Valuing Our Volunteers

Sometimes we can be so focussed on the issues facing our organisations and what needs to be done to meet the ever-expanding needs of the community that we overlook the needs of some of our most important contributors - our volunteers.

It's a mistake we make at our own peril because the running of the country would grind to a halt tomorrow if not for the army of volunteers who collectively put in more than 704 million hours of work every year - a contribution that would cost billions of dollars if Governments had to pay.

Think of almost any area of the running of our community - schools, hospitals, churches, sporting groups, environmental groups, peak associations, self-help groups, progress associations, and festival committees - and you will find Australia's unsung army of community volunteers working away.

The worst thing we can do is take volunteers for granted and think that if they are happy doing the job, they will always be happy and keep on doing it. Community groups need to be constantly looking at ways they can improve the way they treat, train and thank volunteers.

Here are some ideas to ensure your group's volunteers remain healthy, happy and a walking advertisement for the good work your group performs.
  • Ensure your committee is committed to volunteers helping out with your group. It's not just a case of saying "Yes"; it's a commitment to providing all the tools and resources they need to do the job properly.
  • Realise that your organisation understands that although volunteers don't get paid, they still incur costs (insurance, training, reimbursement of expenses, transport etc).
  • Develop a volunteer handbook outlining the rights, roles and responsibilities of volunteers so that everyone is aware of the relationship from the outset.
  • Ensure volunteers understand those guidelines, roles and responsibilities and agree to abide by them before signing on. Also ensure they know who in the organisation they can speak to if they have any issues or questions.
  • Establish a volunteer induction process so that volunteers can learn more about your organisation and so you can evaluate their training needs. If required, undertake the appropriate screening (for some volunteer positions it is mandatory).
  • Create a volunteer information pack with necessary forms, brochures, training details and information about your group.
  • Have a job description for each volunteer position that describes the role, explains the program's desired outcomes and their role in achieving them.
And most importantly, thanking volunteers.
  • Always involve your volunteers in your group's planning and seek their perspective. Most of the great ideas come from the people actually doing the work - not just those planning for them.
  • Constantly speak to your volunteers, set up regular informal meetings where they can express views, suggest ideas and provide feedback on the job.
  • Make sure you know your volunteers. If someone puts hundreds of hours into your group, the very least people can do is learn their names. Make sure your Board or committee knows. In some groups it's impossible to know everyone personally but you should know the names.
  • Recognise and reward effort. Let people know when they have done a good job - in fact let the group know when they have done a good job. Even better, let the community know!
  • Count the volunteer hours donated each year. And then multiply it by $24.59¹ an hour. Then add it up. Now you will start to get an idea of the value of each volunteer in monetary terms and how much they would cost to replace.
  • Set up a system where milestones - whether it's 10 years, 20 seasons, 100 exhibitions, are acknowledged and applauded. Let your local newspaper, know about the milestones.
  • Make sure that you hold an annual event - function, morning tea, barbeque or simple gathering - that is devoted to your volunteers.
  • Nominate your volunteers for awards/scholarships or other external programs.
  • Nominate your best volunteers for Australian honours so that they get the national recognition they deserve.
  • Don't just tell them. Tell the world how good they are and why they perform such a valuable service to your community and your group.
  • Let their peers, family, employer, friends know how much their help is valued. If you are paying tribute to a volunteer invite all those people to make sure they know how much you appreciate their efforts.
  • Most importantly, say Thank you. Whether it's verbally, a phone call, an email, a letter or a certificate. Let people know their work is valued.
  • Feature your volunteers. Make sure your newsletters mention your volunteers and profile them.
  • If you don't practice any of these initiatives - then now is the time to get started. Write in your diary today a note to put in place a system that gives your volunteers due recognition for their service.

¹ Calculation made in 2010 based on the increase in the average wage since 1999-2000 when the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated the "average earnings estimate for volunteers" as $A15.90 an hour.