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How to prepare for a professional volunteer project

26 June 2024

by Media Trust



Unlock the full potential of your volunteer project with Media Trust's expert preparation tips. Ensure impactful results, seamless collaboration, and a rewarding experience for all involved!

Here at Media Trust, we have three decades of experience matching charities with skilled volunteers. We know firsthand that the power of a great match can create long-lasting and positive change for charities and volunteers alike. But there is a secret to a successful volunteer project: it is all in the preparation!  

Here are some top tips that will ensure your project runs smoothly, builds fantastic working relationships, and most importantly, has a big impact on your charity.  

Choosing the right volunteer 

Have a good think about the short-term gap that you are looking for a volunteer to fill. This will help you to define exactly who you are looking for, what skills and knowledge they need to have, and how you can ask the right questions to get the information you need when you meet them. You will need to follow your organisation’s usual vetting process for volunteers and carry out steps that are appropriate to the role such as interviewing the volunteer, requesting references, and carrying out a DBS check (if applicable). 

Defining boundaries and expectations 

It is extremely important that charities lay out and agree the boundaries and expectations at with the volunteer the beginning of the relationship. It is best to agree on what the volunteer expects from the charity, and what the charity expects from the volunteer. 

This might include:  

  • How many hours and days the volunteer will donate, and over what period  
  • Whether you will be providing travel or lunch expenses for the volunteer  
  • Discussion of any important rules and policies, such as social media guidelines 
  • If you are asking the volunteer to create content for your organisation, be sure to make an agreement about the ownership of this content. Take a look at the NCVO website for further information.

Setting up effective communication channels  

Effective communication is key for a successful and smooth-running project, and this is even more invaluable when working remotely. Here are a few questions to think about:  

  • Who is the main point of contact for the volunteer? Picking one ‘lead’ contact is much easier than having lots of different people.  
  • Who will they contact if this person is away?  
  • Have you made space and time in your calendar to have check-ins with the volunteer? 
  • Have you agreed with them your preferred methods of communication? This may be a good question to ask when you first meet.  
  • Lay out expected responding times (I.e., you can say that you cannot always respond immediately to emails, but you will try to do this within 24 hours). 

Preparing smooth processes 

The more you can get ready in advance of your volunteer starting their project, the quicker they will be able to hit the ground running. Think about:  

  • Creating a specific brief or short-term role description for your volunteer. This will not only help with setting expectations, but it will also help focus their work to make it most effective.  
  • What background information the volunteer may need to know. You could create a shared drive to share documents that would be useful – e.g., organisational policies, branding guidelines, annual reports. 
  • Setting up a clear process for how the volunteer will share their work with you, and how it will get signed off, and by who.  
  • Who else in the team needs to be aware of the volunteer’s work? Make sure your colleagues are kept the loop, especially if they will be working with the volunteer. 
  • The evaluation or monitoring processes you need to establish to measure the impact of the volunteer’s work. 
  • How will you thank and show your appreciation to the volunteer at the end of their placement. 

Think about risk  

Although incidents are rare, it is particularly important to carry out a risk assessment to consider how you can reduce any risk related to the volunteer activity. Here are some key areas to think about, but there will be more specific risks related to your area of work:  

  • Passwords – Do you have a secure process for managing passwords that the volunteer may need, such as social media accounts? 
  • Safeguarding policies – Will the volunteer have any interaction with beneficiaries of your charity?  
  • Data protection – Will the volunteer only have access to information they specifically need for their role? Will they have access to any personal or sensitive data? 
  • Recruitment – have you vetted the volunteer sufficiently for the nature of support they are giving?  

By considering all these areas, and preparing for your volunteer thoroughly, you are setting up your project – and importantly, your volunteer – for success. This groundwork will create space for you and the volunteer to do great work with fantastic results.  

If you would like to find out more about preparing for and managing volunteers, we recommend browsing the NCVO website.

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