I have had a few goes at volunteering over the years. Mostly good experiences, however I remember one particularly bad one. I was living in the UK and turned up to volunteer at the local youth centre. I had no prior information given to me and no induction. There I was with a bunch of teens and no clue as to what my role was. Some were wanting to discuss (or perhaps shock me with) very adult experiences they had been through. With a valid fear of causing more harm than good, I walked out that day and never went back.

Move ahead 10 years and I was in Colombia as a volunteer but also managing volunteers from all over the globe. I saw every part of the good, bad and ugly of volunteering. From volunteers who went above and beyond everyday for months to volunteers that would break every safety rule we gave them and kept us awake at night. The truth is though, that social programs often are heavily reliant on volunteers and therefore NFP’s must find ways to engage and manage them and find a balance between meeting volunteer expectations alongside meeting their organisational objectives.

The good, the bad and the ugly_with arrow-FINAL

Last month as part of a partnership between online learning & development company Peopleplan (where I head up NFP solutions) and Spark Strategy, we held an event with leading NFP’s and Corporates where we started the session with a, “The good, bad and ugly of volunteering” brainstorm. (see header image) A couple of things stood out to me especially in the “Ugly” section – “slow onboarding” and the “complexity of compliance”. These are an ugly side for both the organisation and the volunteer. Without training, volunteers can cause a lot of headaches for volunteer managers. Conversely, without training volunteers feel under-utilised and unprepared. It’s a lose-lose situation.

In my social enterprise, Young Change Agents we have developed an online learning induction program in association with Peopleplan which we will now use to develop the knowledge of our corporate skilled volunteering prior to our programs. This means they can hit-the-ground-running with confidence. Something I didn’t have all those years ago in the youth centre! Our first lot of mentors through the program gave great feedback about how easy and “even fun” the learning module was.

Now, the Peopleplan team is creating customisable versions for NFP’s who are looking to do a similar induction. You can add your own videos and written content to make it your own. The key benefit aside from volunteers being ready and engaged is that you can track the completion of the course for compliance via our online platform. You will have piece-of-mind that volunteers have understood important principals like privacy or the rules around working with children, for example.

With 1:4 Australian’s volunteering their time each year, technology solutions like online learning can go a long way to cross some of the concerns off the “ugly” list!

For more information including a full set of insights from the volunteering workshop – get in touch: margaret.obrien@peopleplan.com.au

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