Issue 4: Investing in volunteers

Investing in volunteers, their skills and your charity’s volunteer culture will be important in building a sustainable charity.
RNLI by Ian Barsby

RNLI by Ian Barsby

Issue 4: Investing in volunteers

Volunteers provide a huge amount of time, skills, and value to charities each year. Whilst some charities look for volunteers to add additional value or fill skill gaps, many rely on volunteers to execute the day-to-day running of activities. Investing in volunteers, their skills and your charity’s volunteer culture will be important in building a sustainable charity.

What’s inside this issue:

  1. Why investing in volunteers is key to charities’ success | Charities Aid Foundation
  2. The power of stories: Campaign tips by Better Story
  3. Day to day volunteer management | Trust Advice CIC
  4. Employers’ liability for charities | Access Insurance Services

Why investing in volunteers is key to charities’ success


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

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. 

The power of stories


Why did so many people in the UK and Europe hold off getting their AstraZeneca Covid vaccine – even though all the data showed it was a good idea?

Well, people heard two different things:

  1. “The chances of this vaccine giving you a blood clot are 0.004%.”
  2. “My neighbour’s daughter was rushed to hospital with a blood clot on her brain the day after having her vaccine. She had this terrible headache and then collapsed in the kitchen. Luckily my neighbour was there to call an ambulance. She went into intensive care and it was very touch and go. She’s only 34.”

Now, what can you remember? The stats, or the story?

And how do you feel about having that vaccine now? Would you go and get it today?

The thing is, humans aren’t rational. We remember stories much better than statistics. And our decision-making is actually driven by our emotions.

Stories evoke emotions and that drives us to make a decision (maybe I’ll look into this vaccine a bit more first…) and take an action (I won’t go to my vaccine appointment today).

Charities have access to two types of information they can share in their campaign material: statistics about the impact of their work, and human interest stories about real people they have helped.

“48.5% of young people have experienced online bullying. 89% of them said our workshops had helped to restore their confidence – so please give to our work.”

This charity is obviously doing really great work but these statistics send the reader’s brain into maths mode. That’s too rational; not a place from which they are likely to take action.

They would be much better off sharing the personal story of just one of these young people. Perhaps Josh talking about the shame he felt after being targeted online by some kids in his year. How he was too scared to tell anyone. How he finally felt able to open up about it at the charity’s workshop and knew he wasn’t alone. How he got his confidence and spark back. Would you give to that work? The bad news is, you’re not as rational as you like to think you are. The good news is, charities have amazing real-life stories to tell, and stories have power.

Day to day volunteer management


This brief article outlines the principles of successful day to day volunteer management to help you support, retain and recognise your volunteers.

Shared vision and values

One of the simplest ways to help create a great team and volunteer environment is to have a shared vision and make sure that people understand how their contribution fits in with what you are achieving and who you are helping as a whole.

Use a volunteer handbook or develop a volunteer policy to underpin your volunteer management by establishing values, beliefs and direction for volunteer involvement. Share this policy with all existing staff and volunteers as well as new members of the team during their induction process. This is more important than you think. It needs to be talked about often and referred to in every major decision.

Living your values

Staff or senior volunteers need to demonstrate behaviour in accordance with these values and volunteers should be recognised when they do the same. On a day to day basis, this can be as simple as a gesture or verbal praise when appropriate. More in-depth reinforcement can be done by engaging volunteers in constructive feedback, surveys and decision making.

Empowering your volunteers

Setting clear activities, tasks and goals shows that you value their time, skills and contribution.

Make sure volunteers are fully briefed on the priority tasks for the day. You may also find it helpful to have a notice board or the digital equivalent that volunteers have easy sight of, where key activities can be written down as a reminder enabling volunteers to take control of how they achieve these tasks reduces the time spent by the volunteer manager making decisions about their work. Empowered volunteers are more likely to achieve good results than those that are dependent.

Ask for input from volunteers when planning or implementing significant changes to benefit from their insight and experiences and to increase buy-in from the outset.

Supervise well

Having a supervisor available to volunteers ensures they feel valued and supported whilst they are undertaking their role. By greeting volunteers, having regular interactions and scheduling regular catch-ups, supervisors can make themselves accessible to volunteers and promote an open channel of communication.

Regular, planned catch-ups with volunteers provide a chance to discuss any issues, identify areas for development and training and ensure the volunteer’s expectations (alongside the charity’s needs) are being met.

Engagement – emails, newsletters and social media

Encourage volunteers to sign up for any newsletter as well and follow the charity on social media.

These channels can help a volunteer feel engaged with the overall work of the charity and for them to see how their role feeds into the bigger picture.

A volunteer email list could also be used to send ‘thank you’ notes, updates, and volunteering newsletters to them as well as asking volunteers for their feedback and comments. Take note that you follow typical GDPR regulations and basic email protocol.

Make sure paper copies of your newsletters are available so that volunteers not on email don’t miss out!

Keeping your volunteers

Keeping volunteers relies on good volunteer management that ensures volunteers’ motivational needs are met, that they feel valued and that their contribution is recognised. If the main reason a person is volunteering is to meet new people, don’t put them in an isolated role. If a key motivation is skills development, ensure training opportunities are considered.

Talk about what motivates or inspires them during your regular catch-ups. They may change over time so this is particularly important not to forget this area or make assumptions when speaking to long-term volunteers.

Don’t forget that the main motivation for volunteering is usually because people want to help – ensure you have meaningful tasks for volunteers from the start. Provide feedback to your volunteers on the impact their contribution makes to individuals and the work as a whole.


Whilst a large part of volunteer management comes down to conversations and support, having the policies and procedures written down and easily accessibly will give direction, support your decision making and reinforce expectations and boundaries. Policies are the guardrails for your charity, make sure they are regularly referred to.

As well as having their role description, volunteer agreement and a copy of their main contacts name and contact details, volunteers may well have to have an understanding of your:

  • Data protection policy
  • Safeguarding policy
  • Health and safety policy
  • Insurance
  • Expenses policy

Employer’s liability for charities


Employer’s liability (EL) insurance protects employers from claims of negligence made by employees who suffer injury or ill health due to their work. Unlike other types of insurance, EL insurance is compulsory.

It is important to note that unpaid volunteers under your charities’ supervision could be seen as ’employees’, if a clear distinction isn’t made in your volunteer policies or agreement. Some insurers define an employee as any person who is:

  • under a contract of service or apprenticeship
  • hired to, supplied to or borrowed
  • engaged under a work experience or similar scheme
  • helping as an authorised volunteer
  • trustee or director of yours
  • a labour only sub-contractor
  • self-employed person

(All while under your direct control and supervision and working for you in connection with your activities.)

Insurers exclude claims from ’employees’ under the public liability section of cover so it’s vital you take this into account when arranging insurance. In these instances, a claim made by an authorised volunteer or a trustee would only be covered if the organisation had employers’ liability insurance.

Sadly volunteers do suffer injuries as a result of negligence on the part of the organisation for whom they are volunteering. Whether it be a ‘slip or trip’ type injury or a more complex injury – volunteers are exposed to risk, just as employees are.

The insurance premium for EL is determined by a number of factors:

  • the type, scale and risk level of your activities
  • the quality of your health and safety risk management system
  • your loss history (the severity and frequency of your past claims and accidents)

You should speak to a specialist charity adviser who can recommend the adequate level of EL cover needed for your organisation, which by law is a minimum of £5 million.

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