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Rethinking the role of volunteers


Covid-19 had brought and will continue to pose many challenges to involving volunteers but it has also presented opportunities to work differently. For many reasons the makeup of who volunteers with you may change, if it hasn’t already. Older volunteers or communities who are more significantly affected by Covid-19 may be apprehensive about returning to the roles they did before. This shouldn’t mean that those individuals are left behind, to make sure a wide range of people still feel able to volunteer you may want to think about adapting and developing your roles. 


Task based/remote volunteering:

Could you engage a pool of supporters that can help with tasks remotely? This could be promoting your key messages on their social media, looking over documents, creating content for your next fundraising campaign.

Virtual volunteer roles are likely to have less opportunity for the social aspect of volunteering so virtual volunteers are more likely to be attracted by the mission of your organisation, so make it easy for them; make the ‘call to action’ clear, communicate the difference their small contribution will make and make it easy for them to get involved. 

Virtual volunteer roles will also have to be done with less on hand support so the ask has to be clear from the beginning, the time you put into explaining and outlining what you need will be reaped back in the quality of the result.

This might also be a good way to invite skilled volunteers to support with tasks that your organisation might lack. Employers have been incredibly active during the crisis, offering staff time and support to help with the crisis so you also may want to think about how you may benefit from involving short term professional or employer supported volunteers. The project Skill Givers has a bespoke platform and lots of information on how to work better with employer supported volunteers.

Virtual volunteer resources : 

Continuing your operation

Supporting staff and volunteers to work from home  

Virtual Volunteering Guide

Safety and Virtual Volunteering

Never a better time to explore Virtual Volunteering than NOW - Ideas for virtual volunteer roles

Free training in virtual volunteering (involving & supporting volunteers using online tools)

Online Recruitment:

Many organisations will be looking at ways they can recruit without having face to face meetings, schedule and confirm shifts and share information with volunteers remotely. Here are some options of software and platforms that make it easier to onboard volunteers remotely.

Timecounts - Free online platform which allows you to register volunteers, share agreements, schedule shifts for different roles and send confirmation e-mails. Paid-for options for further customisation and access.



Although some dedicated volunteers may use this natural break to end their volunteering with you, you don’t want to force them into this by not being able to offer them alternative roles. Speak to each individual and see how they would like to take their volunteering forward without making them feel obliged to return.

Some volunteers may be apprehensive about returning because of risk. It might be more of a challenge to be flexible when we need to be aware of who is using our buildings when, how and for how long, we can’t offer ‘pop in for as much or as little time as you like’. Instead you could break volunteer roles down and offer smaller roles. For example, break ‘cafe volunteer’ down into front of house and kitchen volunteering and differentiate between the environments they will be working with. This way someone could offer to help without worrying that they in a front facing role which may expose them to more people, therefore allowing volunteers to self assess risk. 

Whilst you’ve had a break or a change in your usual volunteering this might also be a good time to refresh some of your existing roles and the volunteers who have been the stalwarts of those roles. Are your volunteers in the best role for their skills and enthusiasm?

Managing volunteers in a crisis - useful six steps to a strong volunteer management plan

Volunteering roles and changes to the workforce:

There is no escaping the fact that the impact of Covid-19 will leave the voluntary and community sector with difficult decisions and uncertainties around how to continue running their organsiations and services. It is likely that organisations will have to think deeply about the make up of their workforce and volunteers will feature heavier in this new future. One thing that is for certain is the need for skilled volunteer management professionals in order to develop new ways of working that capitalises on the skills and enthusiasm of volunteers whilst drawing a clear distinction between a voluntary role and a paid one as well as holding the line that good volunteers are not free. 

Susan J Ellis, writing in the wake of the 2009 financial crash usefully outlined a three big considerations for those with responsibilities for volunteering at their organisations facing budget cuts, potential redundancies and a possible sway to relying more heavily on volunteers - prevention/preparation, responding to hard times and emergency mode. You can read the original blog post here or in Rob Jackson's collection of essays in 'Cuts and Change after Covid-19'.

Back to Covid Recovery resources for Volunteer managers