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Getting new volunteers started

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Volunteer agreement

For most volunteers, and especially any roles which have higher safeguarding risks, you should have a volunteer agreement. This sets out both an organisation's commitment to its volunteers and what it hopes for from its volunteers. 

For safeguarding this should include:

  • a commitment to follow safeguarding policies and procedures, including a duty to report any safeguarding concern 
  • a commitment to follow a code of conduct 
  • information about support the volunteer can expect so that they can fulfil their role safely 
  • any risks in the role, and their understanding and informed acceptance of those risks
  • information about what will happen if any problems need to be resolved 

Example
Act on Breast Cancer (ABC) is a charity providing support for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Volunteers play a variety of roles undertaking fundraising, support groups and campaigning. They have a core volunteer agreement which highlights expectations what all volunteers can expect from ABC and their expectations for all volunteers. There are then additional specific provisions related to the different volunteering roles. For example, support group volunteer leaders are entitled to access additional psychosocial support to cope with the demands on supporting others. 

Introductory period 

For longer term volunteering roles, particularly those with higher levels of safeguarding risk you should have either an introductory period or taster or shadowing sessions before confirming someone as a full volunteer.

This approach: 

  • gives people a taste of the role before they commit themselves to your organisation on a longer term basis 
  • provides an opportunity to understand their personality, motivations and values and how they will approach their role, and spot any potential problems 
  •  check they are willing to follow your code of conduct and procedures.

So that it works fairly and well you should:

  • offer a genuine opportunity for the volunteer, with good support in place from the organisation (not just be used to fill gaps)
  • make it clear when people can take up this opportunity and ensure it is accessible to all applicants
  • choose one person to support the new volunteer and offer clear advice and guidance and receive their feedback
  • ensure appropriate support and supervision and for higher risk roles do not leave the volunteer unsupervised during this period
Example
We Got You provides mentors/befrienders to children struggling with school and their families. They organised group taster sessions where families came along and did short activities together with prospective volunteers. Possible pairings were discussed with the families, and a second activity taster session was organised to follow up. Staff supervised the sessions, and helped finalise the mentoring partnerships. The families said they felt safeguarding was being taken seriously and the volunteers said that they felt like they belonged to We Got You.

Inductions

An induction is an introduction for the volunteer into the organisation they will be volunteering in. 

For effective safeguarding this should include: 

  • understanding the organisation, its vision, values and culture
  • meeting the people (staff, other volunteers and clients, participants or beneficiaries) and understanding the space 
  • understanding the policies and processes the organisation uses, especially safeguarding policies and procedures for reporting
  • understanding expected safe practice and standards of conduct and behaviour
  • understanding the expectations and responsibilities of their role
  • understanding who they can turn to for support, especially the designated safeguarding lead and anyone else they should report issues to
  • understand how concerns about behaviour are resolved. 

As with all other elements of volunteer management, the amount of time given to induction should relate to the role itself. But whether you are delivering a 20-minute talk at the start of a once-a year festival to 'on the day only' volunteers or a full day briefing to people committing to six months of weekly volunteering, the same approach will help you get things right. 

  • Decide what you need to cover and split your time up to give space to each part
  • Free up time for the volunteer or staff member leading the induction to give it their full attention, and have a back up plan for if they are not there
  • Be clear and direct about how important the things you are covering are, do not make excuses or dismiss things as 'things we have to do'
  • Include a code of conduct that takes equality, safeguarding, bullying and sexual harassment seriously
  • Cover any key training that all volunteers must have  (for example how to report a safeguarding concern).
  • Explain what other training volunteers will need before they get started and when they will get it
  • Consider how to make sure everyone can participate fully in the induction - have you thought about accessibility, about languages and even about building people’s confidence to take part?
  • For longer term volunteering roles, the induction may take place over weeks. Make sure you have checklists and schedules so that people know when they have covered everything. 

The induction should always include space for the volunteer and the organisation to review how they are settling in. You should encourage them to raise any concerns they have as soon as they come up. You should have a process to check whether anyone has any concerns or issues about the person’s ability or suitability early on and address them immediately.

Example
WasteFreeUK works with local business to collect food that would be wasted and ensure it is distributed to those most in need. Each group has a part-time member of staff and a team of volunteers who collect, sort and distribute food. New volunteers for a variety of roles are recruited every six months. They all attend a one day induction about the organisation and basic policies and procedures. The day includes an hour explaining their expectations on volunteers and their code of conduct. Everyone is given a copy of the raising problems procedure of how the organisation seeks to manage issues; including when the code of conduct is breached. The one day session is then followed by some evening sessions which are tailored for the different roles. For example, those visiting the charities beneficiaries must attend a session about undertaking home visits safely. 

Training

While the induction may introduce some information of what policies exist and who your designated safeguarding lead is; further training will develop the knowledge and skills to put it into practice. 

You must offer safeguarding training that is at the right level for the volunteers’ roles. All charities are expected by the Charity Commission to review their safeguarding training at least once a year to check that it is up to date and right for the risks relevant to your activities. This is good practice for all other organisations as well. 

 

Page last edited Oct 03, 2019

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