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We have thousands of volunteers in the Reach community – all keen to share their skills with a good cause. They might make a long term commitment or help you with a short term specific project. They will have a specific skill set, or series of professional skills, often with several years experience. Some volunteers are keen to support a specific issue, others are keen to share their skills with any good cause. Some skill sets are more common than others, but by posting our opportunities on LinkedIn and elsewhere, we attract new volunteers every day, even in the more obscure / less common skills sets. Volunteers vary in terms of how much time they can volunteer, and when; what they are interested in doing, and the way they want to apply their expertise. Our stories and blogs have some great examples of how volunteers with skills have helped organisations.
It’s tempting to start writing the role description immediately. But before you start writing, think carefully about what you want to achieve, but be flexible about how you do it. The volunteers you can recruit through Reach have valuable specialist expertise and they can make a really significant contribution to your work. They may have suggestions of how best to carry out the work. In our experience the most successful placements happen when the organisation is clear about its goals, and they then collaborate with the volunteer to define how they do the work.
What do you want to achieve?
Be clear about what you want to achieve by finding a volunteer with skills. Perhaps your organisation needs to increase its online reach or undertake an evaluation. Deciding what impact you want the volunteer to have is crucial to finding the best candidate. And it will help you ‘sell’ the role to the right person.
What do you want the volunteer to do?
How a volunteer can help you reach your goal? For example, if you need to generate more income the volunteer may raise your profile, write bid proposals or organise fundraising events. Or if you are struggling for time and capacity, do they need to be involved with planning and writing a fundraising strategy?
What are the core skills your volunteer needs? Don’t be afraid to be specific. This will help attract the right candidates. Remember that skills can be transferable – our volunteers come from various industries. For example, someone with marketing expertise could write great funding bids. Think creatively about the skills you want and the impact you want them to have.
Volunteers are different to paid staff and it is important to respect those differences in the role you create. You can make the commitment and responsibility appropriate for a volunteer using the following tips.
Chunk it up
Break the task into phases and recruit someone for the first phase. This helps you think through the first steps, and you might find that your needs change once you have completed the first phase. It can also be easier to recruit someone for a shorter project. Volunteers tend to prefer shorter assignments when they first join a charity. If you both agree, you can always extend later.
Spread the responsibility
If the role is mission critical to your organisation, make sure that you don't put all the responsibility on one lone volunteer. It is unfair to the volunteer, and risky for your charity. Share the responsibility with a team. You can always recruit more volunteers to build this team, if you need to. Don't ask volunteers to manage paid staff. Some volunteers may be happy to, but it can cause problems.
Leave enough time
It can take time to recruit and bring on board new volunteers, and they may take longer to carry out the work. Volunteers may only be available on a very part time basis or have to prioritise other commitments above your project. If your role is urgent, or time sensitive, it may not be suitable for skills-based volunteering.
Too often, enthusiastic volunteers with skills lose interest in an organisation simply because they don’t get prompt replies or their role isn’t clear when they get there.
Write a role description
This will help you make sure you have focused discussions with potential volunteers and make sure that you and the volunteer understand their responsibilities once they take on the role. This is particularly important in skills-based volunteering as the volunteer manager may have less specialist understanding than the volunteer. Having a written role description to refer to could help resolve any confusion that may arise.
A role description is similar to a job description. It should include the title, their manager, their time commitment, where they will work, the length of the role (whether on-going or a discrete project) and include a list of their agreed work tasks and goals. However, remember to emphasise that this is a voluntary agreement and not a contract, or you risk creating an employment contract by mistake.
Support and management
Who will manage the volunteer’s induction? And who will manage them long-term? Think about what they need to know about the organisation – your strategy, history, goals, stakeholders. Do they need to be introduced to the beneficiaries or service users? All volunteers need someone to guide and manage them and make sure they’re doing what the organisation needs. This doesn’t mean micro-management, but regular check-ins will make sure they are supported and producing the agreed work.
Where will they work? Make sure it’s clear whether the volunteer will work from home, hot-desk or use their personal laptop.
However fantastic your role and organisation may be, you need to win the attention of a professional who may not have heard of you and who may be exploring different options.
Along with your role description (which should be fairly detailed) you need to write an opportunity profile which sells the unique and exciting aspects of your organisation. It should also provide a taster of the role. If the role is unusual, explain the day-to-day activities to help the volunteer understand it. You can also ‘sell’ more standard (but no less valuable!) roles like, for example, treasurer, by highlighting the unique aspects of the role at your organisation.
You may have your own established process for recruiting volunteers, but asking people you find through Reach to complete another form or additional processes may be a barrier for some applicants and is likely reduce the amount of applicants you get.
Clearly state the impact the volunteer will have if they join you. Outline how your organisation and its beneficiaries will benefit from their time and input. Volunteers want to know that their work will make a difference. And tell the volunteer about how they themselves will benefit. The most sustainable volunteering is always a win-win. Outline personal benefits like new skills, professional development, gaining an understanding of new subjects or issues, making new contacts, feeling good about making a difference and the social side.
The Reach platform is designed to help you put together a role that meets the above guidance. The more time you invest in designing the opportunity and role up front, the more likely you will be to recruit the right volunteer who will make a real difference. Register, login now and upload your opportunity.