Supporting your volunteers

All volunteers should have a named person who will offer on-going personal support that allows them talk through any issues and problems that they have. 

This can be offered in a variety of ways, including:

  • regular, pre-arranged one-to-one support sessions

  • informal day-to-day support, for example, checking in with volunteers at the end of each session

  • telephone support

  • review/development/evaluation sessions at fixed points during the year

  • getting in touch at key points, for example, after a potentially stressful session

  • group support – getting volunteers together to share ideas and experiences

  • peer support – using experienced, long-standing volunteers to support new volunteers

  • training – all volunteers should have the training necessary to equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to carry out their tasks safely and effectively

The way in which your organisation offers support to volunteers will be determined by a variety of factors, such as:

  • the type of organisation

  • the nature of the volunteer task

  • the needs of individual volunteers and the resources available

A good support system will incorporate elements of practical, organisational, information and personal support to volunteers. At the start of a volunteer’s involvement with the project you should take the time to discuss what they think their support needs will be and what you feel is appropriate to their role and agree on the best method of providing support.

Remember that a volunteer’s support needs may change during their involvement with you and so it is important to review regularly the way in which support is offered.

A good support system for volunteers will:

  • ensure volunteers can claim their rights

  • ensure that volunteers can carry out their responsibilities in line with their role or task descriptions and the volunteer agreement

  • set objectives

  • assess and identify training needs

  • exchange information and ideas

  • allow early intervention in problems or issues

  • help you gauge the stage and needs of the volunteer

  • a time to praise particular aspects of their work or conduct etc.

Making the support effective

When considering how you are going to structure your support and supervision sessions, it is a good idea to think about what factors can affect how effective the session will go with your volunteer, particularly if you need to address something with them.

For a session to be effective you should:-

  • schedule enough time

  • ensure there is privacy

  • have clear structure

  • assure confidentiality

  • keep appropriate records

  • set date for next session

  • agree future plans where appropriate

  • finish on a positive note

A good support session is essential and therefore you should avoid:

  • noisy environments

  • late starts

  • appearing like you are in a rush, distracted or allow interruptions

  • no summary at end of session

  • no agreement when next session will happen

  • finishing on a non positive note

Remember that your support and supervision structure has to suit your organisation and your volunteer roles.  It is a chance for you and your volunteer(s) to have space to look at all aspects of their volunteering. 

It is also an opportunity to:

  • obtain information

  • empower and coach your volunteer

  • evaluate how the relationship and role is working

  • motivate