orientation sessions for volunteers
  • Organising and facilitating volunteer training
  • Developing and managing recruitment campaigns for volunteers
  • Managing the volunteer programme budget
  • Facilitating the volunteer selection process
  • Facilitating the volunteer evaluation process
  • Facilitating problem-solving interviews with volunteers
  • Applying for references for volunteers
  • Keeping accurate records of volunteers
  • Measuring the success of a volunteer programme
  • Managing all aspects of the supervision of volunteers
  • Arranging events to thank volunteers
  • Dismissing volunteers
  • Conducting an exit interview
  • Saying ‘no’ to volunteers asking for things that NPO cannot offer
  • Developing good relationships with the media in order to promote the volunteer programme
  • Motivating funders to support the volunteer programme or support the organisation’s fundraiser in this task
  • Training and supporting staff in managing volunteers (how to conduct a problem-solving interview and how to facilitate a one-on-one training session).

A volunteer co-ordinator must be given the authority and backing needed to run such a programme, including authority over volunteers and if appropriate, over some staff members as well. It must be noted that the specific tasks performed by the volunteer determine who his or her line manager. Volunteers do not report to a volunteer co-ordinator. He or she merely fills the role of a human resource manager for volunteers. Note though that in smaller organisations or those with only a few volunteers, a dedicated coordinator is not practical and volunteers are generally   managed by their line manager. It is therefore important that the points listed above are addressed as they are often neglected.”

We hope you enjoyed this bit from Jill Ritchie’s latest book – Fundraising for non-profits.

If you’d like to order the book – you can do so here:

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