[cite]In this video, Heather Hicks, Chair of Lewes House of Friendship talks about their experience of involving volunteers[/cite]

It is the single most important question for any organisation working with volunteers! One of the best ways is to think about what volunteers could offer or bring to your organisation.  This may include particular skills, experiences, or perspectives that paid staff are not currently able to offer.

  • Volunteers often chose an organisation because they’re passionate about its aims – they may be previous service users with a unique perspective or have more direct (often personal) experience of the issue(s) an organisation is set up to tackle.
  • Involving volunteers can allow organisations to extend the service(s) they offer – some organisations run services predominantly delivered by volunteers, who far outnumber paid staff.
  • Enabling services that paid staff can’t currently deliver such as befriending, mentoring or home visits. It can also help to open services up to communities not currently accessing services.  For example, a volunteer with language skills may attract service-users who don’t speak English as a first language.
  • Involving volunteers also demonstrates organisation’s real commitment to working in partnership with the local community. For example, helping to involve under-represented communities, e.g. a refugee volunteer may encourage other refugees to start volunteering.
  • It may also offer skills that are otherwise missing such as finance, business planning, fundraising, counselling, IT or legal. Involving volunteers can help to direct organisations at strategic level through involvement as trustees/management committee members.
  • Organisations that can demonstrate the outcomes and impact of involving volunteers successfully can flourish because volunteers who enjoy volunteering with your organisation are quite likely to encourage their peers to get involved – word of mouth is still the most effective method of volunteer recruitment!

Above all, involving volunteers can be deeply beneficial as people volunteer because they want to, not because they have to. Each volunteer potentially bring bags of enthusiasm and will usually be very committed to an organisation’s aims because they have chosen to share their skills and time with a specific organisation.

The secret lies in understanding how to harness their enthusiasm by regularly revisiting why we involve volunteers and addressing a fundamental question. Not ‘what can volunteers do to help?’, but rather ‘what needs to be done?’ By focusing exclusively on what needs to be done, we can find real, often pioneering work for volunteers that meet the organisation’s needs.