Getting the best from your volunteers through the SAVE approach

Getting the best from your volunteers through the SAVE approach

Managing a volunteer program can be a very rewarding and exciting role. We are matchmakers, facilitators, social workers, marketers, sales people and sometimes disciplinarians. This last role is usually the least comfortable for us – and the one that many of us try to avoid. But the fact remains, it is also part of the job.

The ‘new’ volunteer is looking for ways to engage your organization that fit into their own busy schedules and they are looking for guidance and support more than supervision and recognition.

Creating a solid volunteer management system that is well communicated and reinforced will go a long way towards minimizing the need for disciplinary actions – including the need to fire a volunteer. However, should you find yourself in this position, having a structured volunteer management system will ensure that you will have put the appropriate measures in place.

How the SAVE Approach can help

By using the SAVE Approach, you can proactively ensure that best practices are in place for onboarding new volunteers, providing guidance to existing volunteers and, when necessary, end the volunteer relationship.

The SAVE Approach is:

S (Screening, Structure, Support and Supervision)
A (Attainable, Attention)
V (Validate, Value)
E (Evaluate, Encourage, End)

Screening volunteers by collecting and evaluating information about potential volunteers will help you to determine the right fit for each volunteer and will identify any red flags that might prevent the volunteer from being the best choice for the role. By not screening volunteers, you are immediately putting your volunteer program at risk of having to remove a volunteer. The purpose of screening is to protect both the volunteer and the organization (and the organization’s clients) and prevent inappropriate placements. Remember that screening begins at your first encounter with the potential volunteer.

Structure helps you to set goals for the volunteer that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound (SMART). By building the infrastructure of the volunteer program to include performance management, proper documentation, training of both staff and volunteers, and linking the performance to recognition, leadership roles and evaluation, you will minimize risks.

Supporting volunteers requires flexibility. Also, it is not just your role to support the volunteer but also the staff and senior leadership of the organization. They too will need to learn to provide support and encouragement to volunteers. Some strategies for support could include shadowing and mentorship, training and de-briefing sessions. Developing a system to support your volunteers will allow you to guide your volunteer’s relationship in a positive and meaningful way.

Supervision requires open communication between all parties. It is key that there is an ongoing feedback and evaluation process that includes all supervising staff as well as input from clients.

Attention and Attainable requires you to get to know your volunteers and revise roles to ensure that they are SMART. Providing new opportunities for keeping volunteers involved and motivated ensures that volunteers are getting the ongoing support and education that they require.

Value refers to the way that we can connect the volunteer’s role to the organization’s mission and vision by setting clear expectations through policies, procedures and best practices and communicating this to the volunteers. All volunteers need to be treated with respect and should know how they fit into the big picture.

Validating the volunteer experience occurs through feedback, 360-degree performance management systems, and open dialogue. It is also important to provide motivation to stretch beyond their comfort zone and be a positive role model for other volunteers.

Encouragement focuses on the ability to keep volunteers motivated and engaged in their work. By matching volunteers with their interests and skills you can encourage high-level performance outcomes.

Ensuring that the volunteers are regularly supported, educated and thanked is going to build on their comfort level and keep the lines of communication open. It is also important to identify training needs, celebrate successes and publicise the contributions of the volunteers to your stakeholders as well as creating a volunteer-friendly atmosphere within your organization.

Evaluation is a necessary component of the volunteer management cycle that will reinforce the structure that you have built.

The key components include knowing the benefits of effective performance management and ensuring that a process exists. It is important to set goals with the volunteer and follow through on them so that you can move volunteers towards success.

Ending a volunteer relationship

Finally, if you do need to END a volunteer relationship, it is important to do so in a respectful and structured way.

Dealing with a difficult volunteer requires an objective and timely process that relies on the volunteer position description for framing the conversation and identifying the expected behaviour of the volunteer. Indicating a shared commitment to finding a solution will help to create the parameters to address and ultimately solve the issues that are concerning.

If you must remove the volunteer from their position, the first step is to ensure that you document everything. Keeping thorough records is a best practice that should be adopted for all of your volunteer transactions, not just when disciplinary action is being considered.

You should create a progressive dismissal process that is well documented in your volunteer manual and communicated to your volunteers and staff.

It is very hard to predict how the volunteer will respond to the end of their relationship with the organization. Where possible, we want to encourage volunteers to continue to be philanthropic and engaged in community support.

Volunteering is a very personal choice and we are an important conductor on the volunteer’s journey. Taking the time to develop screening and support tools and communicating these both internally and externally, with volunteers and staff, we can feel confident that we can SAVE the difficult conversation for another time.

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