Dave Thomas, Volunteering Development Officer at NCVS, writes...
Although online, remote or virtual volunteering is nothing new, over the past year (2020-2021) there has been a fantastic growth in the number of such opportunities and in the organisations offering them.
Many Leaders of Volunteers have responded to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic by supporting remote teams. In this blog, I’d like to share some of the things that they, and we at the NCVS Volunteer Centre, have learned along the way.
Staying in touch
As Leaders of Volunteers, many of us are used to the isolation of being the only person within our role. Remote volunteers can also feel isolated. But Leaders of Volunteers are communicators; we always have been. However, keeping in touch with volunteers remotely needs more effort and planning than the informal chats that we used to have with them before the pandemic.
So our first tip is to plan your remote informal chat. This can be as simple and easy as just checking in with them, to see how they and their family are doing.
Our second tip is to make sure you know how they prefer to be contacted. For example, we know, from our own experiences, that there are volunteers who prefer one or more of the following methods:
- Phone calls
- Text messages
- Video calls e.g. Zoom
- WhatsApp groups
- Direct messages on social media, such as Facebook
You should also consider, how often your volunteer may wish to hear from you. You need to find a balance between not overloading them with too much information or at the other end of the scale, leaving them feeling isolated or abandoned.
Offer information, ideas and training
In particular, can you help to unravel information about the changing coronavirus restrictions and how it affects them?
If your volunteer hasn't been able to take an active role within your organisation since the pandemic began, can you address this? By getting in touch with them regularly, you can help to find out if, and how, your volunteer(s) may want to stay involved with your organisation.
As a result of the lockdown and remote working arrangements, many organisations are now involving volunteers in a range of activities that they may never have considered in the past, such as:
- Telephone and online befriending
- Doorstep visiting (shopping, etc)
- Updating your organisation's information and databases
- Undertaking research
- Feeding back on reports and business plans
- Writing articles for your newsletter and website
- Checking social media for trends
- Sharing your organisation’s social media posts
Remember, some volunteers may choose not to be active during this time.
There are huge amounts of online training that could be relevant to your volunteer programme and much of it is free. Conduct an online search to find suitable courses that your remote volunteers may be interested in and invite them to take part. Many of us are already carrying out recruitment and induction remotely, but remote volunteers may also benefit from more than just those basics.
Plan social activities
When teams of volunteers were able to get together in person, they occasionally headed out at the end of shift for a coffee or lunch together. So think about how can you provide social contact as well as the focus of your organisation’s cause.
How about setting up a virtual quiz or online discussion about a random or light-hearted topic.
Recognition and thanks
We could all do with a bit more positivity and kindness in our lives right now, especially in light of what continues to be a very difficult time for us all.
Think about ways to thank your volunteers, you could send thank you cards with an appreciative message or send them a shopping e-voucher, that could be used online or in-store.
Have you considered that your remote volunteers may be incurring some additional household costs (such as electricity and broadband charges) by continuing to volunteer for you from home? Encourage your volunteers to claim their expenses, in line with your organisation's volunteering policy.
Last, but by no means least
It’s easy to focus on supporting and caring for your volunteers but remember to also look after yourself during this time. Make sure you have the support you need in place and access to the information you need to do your job effectively. NCVS will, of course, help with both of these.
I’d welcome your comments and feedback about this topic, email firstname.lastname@example.org
This post has been created using feedback from Leaders of Volunteers in Nottingham with additional ideas taken from recent guidance issued by Healthwatch.
There are further resources available to help you with supporting volunteers remotely on the NCVO website.