The NCVO national survey into the volunteering experience identified eight key features that make a quality experience for volunteers. NCVO recommended that, if they want to support people in having a quality volunteer experience, volunteer involving organisations think carefully about these areas in relation to their own opportunities.
A quality volunteering experience is…
What does this mean in practise?
Balanced – ensuring an appropriate level of formality.
Balanced volunteering is proportionate to the role, without unnecessary bureaucracy and processes. Organisations need to explain clearly to volunteers why any processes are in place and ensure that any volunteering does not become too much like paid work. If everyone is clear on what they are doing and why and is recognised for their contributions, then volunteers are more likely to feel valued than overburdened.
Connected – strengthening the connections that are at the heart of volunteering
Feeling connected to an organisation or the cause are among the most common reasons to start volunteering and to continue. Most volunteers give time together with others and so meet people through their volunteering. Organisations should create opportunities for volunteers to meet and socialise with others if they want to, and to establish structures that are designed to enable volunteers’ voices to be heard. Make volunteers part of the culture of the organisation.
Enjoyable – trying to make the experience enjoyable for volunteers
There are close links between satisfaction and enjoyment; enjoyment was also the highest ranked benefit of volunteering. Opportunities which look fun and enjoyable are also more likely to attract volunteers. Organisations should aim to find out what their volunteers want to get from volunteering. The more relevant a role is to a volunteer the more a volunteer will enjoy taking part, even if the role is challenging.
Flexible – create volunteer journeys that can adapt to a diverse range of volunteers and their lives
There is no one volunteer journey; it changes with people’s lives and their priorities. If people have positive experiences they are more likely to participate in volunteering throughout their lifetime. Organisations should listen to what volunteers and potential volunteers are looking for and want to offer – and not just think about what the organisation needs. Organisations that are realistic and manage volunteers’ expectations can sometimes more appropriately signpost volunteers to other organisations so that their willingness to give time is not wasted. Consider giving volunteers a ‘good exit’: the flexibility to change or leave their roles and an open door in case they want to come back.
Impactful – maximising the impact volunteering has on volunteers and on those they help
The most common motivation for volunteering is to improve things for the cause, or the community or to help people. The feeling of making a difference is strongly associated with being satisfied and continuing to volunteer. It is important that organisations communicate with volunteers about the impact they make with recognition that their impact is valued and recognised in a variety of ways. This impact needs to be communicated within all areas of the organisation and shared with the wider community.
Inclusive – offering inclusive volunteering opportunities and experience
Diversity continues to be an issue across the sector, especially in leadership and representative roles, with some groups less likely to volunteer through groups, clubs or organisations than others. Organisations need to promote a culture that actively encourages equality, diversity and inclusion at all levels and ensure all volunteering opportunities are accessible and well-supported. Make it easy to get it involved e.g. offer taster sessions. Reach out to different people using a range of recruitment methods, these could be supporting beneficiaries to become volunteers, peer recruitment, or working with community and faith organisations. Volunteers should be encouraged to be themselves and bring their lived experience to their role.
Meaningful – supporting volunteers to give time in ways that are meaningful to them
All participation is personal reflecting individual values and priorities. Most people will still want to hear how they have made a difference. Organisations should match roles with what people want to give and their offer of time. Being transparent about what the role involves helps manage people’s expectations avoiding disappointment. It is important to try and understand why someone wants to volunteer and make sure that their volunteering has a purpose that resonates with them. This helps volunteering become fulfilling.
Voluntary – ensuring volunteering feels truly voluntary at all times
Whilst most people are happy with the way their volunteering time is managed, some especially frequent volunteers are more likely to feel too much time is taken up and pressured to do more than they want to. Volunteering can become too much like paid work. Organisations should regularly check in with volunteers, especially those who are very heavily involved, in order to avoid burnout, feeling pressured and able to feel free to re-negotiate or to take a break.
We would love to hear examples of your own practises or the extent to how you might plan to incorporate provision for the eight key areas in your organisation. If you would like to share your experiences with other please contact the team firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like support with any aspect of your volunteering please contact get in touch.
email@example.com or 01904 704177.
To find out more on the eight key areas and to read the report in full please visit NCVO Time Well Spent.