5 essential components to a good volunteering programme
At first sight, having international volunteers doesn’t seem hard at all. They need housing, information about transport, tasks to work on and that’s about it. However, this basic approach does not really help maximizing the impact of volunteers’ presence, prevent unwanted incidents and give our volunteers an enriching experience personally and professionally.
Being able to rely on a good volunteering programme is, therefore, necessary to the success of our projects. Ideally, all parts involved should benefit from the volunteers’ presence (including volunteers themselves). Have you already developed a volunteering programme?
If you have not, you’d better get started. Volunteers are important human resources full of potential, needs and potential risks. By designing their experience you will be able to increase its value and the impact for the organization and its beneficiaries.
We are not about to tell you how to design a volunteering programme from scratch: it would be impossible in less than 1.000 words. However, we would like to highlight some of its components that, in our experience, are very important in order to succeed. Are they already part of your programme?
Questions: how does the volunteer role integrate the organigram? What is the level of responsibility? What are the tasks and within which department?
It is important because… It helps you manage the volunteer’s expectations and his/her workload, preventing disappointment. Moreover, it helps you offer a structured and organized image of your NGO.
What to do: after analyzing your organization’s needs and structure, write a concise, but detailed text in order to describe what needs to be done. Do not hesitate to create different roles for different profiles, and even give them a name (academic assistant, tutor, communication assistant, …) Publish this description on the website and all recruitment channels. Add it to your informative dossier too, if you have one.
The volunteer’s selection process
Questions: which volunteers are suitable for the identified roles? Which personal and professional characteristics should they have? How do you know if they are trustworthy?
It is important because… a volunteer who is not suitable for the role won’t be able to benefit the organization nor to enjoy the experience. In extreme cases, wrong candidates can affect the well-being of our beneficiaries.
What to do: make sure the volunteer goes through a thorough selection process, always including an in-person interview (or Skype) and professional or academic references. Do not be afraid of saying “no” if a candidate doesn’t seem suitable. If you work with at-risk individuals, ask for a criminal background check.
Questions: who should the volunteer contact in case of emergency and how? How to facilitate communication and exchange between staff and volunteers? In case they need to complain, how can they reach your manager or director? What kind of information is ok to share with volunteers and what is not?
It is important because… a volunteer must feel safe and supported at all times, especially in case of unforeseen events or obstacles. But it is not only about emergencies. Good communication between staff and volunteers is productive and stimulating, if information shared are not violating anyone’s privacy (sometimes, private information about beneficiaries is not to be shared).
What to do: share with the volunteer a list of contacts (the coordinator and the rest of the team) encouraging him /her to call anytime he/she needs. Set up formal or informal team meetings, including both staff and volunteers, encouraging their participation.
A reward system and thank you
Questions: how to make your volunteers feel like they are making a difference?
It is important because… volunteers might work for free, but you cannot forget to reward their hard work.
What to do: depending on the volunteer and on your resources, you’ll find your own way! Ideas include: goodbye party, a present, a free coupon, a certificate, a t-shirt, a special post on social media… And obviously, say THANK YOU!
A safety net and contingency plans
Questions:what to do if the volunteer gets hurt? What if he/she gets hospitalized? If he/she is kicked out of the apartment? In other words, how to deal with an emergency?
It is important because… volunteers are your responsibility (especially if very young) and you must be ready for everything, including unpleasant events like accidents or diseases. It is hard for them to deal with emergencies alone in a foreign country they don’t know much about.
What to do: first of all, ask for emergency contact details and insurance details at registration. Make sure you know which are the most probable risks (risk assessment) and tell him/her about them as a precaution. And obviously make sure you know how to act in case of emergency: who to call, how to transport the volunteer, …
Picture from Working Boys Center