Supporting and Supervising volunteers

A good practice article for Leaders of Volunteers by Dave Thomas, Volunteering Development Officer at NCVS.

Two of the many hats that Leaders of Volunteers wear are those of Volunteer Supporter and Volunteer Supervisor. Often these two hats seem interchangeable, but it is good to think of them both as separate parts of volunteer leadership with quite different functions.

In my Mind your language article, I suggested that the language of volunteering should, as far as possible, be different from the language of employment. So while “Support” may be an appropriate term to use in our context, I really dislike “Supervision”.

Try things like Time-out, One-to-one, or Volunteer time.


For me, support is the ongoing, informal process that we provide in every contact with every volunteer. It is the basis of the relationship that we develop with them. It is about ensuring:

  • They feel welcome
  • They know what they are doing on that day’s volunteering session
  • They have the resources they need to carry out their role
  • They are thanked and appreciated
  • We recognise that they might be having a bad day and that we care about them as a person.

All this happens alongside the day to volunteering activities. Very often it is also a two-way process where the volunteer will support other volunteers, service users, staff colleagues, and even us as a Leader of Volunteers.

In my experience, this is as much as some Leaders of Volunteers provide. However, I believe that they are missing an important part of volunteer leadership by not wearing the “supervision” hat.

One-to-one / Time-out (NOT Supervision)

In separating supervision from support, we are able to take a step back from the day-to-day activities and spend some time totally focused on the volunteer. It doesn’t have to take hours, nor does it need to be too frequent.

When we set aside time with the volunteer, we can find out:

  • Is the volunteer enjoying their role?
  • Do they need extra support?
  • Would they like to expand or change what they are doing?
  • Would like more training?
  • Are they getting on well with staff, clients and other volunteers?

It’s a good opportunity to give feedback, both positive and negative. It shows the volunteer that their work and development is important to the organisation. It is also a time for the volunteer to feedback to you.

A free gift for your volunteer one-to-one

The questions above (and most others that I can imagine) seem to fall into three areas:

  • What is going well?
  • What is not going well?
  • What can we do about it?

Action Planning is important because if everything is going well, what will you do to challenge and develop the volunteer’s role? If everything isn't going so well, could you offer refresher training?

You can download this simple form to help you record your chat with each volunteer and make those decisions. (Please note that clicking on the link will download a Word document immediately.)

How often?

Support, as I suggested, should be part of every interaction with the volunteer.

One-to-ones should be regular, and as often as needed. A volunteer who gives three days a week will need that time more often than one who gives an hour every fortnight.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, or any other volunteering topic. Please email


Date Posted
Picture of four different hats with the words "Leaders of Volunteers. One job." Many hats.