30 September 2005
by Mary V. Merril
Volunteers serve in many capacities within organizations by contributing time, energies or talents that help to fulfil the organizations' mission. Volunteers generate enthusiasm and interest and help to create a positive image of the organization in the community. Volunteers extend and augment the work of paid staff. They can focus on individual clients or subject areas and thus bring new insights, energy and time to the work.
The individual volunteer benefits by having the opportunity to pursue an interest and consequently gain new information, develop new skills or enhance existing knowledge. Volunteers form leadership and social skills as they interact with paid staff, clients and other volunteers. They develop personal pride and satisfaction as they help clients, and gain status while becoming recognized experts in a specific area. Volunteers continue to develop their knowledge, often gaining considerable expertise from the volunteer experience.
Communities benefit from volunteers’ contribution in that the services they provide helps individuals, families and the community to address local needs and problems. Greater enthusiasm and rapport develops when volunteers share their enthusiasm for the work they are doing and the organization they are affiliated with. They often encourage others to become involved. Recognition of outstanding volunteers can contribute to overall community pride.
Volunteers fulfil many roles in organizations. Generally, they fall into four categories of work: direct service, administrative support, fundraising, and leadership. However, individual activities vary greatly. They may serve as teachers, tutors, counselors, mentors, companions, and coaches. They organize events, participate in fundraisers, provide clerical support, develop new resources, provide logistical support, develop programmes, assist with promotional events, and provide leadership and guidance. The roles volunteers can fill are only limited by the vision of the organization.
Each organization should spend time considering why they want to work with volunteers and developing a philosophy for the overall engagement of volunteers. Volunteers should never be considered as “free help.” They should be viewed as extensions of professional and paid staff engaged in the fulfilment of the organization’s mission. Each organization must decide how volunteers can most effectively and efficiently assist with their mission.
Volunteer managers play an important role in an organization. They often interact with all areas of the programme and recruit volunteers for all its aspects. They serve as liaison between the needs and wants of the organization and paid staff and the volunteers’ needs and rights. Volunteer managers are internal consultants, helping paid staff identify opportunities for engaging volunteers in the organization’s work, developing volunteer-staff relationships, designing strategies for effective integration of volunteers in the organizational work, assess the impact of volunteer services for the clients and the organization, and serving as advocates for the volunteers’ rights and for volunteerism within the organization and the community at large.