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Volunteer-1

Photo by Petter Berg

Most non-profits - large and small alike – use volunteers in some capacity.  As they should! Volunteers can make vital contributions to the mission, provide incredible energy to the organization, and spread the word about some of the amazing work being accomplished around the globe.  But leveraging those volunteers to provide benefits to both the organization and the individual can be difficult.  Organizations working in international settings grapple with this a lot. For example, the bulk of our work is in rural Zambia, and we are often asked whether a friend or acquaintance can spend some time volunteering at our schools.  Over the past few years, we have figured out best practices to make this work well – for both parties.

01 | BE UP-FRONT IN ASKING WHAT THE VOLUNTEER WOULD LIKE TO DO
No one wins if volunteers are not contributing in the way they would like to. Be very direct in initial meetings with potential volunteers by asking simply “What would you like to accomplish by volunteering with us?” Seek out individual’s strengths and goals and build on these in determining the best projects for volunteers to focus on. This dialogue encourages honesty and openness which will ensure a positive experience and outcomes working together.

02 | BE HONEST ABOUT THE TYPE OF WORK AVAILABLE FOR VOLUNTEERS
Organizations can sometimes feel pressure to accept volunteers without having a clearly defined role for them.  As you ask for honesty from your volunteer, also be honest about what you can offer. One of the things we get approached about a lot is “Teach in [insert country where you work here].” For us – this is not something we can offer. Our students learn in their local language, and we prefer to employ and train teachers locally in order to provide important jobs and skills training.” Have a list ready of different tasks that you could really use assistance on, and be clear when communicating this to potential volunteers.

03 | SET UP CLEAR EXPECTATIONS AROUND TIME AND LENGTH
Depending on the role, and your organization, having a volunteer for an hour a week can be great, or cumbersome! Either way, clearly communicating expectations to volunteers will help them make an informed decision. For example, we require volunteers in Zambia to stay for a minimum of three months. It’s a long time to ask, but we have found that shorter periods are not as productive for the volunteers, or for the organization. It takes about a month just to get acclimated to the local environment and get to know the community!

04 | BE AVAILABLE
Volunteers should have a point-person available to them who has time for their questions, has the capacity to orient them to the work, and the desire to help them improve their own skill set. Especially for younger volunteers who are in school or newly out-of-school – organizations can provide an important career-building opportunity if they are available to volunteers regularly, and freely.

05 | RECOGNIZE CONTRIBUTIONS
While volunteers should be coming away with new skills and experiences, remember that they aren’t being compensated for their time. Saying thank you goes a long way!

We have found these five things to be crucial in establishing a relationship with any new or potential volunteer – if any principle is violated, someone will be disappointed. Volunteers are donating countless hours of their time and energy around the world – we owe it to them to make that energy count!

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FROM THE EDITOR
At Conscious, we are inspired by remarkable people and organizations, and so we set out to tell stories that highlight global initiatives, innovation, community development, and social impact. You can read more stories like this when you subscribe


Editorial Collaborator: Reshma Patel of Impact Network has joined conscious to produce a monthly column to educate us about the processes involved in developing schools within rural communities of Zambia. She points out the many aspects of growing a school and working with the local communities to sustain it. Read our interview with Impact Network here and follow the monthly column here.

 

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