Volunteers and your Partnership - Interacting with Volunteers

For a partnership to involve volunteers and have volunteering as a model is a great way of getting things done in a successful partnership arrangement.

However, it is also important for partnerships to not just involve volunteers, but to interact with them as well.

Interaction is more than just having volunteer involvement – it encompasses two-way communication and an effort by different parties to gain insights into each others' points-of-view and to work co-operatively.

And it requires not only a two-way dialogue, but a willingness to listen and learn from experiences as well.

Reasons to Interact with Volunteers – and the Results that Follow

Interaction with volunteers should be aimed at helping improve the results from a partnership either based solely around volunteerism, or which includes events or activities that make use of volunteers.

Either way, improving partnerships through interaction means:
  • Happier volunteers
  • More volunteers
  • More willing participants (which leads to more achievements in a partnership)
  • Volunteers that feel like they are being listened to, taken seriously and treated with respect.
This leads to:
  • More productive partnership activities.
  • More things getting done, which leads to
    • A more successful partnership and more people willing to become volunteers
    • Positive word of mouth about your partnership in the public arena.
As you can see, interacting with volunteers has a beneficial snowball effect for the partnership in question – happier or greater numbers of volunteers mean more successful partnership activities and positive publicity, leading to the partnership becoming attractive to new volunteers, they join in, become happy; and so the cycle continues.

A partnership that shows itself to be willing and able to interact with its volunteers will have an advantage over one which does not.

How to Interact with Volunteers

Interacting with volunteers can be done in many and varied ways.
  • Simply talking to them and asking for feedback on the day of a partnership event is one way to interact with volunteers.
    • While this can be done in a pretty informal manner, it is also important that it be followed up more formally after the event or partnership activity.
  • More formal feedback can be a way to follow on from any informal feedback on the day of the event.
    • This is normally done via a questionnaire or volunteers' survey distributed shortly after the event. For more information on how to put together such a survey, refer to the Volunteers Satisfaction Survey help sheet at the Partnerships Brokerage Service Resource centre at the Our Community website.
  • A further way to gain a number of volunteers' viewpoints is to talk to the person in charge of the volunteers themselves – be they a superior, volunteer co-ordinator, or other.
  • Introducing a recognition scheme which thanks volunteers, particularly during events like National Volunteering Week.
  • Instituting a suggestions box for volunteers at your workplace or community group headquarters, and allowing volunteers to give uninhibited and unsolicited feedback.
These are only rough outlines of a few ways you can actually interact with volunteers. Think about the types of interaction that would best suit the volunteers your partnership works with – would they be more comfortable with questionnaires, or more informal feedback, or a mix of both?

Acting on that Feedback

While interacting through gaining that feedback is important, it is only one part of the equation.

The second component of interaction is actually considering and acting on the feedback your partnership receives from its volunteers.
  • Probably the best way of doing this is to actually raise the feedback as an item at a partnership meeting.
    • What can then occur is discussion of the feedback and any suggestions, improvements, refinements – or congratulations – that may be applicable.
  • In responding to feedback through discussions at meetings and the like, the discussions and any decisions reached can then be noted in the minutes of the meeting, and possibly reported back to the person or people who raised the issue in the first place.

Be Genuine in Your Interaction

But the most important thing when it comes to interacting with volunteers is to be genuine about it.

Don't just pay lip service to interaction, because volunteers will see through it pretty quickly. Once it becomes clear that interaction is a less than genuine effort and listening, discussing and improving volunteer-based activities, the attraction volunteers have for your partnership will wear off pretty quickly.

For more information on working with volunteers in a community business partnership, refer to the help sheets:
All of which are available in the General Resources section of the Community Business Partnership Resource Centre.