Volunteers help provide needed services to the community and add to what the city’s workforce can do. Working with volunteers not only helps provide important services, it also improves community engagement efforts, identifies future civic leaders and builds trust in the local government.
Volunteer Policies and Management Plan
It is important for cities to adopt and review volunteer management policies that define the purpose for volunteers, what activities or work they can perform, how they will be supervised and enforcement of standard workplace policies. Many policies first layout the purpose for using volunteers, such as helping enhance city services and the community while giving volunteers an opportunity to utilize unique skills and engage with their city government.
Cities should also consider establishing job descriptions for volunteers so there is a clear understanding of what each volunteer position will do and that volunteers are not a replacement for city employees. Along with that, cities should describe how volunteers will be supervised and what training and orientation will be given to help them be successful. Policies should also cover steps to becoming a volunteer, which may include a volunteer application and approval process.
Developing a strong volunteer management plan will also help lead to an effective volunteer program. One of the first items a city needs to consider is who will supervise the volunteers. Some cities may have one person handle all volunteer activities, while other cities may have several folks involved. However it is done, the city needs to designate a supervisor that can provide necessary training and orientation as well as direct volunteers as needed. Volunteer supervisors should also be able to enforce city workplace policies, such as proper decorum, safety, attire, adherence to harassment policies, use of city equipment, and performance reviews. There should also be a plan for reassigning or dismissing volunteers that are not meeting expectations. If volunteers will be working with vulnerable populations such as children or the disabled, cities should also consider a policy for conducting background checks.
Cities will also need to check workers’ compensation and liability insurance coverages. In some cases, volunteers are covered by the city’s workers’ compensation policies while others are not. The city may want to investigate obtaining medical insurance coverage for volunteers as well as check with their insurance provider to determine what volunteers are prohibited from doing. It is important that volunteers understand safety protocol for city equipment and services to help mitigate injuries or property damages.
There are multiple reasons that individuals volunteer. Sometimes it is a personal connection to the city or a program. Some may want to learn or enhance a skill. Others enjoy the work, believe in the mission or want to meet new people. To recruit, certainly there is no substitute for a successful program that people want to join. In this case, the city may find that volunteers recruiting volunteers will be a good strategy. Cities can tap into their Web site or social media. Work with partners such as schools, colleges, senior centers, faith-based organizations, nonprofits, volunteer centers and local businesses. However you choose, most people volunteer because they are asked, and the more personal the request the better.
While recruiting is necessary, retention of volunteers is critical to a strong return on investment. Most volunteers are not looking for public recognition, but they do want to be appreciated and thanked for their commitment. It only makes sense that the city rewards them with a thoughtful thank you and recognition for their service. A simple handshake and thank you can go a long way. This may not always be possible, however, and cities should also consider providing some public recognition through alerting news media and inviting coverage of the event or activity, placing ads in the local newspaper, using the city Web site and social media platforms, and having the mayor and council offer their gratitude at a council meeting.
Cities may also hold a group event or luncheon for volunteers as a way to show their appreciation or hold an annual reception to thank all the volunteers that helped throughout the year. Awards for individual or group achievement, letters, plaques, souvenirs, pins or shirts that help celebrate a job well done can also be effective.
One retention strategy that should not be underestimated is asking the volunteers for feedback on how the service they are providing can be improved or how the volunteer program can be more effective. Ownership in the success of a service can be the best form of recognition. Developing a volunteer strategy requires an investment of energy and resources, but the impact that investment can have on city services, culture and engagement can be lasting.