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When Should We NOT Involve Volunteers?

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As advocates for volunteers, we are generally in the position of convincing administrators and frontline paid staff to be more creative in designing work for volunteers – to involve them more. Yet there are times when an organization might consider assigning volunteers to a role or task, but ultimately decide not to do so. When would a “no” decision be best? What criteria should be applied or what circumstances should be considered, and why? Further:

  • Of the criteria you use in deciding not to develop a volunteer assignment, which are situational/temporary (that might be resolved and then you would assign a volunteer) and which do you consider basically non-negotiable?
  • What reasons for not involving volunteers appear reasonable and practical on the surface, but actually speak to fundamental beliefs/assumptions about the relationship between paid work and volunteering? How can we challenge these?
  • What would you consider a warning sign to say “no” to volunteer involvement?

There are no clear-cut answers to this important topic rarely presented to the field. But this Keyboard Roundtable provides a unique discussion among colleagues from Australia, the UK, Canada, Lebanon, and the US.

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Two Points:

1. There always are problems between paid staff and volunteers, just as there will always be problems between people whenever they work together. What I saw in the cases where the relations between volunteer and paid staff were good, that was because of the good communication of the volunteer manager not only to the volunteers but also to the staff members. The staff members also need training just as the volunteers and they also need ongoing information about what the volunteers are intended to do. I think communication management is crucial here.

2. There is a big discussion in Germany about volunteers replacing paid staff. As the economic situations for social and cultural organisation is getting tougher more institutions try to think about solutions and some of them also embrace the though of taking on volunteers. I am convinced that this is not going to be successful only with proper structures and proper and fitting targets for the volunteers a volunteer program will make sense. And I am also convinced that it will never work that volunteers replace full paid staff ­ volunteers should always be an extra bonus for the institution.

I would not include volunteers in any program unless there was a designated individual who could manage the volunteer(s). Many recent studies and personal experience indicate that the volunteer program that is not well-managed is the program where the organization questions the validity of using volunteers. It is like the organization says, let’s sprinkle on some “free people” (all of us knowing volunteers are not free) to fix our problem and then saying see I told you volunteers weren’t worth the effort when volunteers do not work out. Only when the organization is ready for volunteers, in other words planned how to strategically place them in to the organization, can manage them, and have planned for their placement should volunteers be involved.

In response to the Volunteer Match Mini Cop story.

A large county is holding a Strategic Stockpiling and dispensing exercise in August and will need approx. 3,000 volunteers, part of the Homeland Security issue. The largest city within the county is paying the company that is writing this exercise to help recruit volunteers. While the group helping to coordinate the smaller counties volunteers didn't get around to putting the info out to the public until late June-- early July. This group needed 1,000 volunteers, so instead of looking for straight volunteers, the smaller County is now asking organization to help them by paying them $100 per volunteer. The only stipulation is you have to be a 501 C3 promise them at least 50 for the day.

They are actually giving the organization $20 in advance and $80 when the people show up.

I have known about this exercise for over 6 months and offered to help get the word out then, but was told to wait until they received the info and application forms. These forms are still not available for individual volunteers and it is now June 23

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