As lockdown restrictions continue to ease and our sector begins to resume the delivery of activities and services suspended due to COVID-19, there are undoubtedly questions about what it means to involve volunteers in the ‘New Normal’. Here are some key areas to consider:
- Restarting our volunteering programme feels overwhelming. How do we approach this as an organisation?
Tobi Johnson, an expert and master trainer in volunteer engagement, offers practical tips and ideas in her recent blog. She challenges us to consider three big planning questions to focus our thinking:
- Which volunteers are essential to critical operations right now (if any?)
- How will you welcome volunteers back to ensure they can volunteer safely and confidently?
- When will you bring volunteers back, and in what phases?
- What is the latest government guidance about who can/can’t volunteer during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The latest government advice is as follows:
- Volunteering outside your home: individuals can volunteer outside their home if they follow the social distancing guidance, if they are well and nobody in their household has coronavirus symptoms. If they are over 70 or clinically vulnerable, they can also volunteer outside the home if the volunteering organisation does a risk assessment, and they can work in a separate area away from other people.
People should not volunteer outside their home if they are extremely clinically vulnerable and, if they live with someone who is over 70, clinically vulnerable, or extremely clinically vulnerable, they will need to consider their needs before volunteering.
- Volunteering inside your home: there are lots of ways people can volunteer from home, including if they are over 70, clinically vulnerable and extremely clinically vulnerable.
No-one should volunteer if they have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) or if they have tested positive for coronavirus.
- How do I ensure that my organisation has COVID-19-specific measures in place so that people can volunteer safely?
Much of the advice and guidance for employees is applicable to volunteers. Have a look at our guidance on running your organisation during COVID-19 for more information.
Risk assessments should also be completed for all volunteer roles/activities, with individual risk assessments for everyone volunteering outside their home where possible; these are particularly important if volunteers are over 70 or clinically vulnerable. To help volunteers understand the decisions that your organisation makes, it is important to talk to all volunteers about specific risks: this should cover the role or activity, the physical and social environment, as well as their individual circumstances.
Before volunteering, volunteers should be given clear, concise, and relevant information about the safety measures you have put in place, and the opportunity to ask questions.
- Some people may feel reluctant or nervous to go back out again even if the latest government guidance means that they can volunteer. How can my organisation address this?
This is an understandable reaction. Where possible, try and phone volunteers to re-engage with them if this has not been possible in the last few months. Find out how they are and if they feel ready to go back to volunteering, outlining everything that has been put in place to enable volunteering to be resumed safely whilst emphasising that there is no pressure to start volunteering again. Virtual Volunteering has really taken off over the past three months and will be an option for many organisations going forward.
Keep communicating regularly with all your volunteers so they feel up-to-date and connected with your organisation, for example could you send a short fortnightly email? As the Directory for Social Change reminds us in its recent blog: “Don’t just focus on the policies and procedures, take time to think about the people,” advising organisations to “make sure you include plans for supporting and caring for your staff and volunteers, as well as your IT systems and office risk assessments.”
- Several people who supported us when the country went into lockdown in March are now returning to work and are no longer able to volunteer. What support is available to help us with volunteer recruitment?
Many people who volunteered during the crisis may not be able (or want to) continue to volunteer longer-term. If time is an issue, you could look to design flexible, task-based micro-volunteering opportunities, rather than fully fledged roles. Alternatively you could explore other volunteering activities within your organisation that may interest them.
Since March, more than 1,800 people have signed up to help our communities as volunteers with the Buckinghamshire Volunteer Matching Service, run by Community Impact Bucks in partnership with The Clare Foundation and Buckinghamshire Council. There is now a pool of available volunteers – if you have a volunteer opportunity, please complete the volunteer request form.
If you are looking for volunteers with professional skills, or Trustees, you can register with our national partner Reach Volunteering.
Some final thoughts…
Lockdown has demonstrated that when people are united by a common crisis, extraordinary things can happen in a very short timeframe. We have seen fast, effective volunteer recruitment and the development of flexible volunteer opportunities; it is important to hold on to these new ways of working and the chance to do things differently.