We’ve compiled a series of questions and answers designed to help your organisation or project create a more enjoyable, meaningful volunteering experience for your volunteers.
If you can't find an answer to your question, you can also get in touch with our volunteering team.
1. What support is out there for club volunteers?Club Matters provides free, convenient, practical resources to help club volunteers develop and run a sustainable and successful club. Read more
Visit Club Matters to find out more.
2. I’m new to working with sports volunteers. What do I need to know?If you’re new to supporting sports volunteers there are a few basics you should be aware of. Read more
Law, safeguarding and health & safety
As a minimum you should know a bit about the law in relation to volunteering, what the rights and responsibilities of volunteers are, and what your organisation’s rights and responsibilities are.
Our legal and safeguarding and health & safety sections are here to tell you about some of the things you need to be mindful of. We don’t provide legal advice, so if you have a specific issue, you’ll need to seek this out.
An enjoyable, rewarding volunteering experience
Beyond what’s mentioned above, it’s all about getting the most from your volunteers and them getting the most out of their volunteering experience. That’s why our Volunteering in an Active Nation strategy is putting the experience of existing volunteers at the heart of efforts to create a more enjoyable, meaningful volunteering experience.
There are few hard and fast rules about how to support volunteers. A good place to start if you’re new to volunteer management is to think about the volunteer journey from a volunteer’s first contact with your club, group or event, through to their last day with you, and how you can support them at each stage.
Once you’ve recruited a volunteer, all your work with them should support the goal of retaining them, provided their involvement is useful. The support you offer may include things like induction, training, mentoring, regular communication, and thanks and recognition for the help they give you.
You should also think about how you ensure all volunteers receive fair and equal treatment, which means you may want to put some standard policies and procedures in place. Skilled, enthusiastic and committed volunteers are a real asset to your club and so it’s worth thinking about how to ensure they keep coming back to help you.
3. How can I help new volunteers to feel welcome?Welcoming new volunteers is really important. You’ve gone to a lot of effort to recruit someone, and if they don’t get a good first impression of your club then all that hard work could go to waste. Read more
There’s useful information on this on the Club Matters website, while Riding for the Disabled Association also has a good introduction on how to welcome new volunteers, with many of the general principles applying to any sport.
Although welcoming new volunteers is key, it’s also important to remember that all volunteers, however long they’ve been helping you, should be made to feel valued. Remember, they’re giving you their precious time – don’t forget about them just because they’ve been volunteering for a while.
4. How do I train new volunteers?A volunteer induction is important. Even if the volunteer is skilled and has done a lot of volunteering before, they still need to know about your organisation and how it works. Read more
A good induction helps volunteers feel part of things from day one and helps you get the most from their support. If you’re running an event that uses volunteers, then you’ll want to hold a volunteer briefing that covers many of the same things you’d cover in an induction.
There’s no set way to deliver an induction, but the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ website has some useful information. Volunteer Scotland has a useful best practice guide on inductions, and there’s also a checklist on the Welsh Council for Voluntary Action’s website.
5. What sort of training can I offer volunteers?Offering training to volunteers is a win-win: they get to develop their skills and your club gets to benefit from these skills in use. Read more
Keep in mind that not every volunteer you work with will need training to do their role. Some roles require only basic skills, and other volunteers may already be highly skilled and simply looking for an opportunity to use their skills to help you.
However, all volunteers that are new to your club should be offered some sort of induction that introduces them to the club, the members and any policies and procedures you have.
Find out how to deliver a good volunteer induction on the National Council for Voluntary Organisations’ website.
After this, the training you offer will depend very much on what the volunteer’s role is and their current skill level.
When you’re training volunteers, it’s very important that the volunteering you provide is appropriate to their role. If it’s not, then the training could mean that your volunteer could be deemed to be an employee, as the training may be considered a perk or benefit. This should be avoided, as it may change their legal status by conferring employment or worker rights and have further consequences for your club.
Your local Active Partnership may also have more information on courses for volunteers – click here to find yours.
6. How can I set up a peer support scheme for volunteers?Peer-to-peer or mentoring support is important, especially for new volunteers. It can help them to integrate into your club more quickly and encourage them to come forward with questions rather than struggling along on their own. Read more
For volunteers in skilled roles such as coaches, it can also help them to develop within a role, identify where their volunteering can take them and where they’d like to go next.
Volunteers in club management roles will also benefit from support that will help them to develop the club.
Peer support can take different forms:
- A buddy scheme that pairs new volunteers with more experienced ones to help new volunteers settle in
- A formal mentoring scheme for coaches at your club
- A peer support scheme that pairs senior volunteers at your club with their peers in other clubs.
Tailoring your approach
As volunteers at your club may do very different roles and have different levels of experience, a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work. It may well be worth setting up a buddy scheme for all new volunteers as standard, but after this the needs of your volunteers may differ a lot according to their roles and the goals they have.
To set up a successful buddy scheme:
- Try to pair more experienced volunteers with less experienced ones
- Try to pair volunteers who do similar roles
- Give guidance on what the scheme is about for both mentors and mentees, and advise mentors on how to do their role
- If possible, introduce buddies to each other at a volunteer’s first session
- Ensure that buddies can contact your volunteer coordinator with any problems or concerns
- Set a time limit for people to be formally ‘buddied’ – it may be that they remain buddies in an informal sense afterwards, but the goal is to help induct your new volunteers to the club within an allotted timeframe, after which they shouldn’t feel dependent on their buddy.
More experienced volunteers can still benefit from peer support and mentoring. It may be that you can provide this within your club, or it may be that you need to connect them with people outside it.
Sometimes a volunteer in a club management position, such as your chair or treasurer, might benefit from peer or mentor support. It can be hard to provide support from within your club for this as there may be no-one with relevant experience. However, you could find out if their predecessor would be willing to help, or find out if people in equivalent roles at other local clubs would also welcome support, and if so set up a scheme across the clubs in your local area.
For coaching and other sport-specific roles, take a look at your national governing body’s website as some offer specific resources and support.
Some Active Partnerships also run mentoring schemes, so it’s worth finding your local Active Partnership and getting in touch.
For people in club management positions, the Club Matters mentoring scheme will also be of help.
Peer-to-peer and mentoring support are common outside the world of sport. Take a look at this case study from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations showing how Voluntary Action Oldham set up such a scheme.
7. How can I make sure my volunteers have a good experience and want to keep volunteering?Making sure your volunteers are enjoying what they do is vital - a happy volunteer is much more likely to keep coming back to help. Read more
It might help you to think of their experience in two parts:
What basic things would put a volunteer off coming back?
Your club or event could offer interesting, exciting volunteer roles, but if volunteers must work with no support or supervision, no breaks or people behaving inappropriately towards them, they may stop helping out.
To avoid this happening, have a think about your overall approach to managing volunteers and how volunteer-friendly your club is. Put yourself in their shoes – what would you think if you were a new volunteer?
What are my volunteers motivated by?
Every volunteer’s motivation for getting involved will be slightly different, so the answer won’t necessarily be the same for each of them. But knowing why they signed up in the first place and what they hope to get out of the opportunity will help you think of specific ways you can keep individual volunteers keen.
8. What can I do to say ‘thank you’ to volunteers?It's widely acknowledged that a thank you is the most appreciated recognition for a volunteer. Read more
In the Cabinet Office’s Helping Out survey, 69% of respondents said a verbal thank you from the organisation was the recognition they wanted.
Remembering to recognise the people who keep your club running is important, and volunteers should be thanked on an ongoing basis. And don’t forget about the people who help behind the scenes; the person doing grant applications or book-keeping deserves a ‘thank you’ every bit as much as the people who run your club sessions.
Ways to say thanks
A ‘thank you’ doesn’t have to be a huge gesture – in fact, lots of volunteers are embarrassed by that. Instead, saying ‘thank you’ can be something you work into the planning of all activities at your club.
The end of a club session is a natural time to say thank you to your volunteers face-to-face, and events and celebrations that happen throughout the year are also a good opportunity to make sure volunteers get an acknowledgement and a round of applause.
You might also be able to give your volunteers a written acknowledgement in the communications your club sends out. A thank you message in a newsletter, website or on your Facebook and Twitter accounts is a great way to show your appreciation.
Awards and certificates are popular ways of recognising volunteers and you could set up your own scheme. For volunteers who really have gone the extra mile and made a special contribution, it’s worth finding out if you can nominate them for any awards that your local Active Partnership or national governing body run.
There are some very special national awards too for people who have given exceptional service, including the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and BBC Sports Personality of the Year’s Unsung Hero Award.
9. How can I support volunteers with mental health problems?Volunteering in sport is good for your mental wellbeing: Join In’s Hidden Diamonds research of 2014 found that people who volunteer in sport have 10% higher self-esteem, emotional wellbeing and resilience than people who have never volunteered. Read more
So, if you have a volunteer with a mental health problem, the fact they’re volunteering is itself something that is likely to help them.
It’s also possible that you have volunteers at your club who have mental health problems that you’re unaware of, as there is still a stigma associated with talking about it. This is in spite of the fact that mental illness is incredibly common: it’s estimated that one in four people will experience a mental health difficulty in any given year.
Understanding and supporting
Generalising about mental health is difficult because, like physical health problems, mental health problems vary in their intensity and their duration.
Some people may experience them only mildly, while others will experience difficulties that have a huge impact on their day-to-day existence. Some may experience one brief incidence of mental illness, whilst others live their whole lives affected by it. Understanding the nature and severity of an individual’s difficulties will help you understand how you can best support them.
A lot of the things that are considered best practice in volunteer management will be especially helpful to volunteers with mental health problems. These include things like having a buddy or mentor system, clearly defined roles, and open communication between volunteers and your organisation.
Time to Change is a national campaign to end stigma and discrimination in mental health. The Time to Change site has lots of useful information about the impact of mental health problems and tips on what you can do to help people with mental health problems.
- Mental Health Foundation – Mental health statistics
- Doing Good Leeds – Supporting volunteers experiencing mental health difficulties
- Volunteer Centre – Volunteering and mental health
- Volunteer Now – Mental health and volunteering checklist.