Best Practices for Training Your Staff in Supervising Volunteers

Posted Thursday, November 30th, 2017 by Sterling Volunteers Staff

Best Practices for Training Your Staff in Supervising Volunteers

Think back to the first time that you volunteered. What made the experience memorable? Was it the organization and the work that you did for that organization? The people you worked with? The person designated as the volunteer supervisor? The entire experience could be dependent on how well the supervisor led their volunteer team. How did the supervisor make you feel? What was their attitude and did their attitude affect your ability to do your work effectively as a volunteer? Betsy McFarland, Principal of Adisa, discussed the basic skills and characteristics of good volunteer supervision and how a supervisor has a direct impact on an effective volunteer program in our most recent webinar, “How to Train Your Staff to Succeed With Volunteers”.

The Characteristics of Good Volunteer Supervision

Volunteer supervisors are an important link between volunteers and the goals of the organization. What are the characteristics of a good volunteer supervisor? Good supervision is supporting others to be successful in their work. Supervisors should allow independence, give help and support and allow the volunteer to have ownership of their responsibilities and ultimately feel empowered. A good volunteer supervisor succeeds at these basic skills:
  • Provides clear direction
  • Involves volunteers in the planning and setting of goals and expectations
  • Gives the team freedom to do the work
  • Checks in regularly to monitor progress and help resolve issues
  • Builds trust
  • Is a good listener
  • Is excited by the success of others
  • Is more “coach” than “boss”
Supervisors build trust by accurately describing the volunteer position and supporting the volunteer. They have the attitude that well-placed volunteers are truly partners. Volunteer supervisors ensure the creation of meaningful, impactful work for volunteers while creating an environment of mutual accountability in their team. Supervisors realize that delegation is not the giving out of tasks or ‘jobs to be done.’ It involves explaining the outcomes and results they are expected to achieve. Volunteers are then expected to work out the ‘how’ and the steps involved. Volunteers feel more engaged if they feel they are being trusted with important responsibilities or activities.

The Similarities and Differences Between Supervising Salaried Staff and Volunteers

Many organizations rely on a large staff of volunteers to assist in their work. Based on budgets, a volunteer staff could be ten times the size of regular staff. That makes the role of volunteer supervisor very important. Of course, paid staff might be worried that their jobs could be taken over by the non-paid volunteers. Betsy McFarland recommended that the recruitment team get paid staff involved in the volunteer hiring process. It is not always obvious to paid staff members, but volunteers enhance organizations and help them thrive and grow, which ultimately could result in even more paid staff getting hired. It is critically important to get buy-in from volunteer supervisors. When preparing to train paid staff to be supervisors, make sure of the following:
  • The staff/leadership volunteers are expected to create the volunteer description together
  • The staff has the opportunity to interview prospective volunteers
  • Expectations for working with volunteers are covered in new staff orientations
  • “Working with volunteers” is included in staff job descriptions
  • Staff are evaluated on their work with volunteers
There are both similarities and differences between paid staff and volunteers. In fact, there are more similarities then you would think. Each group should:
  • Have clearly written job descriptions
  • Undergo a screening and interview process
  • Have the correct orientation
  • Be given ongoing support and resources
  • Receive feedback, keep records, and give recognition
The differences between paid staff and volunteers comes down to certain limitations that come with being on the paid staff. There are not many restrictions on volunteers and they can have limitless opportunities on the work they do for an organization. The paid staff could be limited to working a certain number of hours or at specific times. Volunteers are not limited to when they work. They can work evenings or weekends or long or short shifts based on their availability. There are different passions between the paid staff and the volunteers on why they do the work that they do or why they volunteer for an organization. Many people volunteer to expand their skill set and to learn something new. Knowing these differences and similarities will help enhance any volunteer program.

Best Practices for Training Your Staff in Supervising Volunteers

A key point to remember for any volunteer program is that supervision has a direct impact on volunteer effectiveness and retention which ultimately affects the success of the volunteer program. Volunteers need to know what their role is in the organization and what impact they will have. Good supervision is not just delegating tasks. Its supporting others to be successful in their work and ultimately being thankful and appreciative of the work they have done. Remember that the impact of volunteers isn’t just on the numbers of volunteers, but how the program has benefited the organization. Did you miss the most recent Sterling Volunteers webinar? You can download, “How to Train Your Staff to Succeed With Volunteers” on-demand at any time. Does your organization use work plans to create helpful, detailed roadmaps to incredible results? We would like to hear your ideas! Connect with us on FacebookTwitterLinkedin and share your comments below.