Supporting Volunteers

Volunteers, like most of us, need some form of ongoing support to help them to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. Implementing a good support system will help volunteers claim their rights and carry out their responsibilities within your group, and will demonstrate to volunteers that their work and development is important to you.

What do we mean by support and supervision?

Supporting someone is about strengthening their skills, helping them to succeed. The common definitions of the verb ‘to support’ also include:-

  • to hold in position so as to keep from falling, sinking, or slipping
  • to be able to withstand
  • to provide for, or maintain, by supplying with money or necessities

Supervision is about overseeing in terms of management or overseeing the performance or operation of a person or group.

Why have a Support System?

An effective support system will provide a means of tackling problems before they get out of hand. Support is an enabling activity that focuses on the person rather than the task, and involves:-

  • giving people the space and encouragement to share thoughts and feelings
  • hearing what people say
  • being reliably there for other people
  • increasing the other person’s self esteem
  • enabling the other person to cope
  • providing practical assistance

As with most areas of volunteer management, there is no single ‘right’ way to offer support to volunteers. Different volunteer tasks will require different types of support and you will also need to take into account the differing needs of individual volunteers. For example, volunteer management committee or board members will usually need a different induction and support from volunteers delivering direct services.

What is important is that an appropriate support system is in place from the beginning of each volunteer’s involvement with you. Remember that supporting volunteers includes practical issues such as expenses and making sure volunteers have up-to-date and comprehensive information.

Factors to consider when choosing the right type of support

  • the type of group you are
  • resources available to you – time, physical space, staff to volunteer ratio etc.
  • type of volunteer task – driving, office based, lunch club, shop, etc.
  • type of volunteers – skilled, inexperienced, higher support need, confident
  • motivation needs of the volunteer
  • numbers of volunteers – capacity of group to deliver

Think about how demanding your volunteers’ role(s) might be. For example, if your volunteers are working with people with dementia, consider how you will ensure they have space to discuss how they are feeling.