Umbrella 2011 : Working with volunteers for the Summer Reading Challenge (E3)

Working with volunteers for the Summer Reading Challenge
Tracy Hager, Wiltshire

Tracy talked about her experience of using volunteers to run the Summer Reading challenge at Chippenham library in Summer 2010.  Volunteers are essential in order to make it possible to listen to the children talk about their books as there are around 1000 children reading 6 books each…

She received 33 applications from volunteers, and 28 actually took part totalling 425 volunteer hours.  Unfortunately 11 volunteers did not fulfill all their planned hours and there were 33 hours where they were completely stood up with no advance warning.  I can sympathise with that moment when the lack of a volunteer suddenly creates extra staff work to cover for the missing shift.  It’s a very frustrating moment!

When Tracy reached her “problems with volunteers” slide, the camaraderie in the audience suddenly increased…  All of us had experienced some or all of these issues I think, and it was a wonderful feeling to be with other people who understood.  Her listed problems were:

  • The ones who did not turn up on time or at all
  • The ones that were too shy or reserved to make the children feel comfortable
  • The ones that seemed to be doing it only for something to put on their CV or university application
  • The ones that did not ask questions and consequently made mistakes
  • It proved difficult dealing with these volunteers, making them aware of the difficulties they had given us, when they missed shifts

Tracy then illustrated these problems with some case studies, showing the ways she had tried to work with these volunteers for example she offered reminder calls for those who were chronically late.  One case study certainly rang home with me about those volunteers who bring their troubles with them and give you far more information than you want or need about their personal health and situation.  I also agreed with the following quote:

We agreed that it is incredibly difficult to manage volunteers in the same way one would an employee, as it feels inappropriate to be anything other than grateful when someone is giving their time for free.

It is very difficult to criticise someone’s work, even constructively and gently, when they are working for free to help you.  I must admit that I have been known to chicken out of the situation entirely but simply moving the volunteer onto a different, usually easier, task rather than spending time with them to improve their work on the original task.  This is partly because of the lack of time I have to spend with each individual and partly my personal dislike of criticising people’s efforts.  I always feel it must be largely my fault for not training the person more thoroughly initially!

Another useful tip was sending out evaluation forms in thank you cards.  This is more appropriate for a short term, fixed project than for ongoing volunteers as I find you rarely know in advance when they’re leaving but it was a very nice idea.


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Filed under Umbrella 2011, Volunteers

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