How to: Manage volunteers

The National Trust's head of volunteering offers some pointers on how to keep volunteers content.

Volunteer management has often been regarded as a question of common sense, but it takes far more than that to do it well. Helen Timbrell, head of volunteering at the National Trust, offers some tips

1. Volunteer yourself
This doesn’t necessarily have to be with your own organisation. I’m chair of my local volunteer centre, for example, so I get the opportunity to reflect on how volunteers feel.

2. Get out of the office
When I first started at the National Trust last May, I made sure I spent time with all our regional staff and volunteers, because I’m based at our head office. In a big organisation, it’s easy to lose contact with people.

3. Meet other volunteer managers
There is a really supportive network of volunteer managers in the sector who are willing to share resources. If you are facing a challenge, you can bet your life there’s someone else out there in the same position. There is also the Yahoo! mailbase of volunteer managers, which allows you to network virtually.

4. Understand the process that volunteers go through
This is vital. Once you have recruited volunteers, you then have to think about how to ensure the mutual benefit for both parties continues. Many of our volunteers have been with us for five to 10 years, and it’s important that we continue to meet their needs.

5. Support volunteer managers
In the past volunteer management was seen as something that was bolted on to other responsibilities. There was an assumption that it was down to common sense, but that’s not the case.

We ran a pilot scheme in our Wessex region to allow a group of volunteer managers to complete an accredited course in advanced volunteering. The Commission on the Future of Volunteering is helping to get volunteer management recognised as a profession in its own right.

But the focus shouldn’t just be on accreditation; it should be more holistic than that.

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