Why investing in volunteers is key to charities’ success

Investing in volunteers, their skills and your charity’s volunteer culture will be important in building a sustainable charity.
volunteers
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Volunteers are pivotal within the charity sector.

They might be trustees, supporters, or effectively staff, who play a crucial rule in how a charity delivers its services.

Investing in volunteers is therefore a highly effective way for charities to remain sustainable and even to level up their services. Here are four ways charities can invest in their workforce and become stronger and more resilient organisations as a result:

1. Prioritise volunteers’ mental health and wellbeing

Often driven by a desire to help others and a willingness to go the extra mile, volunteers can be at risk of burnout. Charities should not underestimate the risk that stress and mental health challenges might pose to their volunteers – especially in light of the impacts of the pandemic. Indeed, 1 in 6 adults are thought to be experiencing some form of depression as we adapt to a ‘new normal’.

With this in mind, it is important that charities consider how to support their volunteers and invest in their mental health. For larger charities, promoting wellbeing might include initiatives such as hosting a catered party, offering merchandise, or organising for them to be visited by a special guest speaker.

Whether a charity has budget to spare or not, taking simple steps towards creating a gentle and supportive work culture can have a big impact. Simple measures include recognising and celebrating the work of individuals and teams; encouraging a healthy work-life balance, and having leaders embody this ethos; welcoming new volunteers and behaving kindly when they make mistakes; and setting up buddy systems and social opportunities in order to connect volunteers and help them feel integrated and valued.

2. Invest in volunteers’ skills

Charities can also support their paid and unpaid staff by investing in their learning and development. Offering training opportunities to volunteers helps individuals develop their skills and confidence, and also reinforces the message that they are valued within their charity, which is choosing to invest in their growth. In this way, providing training opportunities can also be a way of boosting volunteer morale and retention.

In CAF’s recent report on trusteeship – produced in partnership with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) – training trustees, which are voluntary roles, was identified as one of the key ways charities can upskill those involved in their service delivery. Trustees interviewed for the report noted that volunteers would welcome additional support, guidance, and training. This speaks to the broader reality that volunteers want to be good at what they do and value opportunities to grow.

There exist free resources that are broadly applicable to all volunteers. ICAEW, for example, offers training and reference content through its free Volunteering Community, and CAF’s blog provides analysis of policies and developments in the charity sector. The Government also offers information about volunteering that can provide a good grounding in volunteering and rights and responsibilities. These resources can easily be incorporated into charities’ efforts to provide their volunteers with information, training, and development opportunities.

3. Highlight rights and legal support for volunteers

Charities build trust with volunteers when they understand and internally promote their stance on volunteers’ rights. Ultimately, all employees want to feel safe and secure. Thus, transparency is an important way to support volunteers and their mental health.

This means that charities should develop and share resources –through onboarding and regular emails – including about whistleblowing, raising complaints and grievances, and how to report incidents such as bullying or sexual harassment. Volunteers are more likely to step forward and raise issues when they understand the process.

It can also be worth developing counselling services affiliated with the charity, whether internally or externally. Even if an Employee Assistance Programme cannot be provided to volunteers, charities can at least designate mental health officers within their organisations and promote health and wellbeing.

4. Create special offers where possible

Regardless of a charity’s size or finances, with a bit of creative thinking, it is possible to create perks and special incentives for volunteers. These could be monetary, such as discounts at stores or service providers affiliated with the charity. Alternatively, such offerings could be as low-budget and simple as organising regular social opportunities, in the form of coffee catch-ups, yoga in the park, or group walks. Investing in volunteers and your workforce can help create more resilient charities, and is often a more attainable goal than charities realise. Moreover, given the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of many, including those in charities, now is the right time to focus on strategies to retain the people who keep their wheels turning. 

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