How to Ensure Volunteers’ Care

June 8, 2015 — Leave a comment

When working with volunteers it is easy to push them to get the work done, be productive, and complete tasks. However, sometimes volunteers can feel burnt out, tired, and be in need of a break.

How to Ensure Volunteers' Self-Care

Photo Credit: New York National Guard

If you lead volunteers and want to ensure that they volunteer with you long-term it is important to ensure the care of your volunteers. In today’s post I share with you three areas in which to care for your volunteers.

Many faithful servants get sidelined by a simple problem: too much serving. You heard it here, friends—too much serving. Many new, highly motivated believers doubt that too much service is possible.
Bill Hybels, The Volunteer Revolution, p. 129

I. PAID EXPENSES

A third aspect of integration, and one that helped to support sustained, long-term involvement of volunteers, were efforts to reduce the net cost of volunteering to the volunteer, such as their contributions did not result in personal hardship to themselves or their families.
Barnes and Sharpe, “Looking Beyond Traditional Volunteer Management,” p. 177

A. Fuel

If your volunteers have to use their personal vehicle to drive be sure to reimburse them for gas and maintenance on their car. The government and IRS each provide recommendations on appropriate reimbursement rates.

B. Luncheons

If you have volunteers that are serving with you for the entire day, then be sure to provide lunch for them. When someone is donating their time to you for the day I think it is a good way to say “thank you” by providing lunch to volunteers.

C. Parking

A nice reward or way to ensure volunteers’ care is to provide them with good parking spots. Do volunteers have to park way in the back behind the staff and clients of your nonprofit organization? If so, consider the care that you can provide to your volunteers by giving them parking near the place where they are going to be working.

D. Materials

If there are any materials that volunteers need in order to serve your organization be sure to make sure that you provide those materials. These are simple things like skyzzers, duct tape, hand lotion, etc. Any basic items that volunteers need in order to complete the work that you are assigning to them needs to be provided by you.

II. PHYSICAL STRESS

A. Breaks During the Day

Some volunteer work can be difficult and physically tiring. One way to ensure your volunteers’ care is to let them know that they can take breaks and to encourage them to take breaks. I once had a volunteer who would sit at his desk working for hours until I told him that it was okay to take a break to go to the bathroom, get some water, etc.

B. Movement and Stretching

If volunteers are doing physical labor be sure to encourage them to move and stretch in order to prevent injury. You might need to lead this process yourself or provide some informative flyers that shows volunteers how to stretch. This movement and stretching is probably most important for volunteers sitting at a desk in an office.

III. EMOTIONAL STRESS

The life of servanthood isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. In addition to pacing ourselves for the long haul and attending to marriage and family, we need to pay attention to our diet, exercise, and rest. . . anyone who is truly selfless all the time will probably end up in an institution. The middle ground of self-care is essential for preserving our giftedness, our sanity, our relationships, and our health so that we can engage in continued service.
Bill Hybells, The Volunteer Revolution, p. 131

A. Frustrations and Bad Experiences with Clients

If volunteers interact with clients then they are going to have some bad experiences.

I remember having several rough experiences volunteering when in college at a local food bank. My job was to ensure that each person received no more than the limit of each item while walking down the line to pick up food. Even though I was standing there handing out the food several people tried to get around me, distract me, or flat out steal more food than was allowed. Sometimes I had to raise my voice, be assertive, and clearly show that I was in charge and was not going to allow the clients to steal food. It was a frustration with clients I had to deal with and understand.

Volunteers more than likely will have similar experiences to this and as a result will need to have time to deal with their feelings and frustrations as a means of self-care.

B. Spiritual Maintenance

Sincere, energized servanthood must flow from an ongoing, daily experience of God’s presence and love.
Bill Hybels, The Volunteer Revolution, p. 132

Sometimes volunteer experiences can wear on volunteers and cause them need time to talk with God, read their Bible, or just have some time of reflection. Spiritual maintenance looks very different to each volunteer and might need to be customized.

C. Time for Socialization with Other Volunteers

Something that is essential for almost all volunteers is time to socialize. If I have been guilty of one thing in my management of volunteers it is that I expect them to work without stopping or talking with other volunteers. I have had a tendency to push volunteers and cause them to feel that they cannot talk with other volunteers because they are so busy doing the work I have assigned them to do.

Creating time for volunteers to socialize with other volunteers allows them to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences from the work they are doing. In this way the volunteers help each other deal with tough issues as well as encourage each other.

D. Periodic “Time Off” for Volunteers

Sometimes ensuring the care of your volunteers means that the volunteers will need time off from volunteering for you.

1. Let Volunteers Know They Can Take a Break

The first step to allowing volunteers to take time off is to let volunteers know that it is okay to take time off. Some volunteers will continue volunteering even if they do not want to because they feel they have made a commitment to your organization and they want to honor their word. Furthermore, volunteers might be afraid to tell you that they are burnt out and that they need a break.

2. Set a Date for Volunteers’ Return to Volunteering

The second step to allowing volunteers to take time off is to provide a timeline for when the volunteers will return to your organization. If you allow volunteers to take a break and do not set an exact date for when you are expecting them to return, then they might not come back.

Question: What are some of the ways that you have helped ensure the self-care of your volunteers? 

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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