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Volunteers – a serious management commitment

2 min read

The image of volunteers pitching in for a good cause while gaining valuable skills and satisfaction is compelling for both the organisation and individuals involved, as well as society in general. However, there’s another side to the story – and that’s the serious operational commitment required by the organisation to make it work in a cohesive, practical and safe environment.

While it is not unusual for people to think about volunteering as a more ‘casual’ employer-employee relationship where goodwill makes up for gaps in resources, both human and financial, this relaxed approach can lead to dangerous situations and less than desirable outcomes.

Risk management is critical to protect organisations, volunteers and the public.

To manage risks and mitigate losses, it is recommended that best practice volunteer management programs address:

  • Procedures, protocols and adequate job descriptions to enable a safe working environment. This includes detailing how the organisation handles personal information and privacy, health and safety, emergencies, grievances and harassment.
  • Recruiting, interviewing and screening processes that are well managed, including reference and background checks relevant to the tasks to be performed and in accordance with state and federal legislation. A Working with Children Check is one example.
  • Adequate induction, including familiarising volunteers with the running of the organisation. Introducing them to managers and supervisors, providing an overview of risk management policies and procedures designed to prevent accident and injury are also important during induction.
  • Training to provide direction and skills relevant to assigned tasks. Training could be formal or informal, one-on-one or group sessions. Providing reference tools and guides is an important part of the training process. Volunteers should sign off on all training received.
  • Appreciation and recognition of volunteers to encourage retention. When volunteers do finish with an organisation exit interviews help gain insights into the volunteer experience. This valuable feedback can be used to improve business practices potentially saving time and money over the long term.

A systematic approach to risk management takes time. But it can help prevent, control and mitigate unfortunate situations. The stakes are not just financial. It’s also about the organisation’s reputation and standing in the community, as well as the health and safety of the volunteer and everyone impacted by the work they do.

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