What are the risks associated with volunteers and volunteering for a charity?

Monday 29th July 2019
Cat Boffy, Charity Volunteer Lead, The ExtraCare Charitable Trust, shares her insights into volunteering and how it can greatly benefit both organisations and volunteers.

Managing risk is an essential part of operating a charity now more than ever. But before you can manage risks, you need to understand them.

Volunteering questions to consider:

  • Are there any new legislation or regulatory considerations? For example, has the definition of regulated activity changed? Do you need to reassess your roles for DBS requirements?
  • Have roles changed? A volunteer role that someone was doing two, five or 10 years ago might look very different now. How often do you revisit your role descriptions to see if they're accurate and fit for purpose?
  • Have you experienced any incidents or issues with volunteers? Are your volunteers’ standards what you would expect? If not, is this a training issue? Or do you need to revisit your recruitment or placement process?
  • How reliant are you on your volunteers for anything business critical? Our 50-plus charity shops help to fund some of our most essential services for residents. Without this income we would have to change the services we provide.

Risks don’t mean that you shouldn’t do something. When looking at risks, first look at ways to manage them:

  • Do you have insurance that covers your volunteers? This will help mitigate legal risks.
  • Are your processes clear and robust? Do you have a recruitment process which includes reference checks? Do you give each volunteer a thorough induction? Do you offer the right level of training for each role?
  • Do you have a volunteer ‘pledge’? We don’t ‘contract’ volunteers, but we do have a simple agreement, our Pledge. This outlines what the volunteer can expect from ExtraCare, and what we expect from them. It's a good way to make sure everyone understands what to expect from the relationship.

What are the risks associated with volunteering for volunteers?

Volunteering is a two-way relationship. We must also consider the risks for volunteers. Here are a few risks which can, if left unchecked, be detrimental to your volunteer offer:

  • A negative experience. This is the easiest risk to mitigate! If you can’t offer a beneficial, positive experience, reconsider using volunteers. Volunteers aren’t there to make coffee runs and do the tasks that no one else wants to do. They offer skills, time and experience, so use it well. And understand the drivers for your volunteers. What are they hoping to get out of the experience? What can you do to meet those?
  • Inappropriate roles or tasks. A volunteer needs a clear role description, so they know what to expect. No one wants to be asked to do something they’re uncomfortable with; staff or volunteer.

What are the rewards associated with volunteers and volunteering for the charity?

The rewards you can reap from getting your volunteer offer right can be massive. As a charity, ExtraCare doesn't have an endless pot of money. Operational costs impact our residents. So, we strive to keep costs low. This is one reason why our staff team is small, and we use volunteers to extend our services.

But volunteering isn’t only about finances. It's also about the added value that volunteers bring to our communities. Here are a few of the benefits of volunteer involvement:

  • Volunteers help to deliver or extend some services. The same extent, quality and cost would not be possible using paid staff.
  • Around one-third of our volunteers live in our locations. Volunteering offers them the opportunity to remain physically and mentally active.
  • Volunteering brings different types of people into our locations, creating vibrant communities.
  • Volunteers could be the staff of the future. Volunteering offers skills development. And valuable insight into our work.

What are the rewards associated with volunteering for volunteers?

Some of the more measurable benefits include:

  • Improved health and confidence and reduced stress.
  • Development of valuable skills and experience. We try to support our volunteers’ goals as much as possible and are always looking at new ways to do that. We want our volunteers to thrive during their time with us, and to achieve their personal goals. Their success is our success!
  • Making a real difference to community. Many of our volunteers want to put their skills to use where they feel they can make a difference. At ExtraCare, they can sit side by side with the residents they’re helping which is a unique experience.

Want to see volunteering in action? Please click here to watch a short case study we filmed recently of Eve, one of our former volunteers. Volunteering helped Eve to rebuild her confidence and develop new skills.

What could volunteering do for your organisation? Click here to learn more about volunteering at ExtraCare.