Better Together: Part 3 – Sustaining

As we discussed in the previous blogs, volunteers are a human resources treasure! Volunteering benefits both organizations and individuals. Managing human resources has always been important, but is more important than ever now during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Part 1 we discussed the first three standards of practice from the Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement. In Part 2 we continued the discussion covering the framework required for getting the right person for the right job.

Part 3 concludes the discussion with how to build a sustaining work environment.

The Standards of Practice for Volunteer Involvement
  1. Mission-Based Approach
  2. Human Resources
  3. Infrastructure for Volunteer Involvement
  4. Evaluation: Tracking Measuring and Reporting
  5. Volunteer Roles and Recruitment
  6. Risk Management
  7. Screening
  8. Orientation and Training
  9. Support and Supervision
  10. Recognition: Valuing volunteer Involvement

Orientation and Training

Ensure volunteers receive orientation to the organization. This should cover its history, mission, values, policies, and practices, as appropriate to their staffing role, and their individual needs. They should have a good understanding of the impact of their contributions and how it supports the mission and purpose. A well-informed volunteer will raise the organization’s profile when they talk about their volunteer work. While the form of orientation can be as simple as a pamphlet, or as structured as a meeting and tour, it may be helpful to use more than one method.

Provide the information and skills that a volunteer needs to do their specific job. Some tasks may require training before their work begins, other coaching can happen on the job. Allow opportunities for feedback, to ensure instructions are understood.

Offer ongoing access to training to upgrade skills and adapt to changes in the organization. Such opportunities help to keep volunteers interested in their role. If they have mastered skills in one role, moving to new assignments keeps them engaged and challenged.

Support and Supervision

Even after orientation and training has been completed, volunteers should continue to receive the level of support and supervision needed for their role. Opportunities to give and receive feedback are an essential part of this support. Supervision is about building strong relationships, which is the best context for a volunteer to get adept at their task. It is also the best context for providing correction or direction when needed.

Review performance on a regular basis. Evaluations are a great time to make sure that the tasks are completed as needed, and that the volunteer’s needs are met by the opportunity. A paid staff member might expect a raise or more holidays. What incentive or benefit can the organization offer? If a volunteer’s performance is below expectation, an honest discussion of the problem may be helpful. Perhaps additional training, or a different shift would be a welcome support. Situations requiring correction or dismissal should follow the policies and labor legislation fairly and consistently, while respecting privacy and dignity of those concerned.

Recognition: Valuing volunteer involvement

Acknowledge the contributions of volunteers in ways that reflect the needs of those volunteers. Their value and the impact of their contributions should be recognized by the organization and communicated back to the volunteer.

Since recruiting and training new volunteers is an investment of energy, time, and money, doing things to retain those volunteers is key to sustaining the volunteer program. Strengthen communication to build teamwork, give volunteers a voice in daily decisions, and recognize their accomplishments.

Formal, public recognition appeals to achievement-motivated individuals. Socially motivated people appreciate group events which do not single them out, such as dinners, or branded hats and t-shirts. Cause motivated people might appreciate opportunities for influence, such as teaching others or being highlighted in a newsletter. Recognition should be ongoing and even simple tools such as written thank-you cards, or desserts and treats are an important part of building the kind of culture that volunteers want to continue to be a part of.


Many will be familiar with the ancient ideal of life, that if we can do marvelous things but do not treat others with kindness and respect, we have really accomplished nothing. This paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13 paints a picture of that ideal workplace community:

If I could speak all the languages of earth, but did not value others, I would only be background noise in the office or an annoying ringtone.

If I had the ability to read into the future, and knew all there was to know, but did not respect those around me, I would really be a nobody.

If I donated all my salary to charity and even sold off all my possessions and donated my body to science, it would be amazing and newsworthy, but if I did it just to get into the Guinness Book of World Records and didn’t really have regard for the fellow human beings my actions helped, I would come across as arrogant and have gained nothing of real value myself.

True respect for others is patient and kind. When we value others there is no room for jealousy or boasting, pride or rude behavior. Treating others with courtesy allows room for multiple opinions and ways of doing things. Dignity means when others lack skills, we are not irritable, unforgiving, or bitter. Encouragement in the workplace will never result from running others down, but from truthful assessments. Supporting co-workers means we do not give up when someone has a bad day. We believe they are doing the best they can with what they have understood and are willing to try again.

Financial forecasts and the latest software and marketing knowledge are quickly obsolete, but a person’s respect for others is their legacy. We are all human and make mistakes in our journey through life, but we should also be willing to continue learning and growing into better people and help make the world a better place.

Someday, when this chapter of our life is complete, we will look back and see more clearly how what we did was not as important as the attitude we did it with. Then our ordinary little everyday actions will have grown into a legacy that can inspire others. After all, nothing in this world lasts forever – but respect, dignity, and appreciation of others – those create environments and organizations that live on inspiring others long after we have retired!


1 Corinthians 13

Stories of everyday heroes

Better Together: Part 2 – Implementing

Volunteers… from the hockey mom down the street, the senior who serves at a homeless shelter or the saintly Mother Teresa…they truly are valuable!  In the previous blog we discussed the benefits for both organizations and individuals. And while managing human resources has always been important, this aspect has become more crucial than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Part 1, the first 3 standards of practice from the Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement were discussed. It begins with a mission-based mindset, an integrated human resource approach and an infrastructure that defines and supports the involvement of volunteers.

The Standards of Practice for Volunteer Involvement
  1. Mission-Based Approach
  2. Human Resources
  3. Infrastructure for Volunteer Involvement
  4. Evaluation: Tracking Measuring and Reporting
  5. Volunteer Roles and Recruitment
  6. Risk Management
  7. Screening
  8. Orientation and Training
  9. Support and Supervision
  10. Recognition: Valuing volunteer Involvement


Following is a discussion of the next four standards.

Evaluation: Tracking Measuring and Reporting

The impact of volunteer involvement needs to be evaluated to ensure its success. The organization should have an evaluation framework in place to assess the performance of volunteers and to gauge volunteer satisfaction. Records should be kept for each individual and in accordance with privacy laws. Just as a paid staff member would have annual reviews, the individual performance of the volunteer should also be evaluated on a regular basis.  The impact of their contributions should be shared with them as well.

Volunteer Roles and Recruitment

Clear roles for volunteers must be identified. When staff are hired for pay, a job description is part of the expectation. The term ‘Volunteer’ refers to what the staff member is paid, not the expectation of their work. Therefore, a clear title and documented job description is necessary for paid or volunteer staff. Be sure to include the hours or time required, skills needed and how the task supports the mandate of the organization. Try to incorporate both the things that need to be done and things that motivate volunteers. What are the benefits? List them: learning new skills, meeting new people, or helping those in need.

It is necessary to monitor and redesign jobs where needed. If there is a job that is difficult to fill, ask around to see what is preventing volunteers from committing to it. Do volunteers for a certain area keep quitting? Ask questions to find out both why and to discover how the task could be more rewarding.

A recruitment strategy must be developed. Try to reach diverse groups for potential volunteers. Keep in mind that the different generations may require a different engagement approach. Statistics indicate that younger Canadians are less likely to volunteer if they are not asked personally. Does the ideal volunteer need to have specific skills or interests? What kinds of needs might the ideal candidate have (childcare, transportation, etc.)? Answering those kinds of questions may help determine where to start looking for the right people for the job. Having determined who you are trying to reach makes the next step of getting the message out to them easier.

A consistent selection process must be established. While interviews are a common method to determine an individual’s suitability for the position, keep in mind that a face-to-face interview is limited in what it reveals. A person who interviews well is displaying that they are skilled in interviews. It might not be the best method to evaluate all candidates, especially when individuals who have great potential are shy or nervous. Additional components such as personality tests, skills-based questionnaires or working a trial shift may be useful. A reciprocal attitude– allowing the candidate to ask questions can reveal clues as to whether their goals will complement those of the organization.

Risk Management

Procedures should be in place to assess, manage and to mitigate potential risks to volunteers, organizations, clients, staff, and participants.  Each role and activity should be assessed for risks.

Health and Safety protocols should be followed. Provincial health and safety regulators often provide resources for employees which can be applied to volunteer positions as well. Form a workplace safety group with volunteer members and ensure that liability insurance is in place to cover unforeseen circumstances.


Would a bank hire a teller without background checks to make sure they are trustworthy? Clearly, there is the same type of risk with volunteers as there is with paid staff. The organization should have a clearly communicated, consistently applied and transparent screening process. This should include background checks such as a Criminal Record Check or Vulnerable Sector Check as well as conversations with personal references.

Begin by defining the organization’s screening process for new volunteers. Once the guidelines have been developed, assess the current volunteers and their job descriptions, and begin implementing screening.


When all staff and their roles are valued, and with a framework for implementing a volunteer program in place, it is more likely that organizations will get the right person for the right job. The next task is to create an environment that retains volunteers. Further insight into how to create that kind of environment and the related standards of practice will be covered in part 3…


10 Steps to Safety

What’s the Real Cost of Recruiting the Wrong Person?

13 Ways to Ensure You Always Hire the Right Person

Better Together: Part 1 – Designing

Managing Volunteers Successfully

Volunteer Canada has been providing volunteer management resources since 1977. Their Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement (2017) is a guide to assess volunteer management practices. The Code is composed of 3 essential elements as follows:

  1. The value of volunteer involvement:
    The value of volunteer involvement begins with understanding that it plays a fundamental role in society, builds strong communities, enlarges the capacity of organizations. This is a personal and highly relational way for individuals to be involved.
  2. The guiding principles that frame the relationship between the volunteer and non-profit organization:
    Volunteer involvement must be reciprocal. Volunteers have rights. They are an important part of the organization that requires appropriate human resources infrastructure to provide a safe and supportive environment. Volunteers have responsibilities. They make a commitment to act with respect for the cause, for the organization’s benefactors, leadership and staff, and for the community served.
  3. The standards of practice which ensure success:
    These are divided into ten areas which provide guidance to be adapted rather than detailed instructions.
The Standards of Practice for Volunteer Involvement
  1. Mission-Based Approach
  2. Human Resources
  3. Infrastructure for Volunteer Involvement
  4. Evaluation: Tracking Measuring and Reporting
  5. Volunteer Roles and Recruitment
  6. Risk Management
  7. Screening
  8. Orientation and Training
  9. Support and Supervision
  10. Recognition: Valuing volunteer Involvement

Following is a discussion of the first three standards.

Mission-Based Approach

In this type of approach to volunteering, the Board of directors and senior staff acknowledge, articulate, and support the vital role of volunteers. This will be seen in tangible ways:

  • Write: The mission statement should clearly articulate the value of volunteers to the organization.
  • Approve: The Board approves goals and strategies for volunteer involvement.
  • Join: The Board see themselves as volunteers.
  • Demonstrate: Include volunteers in planning and decision making.
  • Link: Volunteer roles are clearly linked to the mission.
  • Invest: Space, equipment and budget should be allocated as required.
  • Protect: Safety procedures and insurance should be in place to address liability.

Human Resources

Integration is a key concept in this human resource management approach. All staff are welcomed and treated as valued and integral members of the team, whether paid employees, students, or volunteers. All are given training and support to work effectively together. Policies and practices are applied fairly, and all are welcome to have input in planning and evaluation processes.

Infrastructure for Volunteer Involvement

The organization should adopt a policy framework and procedures that define and support the involvement of volunteers.

Policies often get a bad rap for limiting what can be done, but they are much-needed boundaries. Should just anyone be able to volunteer? Do volunteers know if they are permitted to speak to the media if approached? Do policies support inclusion, accessibility and diversity?

Save time and money by reviewing policies of other organizations but refrain from blindly adopting them. Rather, adapt them to the organization’s unique situation. Finally, review policies periodically to make sure they are being used appropriately and continue to be relevant.

The importance of the volunteer coordinator role cannot be overstated. Their position is vital to leveraging the potential hundreds of thousands of dollars of staff time available to the organization. The person in this role must have a clear job description and possess a diverse set of skills beyond just planning activities. This would include strong interpersonal and communication skills, understanding volunteer motivation, conflict resolution and the development of training, orientation, and evaluation materials. Workshops and seminars are affordable ways to build skills and knowledge and to get certification in volunteer administration.

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.”

-Author unknown

How can an organization find volunteers that want to vote for the community they are trying to create? Essentially it is finding the right person for the right task. Further insights into that and the related standards of practice will be covered in part 2…


Volunteer Canada: The Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement, Putting the Code into Action, and Code Audit Tool – Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration – Volunteer Management Professionals of Canada

Volunteer Manitoba

Psychology Today: Why Do Volunteers Live Longer?

Better Together: Introduction

Have you ever attended an event where the speaker asked for volunteers? Or been asked by your child’s dance class or hockey club to give of your time for their fundraiser? What motivates people to volunteer? While those examples might highlight a sense of obligation, often volunteering on a regular basis fulfills a desire for significance; to be part of something bigger than them.

Francis S. Collins, a scientist and author of the New York Times Bestseller about his experience mapping the DNA code, “The Language of God”, says that moral values and altruistic behavior are things which set humans apart from the rest of the organisms on our planet. While science has not found evolutionary benefit to our desire to help others, it makes humans unique. Winston Churchill, considered one of the 20th century’s most significant figures, once said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”


Not only does volunteering make the world a better place, but volunteers often have higher life satisfaction, less psychological distress and longer lives! Seniors may find that satisfaction in leaving a legacy. A high-school student, on the other hand, may volunteer to learn new skills and to gain experience for their resume or to earn a high school credit.

Since volunteering is a relationship-based activity, it promotes respectful interaction between different groups in the community. It also promotes a sense of belonging and shared identity.

People are most likely to invest passionately in people close to them. They understand the needs of their own community best. Because of this alignment of motivation and local knowledge, local volunteer work can provide great benefits.

Volunteers extend the reach and effectiveness of organizations. Siloam Mission in Winnipeg, which provides services to alleviate homelessness and poverty, says that volunteers are a vital staffing resource.  They are the connecting point, offering their smiles and energy for meaningful relationships with clients. Organizations frequently record an estimate of volunteer hours in their financial statement notes, emphasizing the real value that volunteers contribute.

Fair market value

It can be difficult to determine the fair market value of a volunteer. However, Statistics Canada data shows that in 2018, over 12.7 million people volunteered more than 1.6 billion hours across our nation for charities, non-profits and community organizations., a company which provides online fundraising software, claims that the average value of an hour volunteered is $25.43. That is a total annual value of $40.7 billion across Canada.

Therefore, volunteer human resources are not “low-skilled” or “free labor.” That sort of thinking sets the stage for an organization to expect and tolerate volunteers performing at a mediocre level. Recognize that volunteers are an investment that requires both time and money. Empowering volunteers by organizing and training them well and keeping them accountable will pay huge dividends in long-term success! In interviews, conducted by Plains Edge with volunteer coordinators of local charities, the need to manage volunteers well was highlighted again and again.

Non-profits require that their corporate directors, who are usually volunteers, be skilled professionals and be respected and recognized because of the responsibility they carry. The organization should invest much and expect much from all volunteers.

Current challenges

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has created some unique challenges for non-profits who rely heavily on volunteers. Many organizations have had to shut down, adjust operations or use current technology and infrastructure to pivot services to online offerings. Donations may have declined, or technology may be outdated. Many are struggling to find a new way to communicate strategically with volunteers and patrons. While the situation is disconcerting, the crisis also brings opportunities to think intentionally about how the organization operates.  Good management of volunteers is now more important than ever!

The next three articles will focus on designing, implementing, and sustaining an effective volunteer program.