Helping volunteers and staff who experience organizational changes

Staff can ensure that volunteers are aware of changes, feel valued in their role and have confidence in paid staff to lead them in the right direction within their organization.

Utilizing volunteers within an organization can be incredibly rewarding. Most volunteers come to an organization with content knowledge, passion and a desire to teach others. Many organizations could never be as successful or productive as they are without the expertise of volunteers.

However, organizations also experience challenges in utilizing volunteers. This often occurs when changes take place within the organization. How can an organization’s staff ensure that volunteers are aware of changes, feel valued in their role and have confidence in paid staff to lead them in the right direction?

Ideally, an organization’s staff would have all of the answers to the question’s volunteers ask. But realistically we know that isn’t possible and it’s likely that staff will get some details wrong or volunteers will misinterpret what is said or written. Maria Robinson once said, “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” This quote is relevant to organizations who utilize volunteers while experiencing change. An organization in change may not get all of the details of policies or procedures exactly right the first time. Looking back and emphasizing on misinformation or details that were overlooked isn’t productive. Rather it can be invigorating for staff and volunteers to work together to create what will be for the future.

A resource that staff and volunteers may find helpful is Our Shared Resources. This website provides examples of performance problems volunteers and staff may experience and suggestions for how the problems may be avoided. This resource can be used by staff working with volunteers, volunteers working with other volunteers, or staff working with other staff.

Table 1.1: Communicating with volunteers and staff in the face of problems

Problem with volunteer/staff

Suggestions to avoid problem

What is required of the volunteer/staff in the position is unclear

  • Have clear job descriptions

Volunteer/staff contributions is not recognized

  • Use formal and informal ways of recognizing volunteers
  • Reward volunteers individually, as well as in a group

Volunteers/staff don’t know when they are not performing well

  • Give regular and honest feedback
  • Conduct regular performance reviews

There are no opportunities for training and development

  • Provide regular training sessions
  • Utilize guest speakers to talk about various topics
  • Consider supporting the volunteer/staff in gaining qualifications

Managers don’t take the time to listen and understand their particular situation, changing experiences, and needs

  • Schedule time to listen to volunteers/staff
  • Ensure volunteers/staff know when the “best” time to approach you is
  • Gather regular feedback about various aspects of the program

Volunteers/staff doesn’t adapt well or cope well with change

  • Give plenty of notice about upcoming changes (whenever possible)
  • Ensure volunteers/staff understand why the change is necessary
  • Give support and encouragement

A volunteer/staff does not have the knowledge or skills to do the job

  • Have clear job descriptions, selection, and application processes
  • Consider using "skilled” or “professional” volunteers

There are not the resources or equipment necessary to do the job

  • Only put volunteers/staff in a role if you have the required resources

Organizations that are experiencing change must acknowledge that there will be challenges when utilizing volunteers. Keeping authentic, open communication within the organization and between staff and volunteers is key to creating an environment where volunteers and staff feel valued.

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