Success in recruiting volunteers and growing your team is usually considered a positive development, and indeed it is. But it can throw up new challenges too. The increase in volunteer numbers isn’t always supported by additional hours in the volunteer manager’s day!

Volunteer Buddies / MentorsA common frustration amongst volunteer managers is that it is difficult to provide one-to-one support to new volunteers. It’s needed, you want to do it, but you just don’t have the time. And it may be that other staff in the organisation lack the time or skill to help.

This can hinder the retention of new volunteers and some drift away before they really get started. It can impact on the motivation of the volunteer – they might develop negative attitudes and share these inside or outside your organisation. It can affect the performance of the volunteer – they may not do things in the way that you want. Or they may act in manner that is inconsistent with the values and objectives of your organisation.

If this rings a bell, have you thought about introducing a new volunteer Buddy role?

What is the Buddy role?

An experienced volunteer takes on an additional role of supporting and mentoring a new volunteer. They are paired up with one other person over a fixed period of time, up to 6 months, to guide and support them into the role.

How does the Buddy work with the new volunteer?

The Buddy uses their knowledge and skills to facilitate the development and understanding of the other person. So initially they will focus on offering information and guidance. As the relationship develops, and the new volunteer gains confidence, the Buddy will act in more of a facilitating role. This means helping the new volunteer to become self-directed, confident and competent. It definitely isn’t a question of building up a relationship of dependency!

Benefits of this approach

  • Volunteers feel welcomed into the organisation over a sustained period of time, know they have somebody to whom they can turn
  • Volunteers gain a deeper understanding of their role and have an opportunity to develop into the role in a way that suits them and the needs of the organisation
  • The Buddy role itself offers new challenges and interest for existing volunteers
  • The volunteer manager is freed up to concentrate on other activities

Are there any drawbacks?

Asking an existing volunteer to buddy a new volunteer in an informal way can be successful, but this isn’t guaranteed. If there is a lack of clarity about the Buddy role then either it can fizzle out early on, or it can even cause some tension.

The advantage of a structured buddying scheme is that the volunteer manager, the Buddy and the new volunteer have a shared understanding of what the role and relationship is meant to be. There is a greater likelihood that the new volunteer will feel properly supported, and the Buddy volunteer will feel a sense of achievement and recognition for their efforts.

How do you set up a Buddy scheme?

A successful buddying programmes involves several key steps:

  • Defining the Buddy role and volunteer specification. You need to define the role and identify the essential skills and personal qualities that you would expect a Buddy to have. So you might look for non judgemental attitudes, and good listening skills.
  • Recruiting and selecting volunteers with the required aptitudes. You need to work out an effective way of selecting people from within your existing volunteer base and think through how to manage this in a way that maintains motivation amongst those not selected.
  • Training Buddies in basic mentoring skills. Where buddying schemes are not successful, it is often because of a lack of training. It is important the volunteer Buddies are clear about the expectations of the role, and are brought up to a certain standard in terms of skills and knowledge.
  • Creating ongoing support mechanisms for the buddies themselves. You need to identify a way to support Buddies, in a way that doesn’t become too much of a drain on your time. This could include providing easy access to information resources, and some form of ongoing peer support, e.g. via online groups.

If you would like some help with setting up a buddying scheme, check out our affordable 1-1 training package.

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