During Volunteers’ Week 2022 Alison Macklin, Plunkett’s Community Business Manager, celebrates the importance of volunteers and ways to truly appreciate their support.

For fifteen years I managed a community shop and café and the most demanding but rewarding part of the job was working with the volunteers. Our volunteers ranged from those in their teens doing their Duke of Edinburgh to those in their eighties.

At the moment community businesses and many voluntary organisations are experiencing a mix of volunteer burnout and a shortage of volunteers as those who took a step back over the last couple of years may not have returned to volunteering and those who stepped in during crisis now have many other calls on their time.

So, why do people volunteer?

There are many benefits to volunteering, keeping body and mind active, opportunity to meet and make new friends, give something back to the community or to a cause they feel strongly about, keep up to date with all the latest news and views in your area, feel part of a team, to gain confidence and learn new skills. It’s important to find out why they are volunteering and so you can try to ensure that they get value out of contributing their time and energy.

There are several myths regarding working with volunteers:

  • Volunteers are free
  • Anyone can manage volunteers
  • You don’t need much time to manage volunteers
  • You don’t need staff to manage volunteers (aka volunteers manage themselves, volunteers will just show up)
  • Volunteer management is a luxury we can’t afford

The inverse is actually true, because volunteers don’t need to be there they have to want to, they need support and each needs to be treated as an individual with different strengths and weaknesses and skill levels.

Many volunteers have lots of other commitments. In the community shop I ran it was particularly grandchildren and gardening and so they have to want to volunteer and feel valued if they are to work at unpopular times such as Saturday afternoons, when the weather is bad or holiday periods. You must never lose site of the fact that they are working often very hard with no tangible benefits and the relationship is a careful balance to ensure that both sides benefit.

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