Inspiring Impact blog: Working with volunteers in impact practice

This blog first appeared on the Inspiring Impact website in March 2017. 

Inspiring Impact ran and live streamed an event on 2nd February 2017 that focused on the benefits of working with volunteers to measure impact practice. Three of our Impact Champs presented on their own experiences:

Based on their presentations, they have pulled together their top 11 tips for working with volunteers:

  1. Take a volunteering plus approach – build longer-term relationships with volunteers and support them to develop their skills. This might involve providing additional training or opportunities,where possible.
  2. Make sure the volunteers that you recruit have values that align with your own, and understand the challenges many voluntary organisations can face, particularly around time or skillcapacity.
  3.  Consider how you ‘match’ a volunteer to a group, based on their interests, geography etc. A correct match of learning styles and interests can be crucial in building a trusting working relationship. This is particularly important when it comes to impact practice, which may involve tricky discussions around what doesn’t work as well as what does.
  4. Allow volunteers to become an ambassador for your programme/organisation and help you with recruiting and training new volunteers.
  5. Volunteers can play the role of a non-judgmental, critical friend bringing with them a fresh outside perspective. They help create the much-needed space for staff to reflect on high-level strategic issues.
  6. Don’t shy away from recruiting volunteers with a limited knowledge of impact practice. Those with a strong skill-base in strategic or business planning, communications or data analysis can be incredibly valuable, and you can provide the training required to position this within an impact practice context.
  7. Ensure a consistent approach and language is used amongst all volunteers. Provide a glossary of key terms, or ‘how we explain’ certain concepts to avoid conflicting methods of delivery.
  8. Recognise, and make the most of the skills, talents and motivation that volunteers bring to any project. Map their skills into your work and see where they are most likely to make the biggest contribution. Give volunteers a choice on what they work on and invite them to contribute towards the shaping and improvement of your programme/services.
  9.  Practice what you preach and make sure you know what success looks like. Are the necessary feedback and data collection mechanisms in place to track how the volunteers are making a difference? Importantly, let volunteers know the impact of their work, and celebrate this! If they’re not involved in direct service delivery this is particularly important as they may not be able to see the immediate impact of their work.
  10. Maintain regular communications with the volunteers and with the groups they support. This helps to maintain engagement, and to ensure that everything is on track.
  11. Volunteers are often best involved in projects, services or programmes that are already well-established, rather than processes that your organisation is trying out for the first time. If you’re trying something new, you might want to do a mini pilot with paid staff before bringing in volunteers.

If you like what you’ve read, watch the full event for more insights on working with volunteers.

If you have any further questions for any of the speakers, they’re very happy for you to get in touch with any questions. Their email addresses are included above.

Special thanks go to Dr Jurgen Grotz from NCVO Institute of Volunteering Research for chairing the event.