Bring your volunteers out of the shadows – Do Good Jobs Employers

posted in: Writing Portfolio

Without volunteers, New Zealand would falter. Especially the do-good sector.

Volunteering New Zealand states 21.5% of Kiwi’s volunteer and the value of formal volunteering is estimated at 4 billion dollars annually. That’s about 159 million hours of formal volunteer labour each year. That is a lot of amazing people investing their time and skills toward a more sustainable and just world.

I’ve been a volunteer, worked alongside volunteers, worked as a Volunteer Coordinator and designed a few volunteer programmes in my time. Volunteer management practices in the sector vary wildly. Many organisations rely heavily on volunteers to run programmes, plug labour gaps or extend capacity, yet don’t extend their HR thinking and practices to their volunteers. We can do better.

Here are my top tips to remember to ensure your volunteer HR practices are robust:


#1. Respect all people – paid or not

The old stereotype that volunteers only do menial work is fast being left on a dusty shelf as people with incredible work experience step up to offer their specialist skills and services to the missions they are passionate about.

Every person, no matter what tasks they are doing, deserves respect and to feel valued by their colleagues and organisation’s management and governance. To bring our best selves to work, and to be productive, we need to feel safe and know we are respected. It’s on employers to set the stable foundation of healthy work culture and the boundaries of good HR practices.


#2. Know your volunteer’s rights

Legal responsibilities also lie on employers shoulders.  Volunteer rights are covered under the Human Rights Act 1993 and the Health & Safety at Work Act 2015.

The Human Rights Act exists to protect against discrimination and to ensure everyone has fair treatment in key areas of life, including employment, and the way employee is defined in the Act encompasses volunteering. The following is outlined as prohibited grounds of discrimination and cannot be referenced in volunteer listings:

  • Gender
  • Political opinion
  • Marital status
  • Religious belief (or not having a religion)
  • Colour, race or ethnic origin
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Age (this kicks in at 16 years and over)
  • Employment status
  • Family situation
  • Sexual orientation
  • Pregnancy.

If your volunteer role description refers to any of the above, it needs to be removed, pronto.


#3. Create robust volunteer management practices

Once you’ve recruited, do you have robust HR templates and practices in place for your volunteers? Do you develop job descriptions for each volunteer so expectations are clear? Do you ask them to sign a volunteer agreement? Have a code of conduct? Give an induction into the organisation? Have processes in place to deal with complaints? Have a policy outlining your dismissal process? Your answers to these questions will inform the work ahead.

Doing an anonymous survey of your volunteers, past and present and implementing exit interviews as people move on from volunteering their time, can offer vital information on how to improve.


#4. Think about the worst-case

Imagine what could possibly go wrong? Maybe one of your key volunteers goes off the rails. How do you let a volunteer go in a fair and legal manner?

I’m usually an optimistic person but I find it a helpful exercise to imagine worst-case scenarios to test your employment practices. Say there are serious complaints, from, or about, one of your volunteers.  How would it be handled with your current HR practices for volunteers? What could the fallout be for your brand? Your clients? Other employees? How could your organisation do better? This is useful to identify what needs to change.


Four failsafe steps to better Volunteer HR practice

  1. Identify organisations who are doing it well – read through their volunteer processes, policies and practices. To give you a headstart, Creative NZ has a good Volunteer Management Toolkit for reference.
  2. Do a complete review of your existing Volunteer Programme and your HR. Include recruitment. Identify the gaps. What is missing? Think back to your worst case scenario and work backwards – what is needed to safeguard your volunteers, paid employees, your programmes and your brand?
  3. Map what needs to be done. What policies, templates and resources need to be developed and who will do the work. And by when? Research possible funding options if you need to. Do you need to outsource the work? Plug it all into a timeframe.
  4. Access resources and templates available to help. Rather than recreating the wheel, explore what’s out there that you can customise. Ask other do-good leaders to share their resources. Check out Volunteering NZ and


What next? Bring your volunteers out of the shadows!

If volunteers are a considerable chunk of your workforce, you might like to hire a Volunteer Coordinator. Often the work of managing volunteers is piled onto another part-time position- which is when we get the double and triple barrelled job titles. This can mean the volunteer management work is at risk of not being prioritised. I am a big fan of having a standalone volunteer coordinator role.

Having the work your volunteers are doing present in your board reports is important too. Governance needs to be aware of the hours and contributions people are giving your organisation to be able to value them and factor volunteering into strategic direction.

People who volunteer are wonderful souls who give their time, experience and enthusiasm to support our mahi. Having all our people feeling valued is key to a healthy and productive organisational culture. Volunteers included.

Other useful reading:


The original piece is here on Do Good Jobs.

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