Working with Volunteers

Who are volunteers?
There are important differences between paid employees and volunteers. One difference is that a volunteer is donating his/her time and effort and, therefore, can also choose the amount of time that will be devoted to the project. Also, the volunteer normally will not have the training and experience that a paid employee will have. Volunteers are usually motivated by the cause, the purpose and the goals of the organization rather than the specific tasks. Therefore, volunteers may do a task not because they necessarily enjoy doing it, rather because they believe in the goals of the organization.

Volunteers have certain needs and expectations that should be recognized by an organization. These needs and expectations can best be explained by looking at some of the reasons people give for doing volunteer work:

  1. Gratification from helping others, which in turn can enhance their own self-worth
  2. A source of stimulation and socializing
  3. Training and work experience

Where do volunteers come from?
Volunteers come from all walks of life – they are professionals and unemployed, young and old, lively and slow, outgoing and quiet, large and small, all race and all cultures. Although they are all different, they all should have one thing in common if they are participating in the Master Family & Consumer Sciences Volunteer Program – interest in expanding the capacity of Family & Consumer Sciences outreach and education.
When it comes to finding individuals that may be interested in volunteering for a specific Family & Consumer Sciences core program, the first place to start is to explore those partners, organizations and individuals that have participated in past Extension Family & Consumer Sciences programs. For example, if you are looking for volunteers to help with Master Volunteer healthy housing or home energy-related program, you may want to start with home occupants and individuals associated with the local housing authority, power utility and health department.
To broaden your volunteer pool and involve consumers related to any area of Family & Consumer Sciences, consider these sources for volunteer assistance but keep in mind that there is no need for volunteers to be associated with any group or organization, the main criterion for a good volunteer is commitment.

  • Extension Service Homemaker Clubs
  • American Association of Retired Persons
  • American Red Cross
  • Volunteer fire departments
  • Aging services (Area Agency on Aging)
  • Extension Service 4-H Clubs and other local youth organizations
  • Hospital Auxiliary
  • Community help line volunteers
  • Community senior citizens centers
  • Hardware stores from local community
  • Neighborhood housing services
  • Community Action organizations
  • Church groups
  • School service clubs (Family & Consumer Sciences, FFA, etc.)
  • Civic groups and organizations
    • Rotary
    • Optimist
    • Kiwanis
    • Lions

Securing Prospective Volunteers Planning
With sufficient publicity, anyone can fill a hall with volunteers, but a successful volunteer program demands more than a good turnout. Good planning can help develop a good volunteer program and avoid many unpleasant problems. Ideally, the sponsoring group(s) for the local Master Family & Consumer Sciences Volunteer Program would want to have a leader or coordinator for the volunteer program. This person would be responsible for the program and serve as a liaison between the volunteers and others working with the project. The leader should consider several of the following factors when developing the overall volunteer plan:

  • How many volunteers are needed?
  • What skills are required?
  • When are the volunteers needed?
  • What type of an attrition rate can be expected?

Recruitment - Example
If volunteers will come from the general public, rather than from groups listed earlier, public notices, flyers left on doorsteps, and announcements on radio and television may not be the best way to contact or recruit volunteers. Most individuals who volunteer do so because they have been asked; therefore it is important to ask. Publicity must be focused in the right places. Your best “advertisement” is a well-defined volunteer job description, accompanied by a brochure or other easy-to-read flyer describing the local Master Family & Consumer Sciences Volunteer effort and its goals. These materials should be distributed to people and organizations most likely to know volunteer candidates qualified for the job. Post those job descriptions, hand them out, or both. For example, if you are trying to recruit older volunteers, with permission place a job description in:

  • Senior centers
  • Area agencies on aging
  • Public libraries
  • Supermarkets
  • Pharmacies
  • Doctors and dentists offices
  • Senior housing developments
  • Churches and synagogues
  • Post offices

If you are planning to include youth as a part of your volunteer teams, with permission consider these locations:

  • Schools
  • Shopping malls
  • Recreation centers
  • Fast food restaurants
  • Pet stores
  • Music stores

If you are going to recruit volunteers from organizations, ask members of the organizations to include the job description in their newsletter, or post them on their bulletin boards. Better yet, ask to speak to their membership about your local Master Family & Consumer Sciences Volunteer initiative and the role volunteers would play in the project. Be sure to include on the job description the name, address and phone number of the person to contact for volunteer applications.

Volunteer Application - Example
Selecting competent volunteers is no different from selecting competent paid workers. Don’t settle for anyone as a volunteer, but the best qualified. Not all volunteers are able to do the work or work well with others. Since the quality of the volunteer’s work reflects on your program, set standards before selecting your volunteers and stick to them – that’s what a job description is all about. It is best to write a job description for the volunteer to follow.
The Master Volunteer Program leader/coordinator should be responsible for choosing volunteer participants. Before the job descriptions are distributed, assign staff or a volunteer to take the calls from potential volunteers and print applications to send them. The applications should include everything you need to know about the volunteer applicant.
Assign someone to read each application and someone to reply in writing to all who apply.

Screening Volunteers
Before selecting a volunteer it is important to visit with the individual to discuss the job description requirements and tasks, as well as the individual’s interest, background and expectations.
Why have an interview? Surely anyone volunteering should be allowed to give services freely without having to be “screened.” Why then, all this red tape? There are a number of reasons. First, it is the best way you can become acquainted with the volunteer and vice versa. It should indicate if the volunteer is suited for the project and it enables volunteers to openly consider how they can be used after getting a better idea of what is involved. It offers a chance for the volunteer to express likes, dislikes, and interests. This kind of exchange helps volunteers to choose a job they would like to try. Interviewing and other aspects of the selection and placement process are vital for the volunteer’s satisfaction since employment largely depends on the suitability of the job. There are of course, some volunteer jobs that almost anyone can do and, therefore, don’t require a detailed screening process.

Conducting the Interview
Volunteers need to know what they are to do and the boundaries of their job. The interview is an excellent time to explain all responsibilities.
Talk to prospective volunteers in a relaxed atmosphere. Help them see themselves as volunteers. Explain the following points:

  • What you want them to do
  • How often they will be needed
  • How long the project will last
  • What costs, if any, are involved (must provide their own transportation)
  • Qualifications for the volunteers
  • Audience to be reached
  • What volunteer will gain
  • Training opportunity provided

The screening process – including the personal interview – should include several questions:

  • Can the volunteer fill the job advertised in the job description?
  • Does the volunteer have the time to commit to the Master Volunteer Program and training?
  • Does the volunteer like to work with the target audience of the Master Program?
  • Will the volunteer work well in a team with volunteers older or younger?
  • If required, does the volunteer have the technical skills required for the volunteer program?
  • Does the volunteer believe in the goals of the program?
  • Does the volunteer have other skills and interests that may be helpful in conducting the program? For instance making posters, recruiting via telephone calls, promoting the project?

After selecting volunteers, keep a file card on each individual to record the days, dates, and hours that each will be available to work. The card should also include a space to identify other volunteers the person is assigned to work with.

How to Say “No”
If volunteer standards are to be maintained, sometimes you will have to say “no” to certain applicants. This process is never easy, but you can minimize the pain for all involved by:

  • Describing for the applicant other opportunities for volunteer work with the project. Rejection of volunteers can be destructive to the volunteer as well as to your program if rejected candidates convey their bitterness to others. This is especially true in small communities where word may spread fast, so try to suggest another way the volunteer can assist the project. Also, be prepared with a list of other community project or agencies who need volunteer help.
  • Arranging, if possible, for the project leader to give the unsuccessful candidate the bad news.
  • Scheduling the rejection as early as possible in the recruitment process. Often a straightforward discussion with the would-be candidate about the ways he or she may not be suited to the project prompts the volunteer to withdraw their application before anyone has to say “no.”

Providing Volunteer Support and Recognition
Volunteers are more likely to continue with the program if they know what to expect. Following are strategies that may help to retain volunteers:

  • Start working with volunteers as soon as possible
  • Plan training when and where convenient for majority of volunteers
  • Provide training which encourages teamwork, the team approach will give insecure volunteers confidence
  • Help volunteers feel responsible for success of the program
  • Compliment volunteers for the job they are doing
  • Help volunteers evaluate in-home visitations

Sincere recognition produces confidence and can motivate volunteers to continue as volunteers. Some ways to give recognition are as follows:

  • Day-to-day compliments
  • Participation Certificates - View Example
  • Added Responsibilities:
    • Train other volunteers
    • Work with another group on the same project or teach new program material to an old volunteer group
    • Recruit new volunteers
    • Serve on project advisory committee
    • Help with mass media publicity
Family and Consumer Sciences USDAMSU Extension