How do I improve staff and volunteer relationships?

My staff colleagues seem unable to work well with volunteers. There is a lack of understanding about what volunteers (should) do and weak communication leads to frustration. How can I improve the way we work as a team?

Strong staff-volunteer relations are the keystone of a strong organization. As the manager of volunteer resources, you are part of the equation of creating positive relationships, addressing challenges and providing support. Although the manager of volunteer resources may not work directly with volunteers in the same way that program and service delivery staff colleagues do, it is still this manager’s responsibility to know who is completing the volunteer management cycle and following policies.

Consider doing some sleuthing to find out what the understanding of and attitudes toward volunteer engagement are. Set time aside to interview other staff colleagues to ask some questions. Some examples include asking if they know how volunteers are involved in the organization, what roles volunteers hold, and what they achieve. Their answers will tell you what training they may need to be prepared and confident in their work with volunteers.

Once you have gathered enough information to determine how staff colleagues work with volunteers and what success they are achieving, the next step is to formulate a plan to build on the success and relationships already in place as well as to keep yourself informed. Below are some suggested practices:

  • Be specific about expectations. This includes defining boundaries and setting goals, and taking the time to review them with all involved.
  • Review position descriptions with both volunteers and their supervisors. This should be done regularly.
  • Provide relevant policies to both volunteers and their supervisor in easily accessible format. This includes providing policies directly to volunteers and supervisors (as part of a handbook is a great way), and making them easily accessible at the organization.
  • Identify and specify what support you offer, for volunteers and staff colleagues.
  • Meet with supervisors of volunteers regularly. This could be individually or as a group. This is a great way to make yourself available for questions or conversation, and it also serves to create an internal network among staff colleagues.
  • Be on site regularly. If volunteers work at several sites outside of your organization, make a point to visit and see them in action. This also demonstrates care and interest, something volunteers notice and appreciate. (And remember to thank them!)
  • Have a feedback system. This can be informal conversation, forms to complete, or annual meetings.
  • Invite both staff and colleagues to be part of training.