Volunteering is on the rise with research by UK Civil Society Almanac 2016 showing that 27% of adults in England formally gave unpaid support or assistance to groups, clubs or organisations benefitting charitable, social, or ethical cause at least once a month in the previous year.
There is no legal definition of a volunteer and as such they are generally defined by simply not being employees or workers. Volunteering is essentially unpaid and while reimbursing out-of-pocket expenses is good practice, giving or receiving payment for work creates a different kind of relationship to that between a volunteer and the group or organisation.
There is also no law that protects the rights of volunteers. As they are not employees they are not protected by anti-discrimination laws such as the Disability Discrimination Act in the way that a paid employee is.
Now in the main, volunteers pose a low risk as they tend to be people who choose to volunteer, do not want employment and do not expect to be paid a wage for example. However, despite the lack of law to protect volunteers, engaging them is not completely risk free. As with other types of employee or worker, where the working arrangement is not defined clearly and mutually understood this could pose a risk. Not having any guidelines can lead to volunteers being overused, taken advantage of or unable to learn new skills and develop as a result of their experience. In the worst situation for employers, a lack of clarity can mean that volunteers may try to claim to have been employed.
Our recommendation is to have a clear and written approach and guidance for your volunteers to ensure that you have the same expectations of the project from day one. While your organisation might be concerned about entering into a formal agreement (and your heart may sink at the thought of another policy!). It does not have to be overly bureaucratic and there are just a few things to consider in your volunteering policy:
- Any payments (for example travel expenses) should be a genuine reimbursement rather than a fixed amount per week;
- Volunteer training should be linked directly to the role the volunteer carries out;
- Volunteer relationship is more about expectation, not obligation;
- How will you address any concerns or unsatisfactory performance/behaviour from a volunteer;
- If necessary, volunteer signs volunteer agreement, not contract.
Our top tips for engaging employees beyond policies and procedures are:
- Remember that volunteering is a two-way relationship – schedule some time to collect feedback to assess volunteers’ satisfaction with their roles. This is important part of understanding and knowing your volunteers;
- Revise roles to ensure they stay relevant and valuable;
- Provide new opportunities for keeping volunteers involved and motivated;
- Don’t forget satisfaction: volunteering is all about sharing knowledge and getting the feeling that you are valued and appreciated for your help – so give a feedback to the volunteers for their work in order to keep their commitment high;
- Further inspiration for volunteers could be found with an explanation of how their role contributes to the wider goals of the organisation.
We hope volunteering will give you enormous enjoyment and satisfaction and we believe every moment spent on developing your commitment to volunteering has a direct impact and contribution to the achievements of your charity.