So You’re a Volunteer! What now?

What are the foundational things you need to ask yourself when you start your volunteering role.

Authored by:

iClick2Learn Team

So what is that draws you and motivate you to volunteering? There was a recent report, Price water house Coopers State of Volunteering in Australia, that actually demonstrated that 93% of volunteers saw positive changes for themselves as well as others as a result of their volunteering efforts. There are many reasons why people volunteer, from wanting to meet other people, learn a new skill or to help the community. 

In the Rural Fire Service, for example, volunteers want to contribute to their community, they wanted to learn new skills, develop new friendships, or gain confidence to deal with fires on their own properties. So whatever the reason is, by understanding that, that’s what you’re going to come back to if things do get challenging. The motivations that draw you to volunteer may not be the same reasons that you stay. You might actually find that they change as you continue to volunteer. 

Maybe you’re going to get along well with other volunteers and staff, your talents might be appreciated or you feel that you’re actually helping to achieve something for your community. The perfect volunteering relationship is where there’s a mutual exchange for the organisation gains and so do you as a volunteer. 

So what would the volunteer organisation stand to gain from having you onboard? Why do you want to volunteer? Think about how much you receive when you give and consider why you might want to volunteer. Here are just a few quotes from some other volunteers.

As a volunteer, you’re so important to Australian society. By providing your time and resources, you can make a big difference helping our communities, helping deliver services, products and opportunities that otherwise people couldn’t afford or they wouldn’t have access to at all. For example, without volunteers in our communities, meals may not be delivered. We may not be able to help distressed people through Lifeline or Beyond Blue, for example. Perhaps injured wildlife wouldn’t be able to be helped. And disadvantaged people may not have access to the help that they need. 

So more volunteers are needed now than ever before to meet growing demands from members of the communities that they help. Our communities are facing more challenges than every before. And with your help as a volunteer, together we can work towards addressing these needs. There are 5.8 million volunteers over 18 years of age, and they freely give their time and expertise to social causes. 

It’s about 32% of the population over 18 that volunteer. And it might surprise you to find that 40% of charities are actually run by volunteers just like you. So you can really see that volunteers are so vital to keeping these organisations alive. Volunteers make up the major portion of the not-for-profit sector and social enterprise workforce. It’s a sector of the economy which includes a range of ways people can volunteer. There’s informal volunteering, such as helping out a school fete. 

Maybe you’re a parent. Perhaps you’re participating in a Clean Up Australia Day or a Planting Tree Day. There’s other ways such as formal volunteering, and this is where volunteers have a clear role to perform with a job description, and they’re managed as if they’re an employee. For example, Royal Fire Brigade or a Service Cadet. There’s also micro-volunteering. Micro-volunteering is popular in the corporate space. It’s a volunteering activity that’s done either online via a computer, tablet, or offline in small parcels of time. describes it as bite-sized, on-demand, no-commitment actions that benefit a worthy cause.

Volunteer application forms are usually completed either before your orientation or they’re finalised during your orientation. They’re usually designed to gather information about you and to help the organisation find out if you have the necessary certifications, qualifications, skills, experience for the role. They can also be used to assess how well-matched you are to the role and to know what dates, hours and times you’re available or that you prepared to commit. 

Hopefully, the volunteer application form will ask you specific information about skills and previous experience, just in case there are other roles you might be able to fill. So make sure that you’re very clear about any previous work or volunteer experience that you’ve had. Don’t assume that they know what you’re bringing or what you’re prepared to offer to the organisation in your role. 

So for example, if you volunteered previously for the State Emergency Service, tell them what your capacity in that role was and a bit of detail about the tasks you completed or maybe the incidences that you’ve attended, or the management and projects that you help deliver. And if need be, have a couple of referees ready to provide you with a verbal reference.

If you provided the handbook it’s likely to include the organiser reason for having volunteers in the first place, information on the history of the organisation, what it does, its purpose, objective, visions, and values. And that’s going to help you understand where you fit into the big picture and how your work helps the organisation further its purpose and objectives. 

It’ll cover things like rights and responsibilities of both you as a volunteer and the rights and responsibilities the organisation has to you so it’s great knowing what to expect. It’ll also cover things like the benefits and policies and procedures that may be relevant. Other information, some of which is covered in the site orientation may also be included to make you feel welcome and to make your transition easier such as who to contact and an organisational chart. 

An organisation may have a trial or probation period and you’ll receive information about that if they do and don’t think that it’s a bad thing It can actually be great to see if there is a match between you and the organisation. It’s the time when you get to ask questions about things that come up. And look, if you find that it wasn’t what you expected that it’s not really working out for you. It’s a lot easier to say that up front during that trial and probation period, then leaving it until further down the track.

You may find there’s more than one volunteer role in the organisation, and often when you start you may begin at an entry level position. But as you’re going to learn more about the organisation and what it does and the impact that it has, you may be able to access other volunteer roles, so it’s a great idea to ask about volunteer roles that exist when you first start. Ideally, the role that you have, or that you’re aiming to have in the future, is a good match for you, your skills, experience, and time that you can commit. 

For example, you might relate well to children, and you are comfortable in a role that’s mentoring them in a reading program. But there may be other volunteers that prefer to work with animals, such as a dog shelter, or they prefer admin tasks. If you don’t get the specific role that you’re looking for, ask about other ways that you can help. For example, if you like helping solve problems, you could ask what capacity there is for problem-solving, or for brainstorming. Or what roles they have that require administration or management skills.

Having a roster is vitally important for managing volunteers, particularly in programs, events, and services. So whether your contribution is weekly, monthly, or annually, you really need to know where to be on duty, when, and what role you’re playing. Often there’s going to be someone in charge of creating a roster, and also communicating that out to volunteers, and in order for this to work effectively you need to provide the volunteer organisation with up-to-date contact information. 

This is basic information that will be covered in your site orientation. Another point I want to make about volunteer rosters is if you are rostered on, remember it’s your responsibility to turn up, so make sure that you give the organisation plenty of notice if something happens, and if something happens that you didn’t expect, then make sure you know what the process is, and who you need to notify to make sure that your roster is filled, and they’re aware that you’re not coming in.

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