Effective operation of a volunteer program requires that there is a supportive working relationship between staff and volunteers. If either group does not understand the needs of the other, or if either group is distrustful of the other, the volunteer program cannot function effectively.
It is a primary role of the volunteer coordinator to make sure that both volunteers and staff are able to work effectively and agreeably together.
In focusing on gaining staff support, the volunteer coordinator should concentrate on providing staff with two over-riding feelings that the involvement of volunteers by the organisation. These are:
- A feeling that the involvement of volunteers is in the overall interest both of the staff person and the organization, i.e. that the benefit gained is worth the work required.
- A feeling of control over the process of volunteer involvement, including the ability to shape how volunteers will be involved and even the ability to not use volunteers if that is desired.
In gaining this staff support, the volunteer coordinator should concentrate efforts in the following areas:
- Conducting advance research about staff to learn about their previous experiences and history with volunteers, including whether or not the staff are involved as volunteers themselves.
- Involving staff in the development and design of volunteer jobs. This will enable you to develop jobs that are directly of value to staff and that will be more meaningful overall to the organisation.
- Involving staff in screening, orienting, and training volunteers. This will reassure staff that volunteers are receiving information that will make them more qualified.
- Making sure that the staff and the volunteer coordinator are in clear agreement over who is in charge of what regarding each volunteer. Having clear division of responsibilities will avoid confusion and resentment later.
- Involving the staff in supervision of the volunteers. This could range from granting complete managerial authority to the staff or else consulting with staff in supervisory decisions. The degree of involvement may be worked out with each staff person and will depend to a great degree upon their own preferences for amount of authority over the volunteer.
- Providing feedback to the staff on the results of the involvement of volunteers. Letting them now both about the benefits of volunteer use to their program and also letting them know about the effectiveness of their involvement and work with volunteers.
- Giving rewards and recognition to those staff people who work effectively with volunteers.
It is equally necessary that the volunteers understand the needs and concerns of the staff. Follow the same steps above with volunteers, making sure that they are matched with the appropriate staff person and have a clear understanding of their own role in providing assistance.
Think of the \’Volunteer-Staff Relationship\’ not as a contest between two groups of people, but instead as a triangular relationship involving the staff, the volunteers, and the volunteer coordinator. The role of the volunteer manager in the relationship is to keep working with both sides to maintain balance and understanding.
Adapted from Essential Volunteer Management by Rick Lynch and Steve McCurley,