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Volunteers are essential to organised life and perhaps one of the most important elements of organisations. With limited resources and a multitude of tasks / to-do's, collaborating with volunteers in handy. But are we concerned enough about this crucial human element? Are we giving this issue the importance it deserves? This article puts volunteering at the centre of a discussion on these questions and provides some tips for volunteer management.

Is volunteering a panacea for everything, is it so easy to work with volunteers?

Volunteers are essential to organised life and perhaps one of the most important elements of organisations. With limited resources and a multitude of tasks / to-do's, collaborating with volunteers in handy. Keeping the organisation's office open, answering hotline calls, providing legal/psychosocial support, campaigning, organizing festivals, maintaining an active social media presence, doing fieldwork/research with volunteers - these are activities we either currently do or hope to be able to do...

But are we paying enough attention to this crucial human element? This is an important question. As organisations, we often do not prioritise this issue enough and are not aware of the extent of the organizational needs that volunteers fulfil. Sometimes we think that working with volunteers starts when they knock on our door, or we think that inviting someone to volunteer is enough. Other times we try to navigate our way through the concept of volunteering, which has different meanings in the minds of everyone in the organisation.

However, collaborating with volunteers may not be as easy as we think or hope. Volunteers are perhaps the most careful and attentive human resource within an organisation because we expect to work towards a common goal with a group that is not made up of our members or employees. But who should come? Why should they come? Why should they stay? How much should they be involved internally and how much externally? What tasks should they take on? With so many unanswered questions, it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve our goals.

Collaborating with volunteers depends on many components that need to be planned and defined before we start working with them. The point at which we meet with the volunteers is actually a later stage in the whole process. As will be shown in the following module, clarifying the definition of volunteers, accurately identifying their needs, designing orientation, training and feedback processes, and establishing the principles that underpin all these processes are all factors that need to be clarified even before a call for volunteers is issued. If we do not give sufficient consideration to these aspects before engaging with volunteers, many accidents can occur on the road to volunteer sustainability. These accidents can harm not only our organisations, but also the volunteers themselves and the relationships they build with civil society. Protecting the rights and motivation of volunteers, who are not only members of our organisation but also subjects of civil society, is crucial for the entire civil sector.

If principles and feedback mechanisms are not defined, it can become impossible to recognise, intervene and remedy problems. If the orientation and training processes are not well designed, volunteers may not have access to the information and skills they need. It is therefore essential for us as a team to give a lot of thought to these issues before deploying volunteers.

At this point, needs play a very important role. As in many other areas, the backbone of collaboration with volunteers and a sustainable volunteer programme lies in a well- defined needs. Furthermore, it is crucial to define volunteer activities based on these needs in a correct, proportionate and fair way to ensure that the process is transparent and within healthy boundaries.

If you are interested in how we implement this at STGM, you can watch the videos prepared under the title "Relationships with Volunteers" in the "Scale Up Organisations" section of the STOK Capacity Improvement Programme or in the "Basic Steps Guide for Volunteer Management in Civil Society Organisations".

So is everyone in our organisation a volunteer?

Each of the above headings represents a component of working with volunteers that requires sensitivity and care. In addition, it is crucial to designate the right people as volunteers and to differentiate the categories of volunteers by separating different positions and responsibilities within the organisation, as these ambiguities can lead to considerable mental and administrative chaos.

Therefore, it would be useful to start volunteer management in our organisation by answering the question "Who is a volunteer?" This way we can differentiate roles, build relationships with these roles and manage expectations of the different roles.

If we answer this question by saying, for example, that "anyone who does not receive a salary in the organisation is a volunteer"," things get a little complicated. In this approach, the board members or members of some organisations also define themselves as volunteers. While this approach is not entirely wrong, it weakens the organisation's ability to manage different roles, responsibilities, tasks and authority within a single category. A leadership position in an organisation is not only a responsibility that transcends volunteering, but also a source of prestige for individuals in these roles. It is, of course, in the nature of the organisation that there are overlapping aspects of the organisation's human resources. However, if we treat them all as one and the same category, we cannot conduct a proportionate, balanced and fair process.

For a correct approach, we may need to clarify how the issues of the organisation and expanding the membership base overlap with the working methods of the volunteers and where they diverge. The volunteers we work with today could be potential members or potential board members, which is a good tactic for the sustainability of the organisation. But even if that potential becomes a reality, the motivations and responsibilities are categorically different. Volunteers must be prepared and supported for this process, and participatory processes must be followed. This difference in responsibility differs significantly between people with leadership responsibility within the organisation and those who are new to the organisation.

In summary, for sustainable relationships with volunteers, it is necessary to define volunteering precisely, plan the processes well and distinguish between different organisational needs. If you are interested in initiating the process of volunteer management in your organisation, You can access the module for volunteers prepared as part of our institutional support programme BİRLİKTE and work on this topic step by step in your organisation.

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