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Developing Volunteer Best Practice Guidelines

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Much has been written about volunteer best practice – a Google search brings up 120 million results – but little of this is evidence based. A meta review of evidence-based volunteer management found only 81 papers that directly tested the effectiveness of volunteer management practices. And the research only supported the effectiveness of 11 best practices.

It was into this space that Volunteering New Zealand boldly stepped with initiating a review of Best Practice Guidelines in 2022. You can view the Volunteer Best Practice Guidelines here.

Volunteering New Zealand had previously developed a suite of guidelines in 2011 (updated in 2015) which were an aspirational set of targets and pointers designed to support and enhance an organisation’s volunteer management programme. They were well used – particularly by larger organisations – but with the changing landscape of volunteering, and a need to help smaller organisations, a review was timely.

Survey of volunteer managers

We surveyed volunteer managers in our network to ask about their experience and training needs.

We know that volunteer managers need to have resources, time, and support to manage their volunteers, yet the survey results showed 37% of respondents had no support and 37% received no training in managing volunteers over the last year with a further 27% receiving minimal training. This was concerning as respondents came from predominantly better resourced Volunteer-Involving Organisations. In addition, 40% of respondents had less than three years’ experience in their roles.

More support and development for those managing volunteers was clearly needed.

Co-design process

We ran a co-design process, inviting people from throughout the community and voluntary sector to a series of online workshops. We conceived the idea of a volunteer life-cycle – each practice area would relate to a stage of the volunteer journey.

Participants enjoyed using Mural as a co-operative, virtual whiteboard, and contributed ideas in the areas of: What do volunteers need?, What does best practice look like?, What actions can organisations take. The result was a massive amount of valuable content, which was then synthesized.

One of our aims was for the guidelines to be accessible and inclusive for all volunteer managers and volunteers. We invited peer reviewers, covering migrant, disability and a Māori lens, and incorporated their ideas.


The resulting guidelines

We are proud of the resulting guidelines and resources for each area – published in June 2023. The web version has a separate page for each of the seven practice areas. People can easily access particular areas or work through all the stages if they wish. They could even be used by volunteers to ensure they are having the best experience of volunteering.

We have received some positive feedback including:

Orange QuotesThere has been a huge amount of work that has gone into this and nice to see it coming together and great to have the opportunity to participate in the process.

Orange QuotesThe format of each of the Practices areas flow really well, is easy to understand, linking back to the life-cycle diagram and with elements that can be taken and used by ‘any’ organisation that has a volunteer community as part of their operations.

Next steps

Several volunteer managers have said they intend to use them in their practice. The guidelines are essentially a Volunteer 101 - and volunteer centres intend to use them for training; and we are using them to design a micro-credential course for volunteer co-ordinators.

We welcome any questions or comments about the development of the guidelines. Our address is: office@volunteeringnz.org.nz

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