Help for not for profit and charity trustees

Volunteer communications

Communicating with volunteers can be tricky

With so many communication tools available these days, communicating with a charity’s volunteers should be easy. With email, WhatsApp, Facebook and so on, and not forgetting texting on the phone, surely no volunteer should be left out of the picture. But, strangely, problems remain. Trustees won’t be involved in the day to day issues but they should be satisfied that there is a system in place.

Part of the reason is that many volunteers are only doing a modest amount for the charity: it can be as low as an hour a week. There is a reluctance by the manager(s) of the charity not to burden them with a stream of announcements, updates and other material for fear of overloading them. Similarly, some of the changes taking place do not affect them anyway so why send yet another message which has little or no relevance to them?

On the other side so to speak, volunteers who are only doing a small amount of work do not want a load of stuff cluttering up their inboxes which only have modest relevance to them.

There is also an irritation with all the admin, governance, safeguarding, and associated training which is needed nowadays. I know anecdotally of several people – keen to volunteer – but who backed out when asked to undertake all the induction training and other matters surrounding their recruitment. After all, if you are only volunteering for a few hours that does mean not having to spend a whole day on some course or other to be able to volunteer, as well as more time on updating. Some find it over the top and are irritated by it all.

So how to resolve this? I can only suggest the following modest tips:

  • give it some dedicated thought so that communications, both with paid staff, volunteers and trustees, has some kind of plan to it. What you need/want to communicate, how often and in what form.
  • as far as possible, choose the medium which most suits the recipient. This should not be too much of a problem and switching material from one format to another is relatively easy by cutting and pasting for example. People are more likely to read something which is on their favourite platform. I confess to not being keen on WhatsApp, so only look at it infrequently. This means discussing with them what their preferred method is.
  • Give your message a heading and a short summary subheading (unless of course it is already very short). This will mean that people do not have/need to read the whole thing as the summary is all they need.
  • in this vein, make clear who the message is intended for. Certainly with ’round robin’ type communications, it is not always clear whether it’s for everyone. ‘Is this for me?’ is a frequent response I think for many.
  • As with any form of communication, trying to put yourself into the shoes of the recipient is key. You know what you’re talking about and what the background is, but do they?

Volunteers are typically that bit detached from the charity. If they work remotely and only rarely come into the office (if there is one) they can easily be forgotten or overlooked. If there is a staff member assigned to be the ‘volunteer officer’ or similar title, you have to make sure this is a two-way process i.e. that the volunteers are being listened to and their concerns finding their way to the management.

Finally, ensure that volunteers are thanked and not just some formulaic statement in the annual report. Remember, they are not doing it for the money and the occasional word of appreciation goes down well.

Peter Curbishley

Author of How to be a Successful Trustee ISBN 9781 913012 618

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