V. Managing Volunteers
Immigration Detention Visitation Resources
LIRS Sample Network Materials
How do you plan to supervise your volunteers? Let’s consider how to offer emotional and professional support to your volunteers to ensure they offer high quality services without feeling burnt out.
Importance of Support and Supervision
Like a traditional employee, volunteers need ongoing support and supervision. This will help to maximize potential and minimize burnout. Although often used interchangeably, support and supervision fulfill two unique roles. As a volunteer coordinator, you support the volunteer and supervise his or her work.
Support is the emotional care, understanding, and affirmation a coordinator provides to ensure a volunteer feels included, respected, and appreciated.
Supervision is when the coordinator actively monitors, guides, and evaluates a volunteer’s work performance to ensure he or she understands the responsibilities and has the tools and knowledge necessary for success.
“There should be a clear point person for supervising each volunteer. It doesn’t always make sense for a volunteer to contact the volunteer coordinator, for instance, if he or she is running late. That should be the person working closest with the volunteer.
Make sure expectations are clear ahead of time and that people have the right contact information.”
When managing volunteers, support and supervision are of equal importance. While there is considerable overlap, select management strategies and activities that adequately address both needs and help guarantee a mutually beneficial volunteer experience.
Use the tips below to help create an environment that encourages and supports the individuals volunteering with your organization or ministry. A welcoming environment towards volunteers spreads to everyone involved, quickly encouraging clients, staff members, leaders, and volunteers to work together.
- Get to know your volunteers. Take time to get to know each of your volunteers personally. Address them by name. Facilitate introductions between volunteers and other staff and ministry leaders.
- Utilize volunteers’ experience. Learn what motivates them to volunteer and what skills they bring to your organization. Empower volunteers to utilize talents in their daily work.
- Be accessible. Be available should questions or conflict arise. Let them know how to reach you or other staff who are available as resources. Create an environment where volunteers feel comfortable asking questions. Explore issues and possible solutions with your volunteers. Provide them with any information that will increase their ability to do their jobs well.
- Express gratitude and organize peer support. Regularly thank volunteers for their hard work. Point to specific skills and activities where they have excelled. Foster a community of peer-supportive volunteers with opportunities to debrief and to get to know each other. This can be done through social media, listservs, and social events.
- Look for ways to offer additional trainings to volunteers. Encourage them to pursue opportunities that will aid their professional development and, naturally, improve their performance at your organization.
As a volunteer manager, it is your responsibility to ensure that volunteers have the tools and knowledge needed to succeed so the experience is beneficial for both the volunteer and your organization. Volunteer managers also play an important role in building bridges between community members, organization staff, and clients. It’s important to manage the dynamics of each relationship with clear communication, ongoing support, and flexibility.HOST REGULAR CHECK-INS
Regular check-ins are a great way for a volunteer manager to ensure the volunteer and organization are both benefiting from the partnership. Regularly check in with volunteers via email for progress updates. Schedule more formal in-person check-ins to evaluate the volunteer’s performance and make sure the organization/congregation is providing the appropriate resources for the volunteer to succeed. Brainstorm strategies for overcoming challenges. Any discussion should comprise of three main categories of the volunteer’s experience:
Quality of work/Quality of instruction. What is going well? Where can the volunteer improve? How can the organization provide additional support? Problem solve together and brainstorm ways the volunteer can improve and deepen his or her engagement.
Attitude. An ideal volunteer is flexible, dependable, and maintains good attendance. Volunteer coordinators, ministry leaders, and other staff/collaborators should share similar characteristics when working with volunteers. Discuss both what you appreciate about the volunteer’s attitude and places he or she can improve.
Communication. There should be a consistent flow of communication between the volunteer and the volunteer manager, staff, clients, and other volunteers. Discuss ways to improve communication in the future.CONDUCT PERFORMANCE EVALUATION
All work, paid or unpaid, should have performance standards. Evaluating your volunteers guarantees that they are advancing, rather than exhausting, your organization’s resources. Promoting quality work from volunteers communicates that their work is meaningful and that they play an important part in the operations of your organization.xxx
You should use a similar evaluation process for your volunteers as used for employees rather than creating unnecessary duplications. Use the guidelines below to build your own forms and processes if you don’t have any yet.HOW TO ADDRESS SUBSTANDARD PERFORMANCE
Enforcing quality work does not necessarily mean immediately dismissing a volunteer for substandard performance. Before making the decision to let go of a volunteer, there are other options for your organization to explore.
- Re-assign. Give the volunteer different duties that utilize a different skill set. Perhaps the volunteer’s skills do not quite fit his or her current job, and he or she might perform better in a new setting.
- Retrain. Invite the volunteer to participate in another training session or identify additional training opportunities in the community. Pair him or her with a mentor or more experienced volunteer.
- Revitalize. If a long-term volunteer’s work has begun to decline in quality, he or she may simply need a break. Give volunteers a sabbatical, less emotionally draining jobs, or simply something different to do within the organization.
- Retire. Another strategy for dealing with a long-term volunteer with declining work quality is to allow the individual a dignified retirement. Give the volunteer the honor he or she deserves for the length of service given, and perhaps refer the volunteer to another agency that better fits his or her current status in life.xxxi
If you have tried one or more of these strategies or none of them is applicable to your volunteer’s situation, don’t be afraid to dismiss him or her as you would with a paid employee.
Additional SupportPEER SUPPORT
Building a strong sense of community among volunteers will greatly enrich their experience. Think about organizing opportunities for volunteers to support each other and share resources. Listed below are several possible methods:
- LinkedIn: An online forum in which users can partake in discussion and make connections with each other.
- Listserv: An electronic mailing list that allows participants to email the entire list questions, ideas, and experiences. Replies can be sent to the individual or to the whole group.
- Google Groups: A discussion group closed to the public in which participants can pose questions or contribute to conversations.
- Shared Google Drive folder or document: A Google Drive document or folder can contain multiple documents and allows individuals to create or contribute to content or discussions.
- Facebook group: A closed forum for sharing ideas, photos, inspirations, documents and information among members.
- Newsletter: A newsletter can lift up volunteers and provide recognition and acknowledgment of work, both from the coordinator and among the other volunteers and staff.
- Social activities or support groups for volunteers to build relationships and exchange ideas.
Working with unaccompanied minors, resettled refugees, and migrants impacted by immigration detention can be a rewarding but emotionally exhausting experience. Frequent exposure to traumatic stories can leave volunteers feeling overwhelmed, angry and helpless—and can affect daily life. As a volunteer manager, it is your job to help volunteers recognize and address early signs of compassion fatigue and prevent burnout.
Compassion fatigue is the physical, emotional, and psychological effect of regular exposure to stories of extreme suffering and trauma.xxxii Compassion fatigue affects both the body and mind. It manifests differently from person to person; however, common signs include:
- Cognitive: Lack of concentration, apathy, disorientation and obsession with trauma.
- Emotional: Feelings of powerlessness and helplessness, heightened anxiety, guilt, anger, and depression.
- Behavioral: Irritability, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, change in appetite, hyper-vigilance, and isolation.
- Spiritual: Questioning the meaning of life, loss or reexamination of faith, lost sense of purpose and hope.
- Somatic: Frequent headaches, rapid breathing, accelerated heart rate, sweating and difficulty sleeping.xxxiii
Share a list of compassion fatigue symptoms with your volunteers. If you notice volunteers displaying symptoms, collaborate with them to develop an individualized self-care plan before they experience burnout.
Burnout is a form of compassion fatigue in which volunteers lose motivation to conduct their work, interact with colleagues, or push forward the mission. This can result in substandard performance in their work and sometimes departure from the organization.xxxiv
Common causes of burnout include:
- The organization does not have clear goals or a path to achieve its goals.
- There is an overabundance of work with too few staff members, so volunteers feel they cannot decline a task.
- Volunteers prioritize the mission over self-care.
- There are few resources to reward volunteers for excellent work.
- Volunteers are dissatisfied with their work.xxxv
Fight Compassion Fatigue – Encouraging thoughtful reflection
Refugee Immigration Ministry (RIM) highlights the importance of reflection in its training manual for volunteer spiritual caregivers to migrants in detention. Presenting the concept of reflection in such an early stage in their engagement with volunteers allows volunteers to start reflection before they begin their service.
Encouraging reflection among your volunteers is one strategy to alleviate compassion fatigue and burnout while also helping volunteers attach value to their own volunteer experiences. Reflection can be done either individually or in a group setting and through speaking, listening, writing, and reading. Reflecting on experiences has many benefits, including:
- Providing an opportunity for renewal and self-care.
- Facilitating a sense of self-appreciation.
- Advancing a sense of civic-mindedness, connecting volunteer work to other aspects of life.
- Nurturing important life-long learning skills in which one is able to learn from both positive and negative experiences.
- Creating a sense of closure when necessary.
Group reflection is most common in volunteer settings. It is valuable because it builds community among volunteers and allows them to learn from each other’s perspectives and experiences. However, group reflection requires a willingness to be honest and vulnerable among new friends. People bring different motivations, intentions, and hopes into volunteering – so make sure to set the perimeters for sharing. Particularly for people of faith, this is a great moment for people to share why they feel called to the volunteer work of the organization.
Give your volunteers opportunities for both individual and group reflection to accommodate for everyone’s preferences.
An example of a successful reflection model includes three steps, allowing volunteers to reflect on the entirety of an experience, rather than solely the facts or solely the emotions:
- What? This should simply be reporting the facts of an event or experience, absent of any judgment or interpretation. Questions to ask include:
- What happened?
- What are the issues being addressed, and what are the results?
- So what? In this step, dialogue moves beyond simple details, and participants analyze their service experience and their feelings resulting from the experience. Questions to ask include:
- What did you learn and what surprised you?
- How have your views changed since the experience?
- What difference did the event make?
- Now what? Help the volunteers think about how the experience will change the future thoughts and actions of both the volunteer and the organization. Assist them in forming goals that are realistic but will still offer a challenge and encourage growth. Questions to ask include:
- How can you apply your learning from these experiences in the future?
- What kind of follow-up is needed to facilitate continued growth from volunteer experiences?
- What insights and knowledge can you now share with peers and colleagues?xxxvi
Additional strategies to alleviate compassion fatigue and prevent burnout include:
- Intentional conversations
Sometimes, volunteers simply need a listening ear to relieve some of the frustration and emotional stress of working with migrants or refugees. They need to feel they are not alone. As soon as you notice signs of burnout, ask the volunteer to meet with you one-on-one and facilitate an open and honest conversation about the issue.
- Rest and relaxation
If the issue cannot be resolved through a conversation, ask the volunteer to take a vacation from the position. Establish a set date for the volunteer to return and check up on him or her in the meantime. Encourage the volunteer to spend time in reflection while recuperating.
- Transition to a new role
Depending on the situation and the different types of volunteer placements in your agency, perhaps you can move the volunteer to a new role within the organization. If burnout is a consistent issue among your volunteers, consider establishing a rotating system of duties between different positions.xxxvii
- Identify and implement appropriate strategies for supporting volunteers.
- Schedule regular check-in opportunities with volunteers.
- Create a platform for peer-led support.
- Educate volunteers on symptoms of compassion fatigue and burnout.
- Facilitate reflection opportunity for volunteers.