The Role of Volunteers in Associations

The Role of Volunteers in Associations

One of the major differences between not-for-profit organisations and other entities is the reliance on volunteers. Volunteers can play an important role to support some or all of the administration activities, approve membership applications or facilitate the combined learning of the members.

Although volunteers are a valuable part of an association, like all human resources, they must be managed effectively. Ensuring that volunteers are organised to make the most of their time and skills, and that they are equipped to work within existing processes and procedures, will result in a better volunteer experience and better outcomes for the association.

The Role of Volunteers

Before utilising any volunteers, it is important to understand the scope of their involvement. Volunteering Australia states that ‘volunteering is time willingly given for the common good and without financial gain.’ Whether engaged formally or informally, volunteers are always there to offer their services free of charge. Across Australia, it is estimated that over 6 million people volunteer every year. Many organisations depend on the work of volunteers but getting the best results for them depends on good management.

Volunteers in Not-For-Profits  

Non-profit organisations and associations are the most likely to use volunteers for activities such as fundraising, marketing and program delivery. These organisations often have low budgets and using volunteers allows them to achieve much more than they could otherwise. Additionally, many of these sorts of organisations are working towards a goal that people feel passionate about and willing to give their time to. 

Volunteers can take many shapes. Some people will offer their time on the ground, supporting in roles such as door-knocking or administrative tasks. Others are highly skilled and will be involved on a board of directors or run a fundraising campaign or special event.  

Managing Volunteers

A successful organisation knows how to harness the power of volunteers and manage them in an effective and professional way. When they achieve this, a volunteer base can assist to deliver vital services and programs, and can contribute to building the profile of the charitable organisation or not-for-profit. 

Ensure proper processes and procedures are in place

Associations should have policies and procedures to cover all the work expectations of the volunteers. When people are volunteering their time and skills, they want to feel that the work they are doing is meaningful, and they don’t want to feel like no one knows what to do with them. Manage the induction process carefully so that volunteers feel welcomed and ready to contribute from the beginning. Ensure volunteers are given access to the same process documents as a paid employee, including OHS policies and Privacy and Confidentiality documents.

Check volunteers’ credentials

Many organisations will require that their employees hold a Working With Children Check or Police Check. This should also be done for your volunteers, especially if their role will involve interactions with the community. Ensure volunteers are aware of and comply with all OHS obligations so that everyone stays safe.

Provide a job description

Providing a written job description with clear tasks and responsibilities will help the volunteer to make a more meaningful impact and will empower them to take ownership of their role within the organisation. A position description formalises the arrangement and makes the message clear that even though they are a volunteer and will not be getting paid for their work, there are still expectations in place.

Empower volunteers to contribute

Volunteers often come to organisations with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Take advantage of this skill set by being curious about the background of your volunteers and encouraging them to contribute their thoughts and insights wherever possible. Volunteers should be empowered to contribute to new policies, member product development, programs and events. 

Celebrate and reward volunteers

Volunteering is an admirable thing to do and volunteers should be recognised for their valuable contributions to organisations and to society as a whole. Just as you reward and celebrate the successes of paid employees, ensure that there is a process of recognition for volunteers. This plays a large role in motivating and keeping high morale in the organisation and will encourage your volunteers to continue working with you.

If you need help with your association's volunteers, contact the expert team at AES on +61 3 8393 9382.

About the Author: Nick Koerbin (Executive Director, AES)

With over 30 years of management expertise, Executive Director and Founder of AES, Nick Koerbin is one of the most experienced NFP leaders in Australia. He has held positions as the CEO of Materials Australia, the National Parts Code, as well as senior positions in the Institute of Insurance, Australian Quality Council, the Financial Planning Association, the Australian Human Resources Institute, and the Furniture Industry Association of Australia. Nick created AES with a vision of creating a set of management practices that could be consistently followed to ensure success. Over his 30 years in the industry, he noticed that inconsistent management practices often impeded delivery of services to members, which in turn created issues with membership renewal. By establishing AES and creating the NFP Association Best Practice Self-Assessment, Nick has been able to assist leaders in becoming more confident and informed decision makers so that they can create more effective strategies and implementation plans.

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