Resolving Conflict with Volunteers

Volunteers are an integral part to many non-profit organisations, but as with all relationships, things don’t always go smoothly.

To help charities deal with and manage conflict, NSW Volunteering have recently released a Conflict Resolution Toolkit. The online kit aims to help organisations:

• Understand what conflict is;
• Learn how you can deal with conflict and;
• Find additional assistance to resolve your conflict

The toolkit forms part of a new trial service which focuses on helping with mediation between volunteers and organisations. As the toolkit suggests, “conflict can be challenging, but it can also be of benefit, and we can learn from it.”

For more information, you can find the Conflict Resolution Toolkit here.

Keeping Volunteers Happy

This week is National Volunteer Week so we thought it would be appropriate to have a blog post on the topic. Now in its 26th year, this special week is dedicated to celebrating volunteers and volunteerism in Australia. Over six million Australians volunteer across our country and this week provides an opportunity to highlight their role and to say thank you.

Here at Fish, we are delighted to have this guest blog from Adrienne Picone, the CEO of Volunteering Tasmania:

In a period where community organisations are expected to get more results on less money, the onus on attracting volunteers and keeping them engaged and happy, will be even greater. How do organisations ensure that they are ‘filling up the volunteer’s tanks’ and not just depleting them?

This year’s theme for National Volunteer Week, Give Happy, Live Happy shines a spotlight on the benefits of volunteering for the volunteer, with 96% of volunteers saying that it ‘makes them happier’.

The reality is that volunteers may give time without expectation of financial reward but they still need to get something in return for their efforts. Here are 5 tips to ensure your volunteers are happy:

1) Understand why they are there

Broadly speaking volunteers fall into two categories – those that are called to your organisation because they are attracted to your cause, and those that want to learn or contribute skills. Volunteers that are motivated by a connection to the mission will want to hear about impact of their work. However, volunteers that are motivated by skill need to know that they are adding to their resume or are utilising their existing skills.

2) Provide feedback

Weeks such as National Volunteer Week provide opportunities for some high profile appreciation but every single day provides opportunities for gratitude. Whether it is through words, actions, certificates or involvement in planning, tell volunteers the difference they make.

3) Speak and listen

Effective, respectful and authentic communication is at the heart of every relationship. Ask them about their preferred communication style, is it telephone, face to face, social media or email? Be prepared to be creative in the way that you both provide and receive information.

4) Volunteer development

Provide regular and meaningful opportunities for volunteers to grow and develop.

5) Be prepared to let them go

At the core of every great volunteer experience is the power of choice. The pressure on organisations to get quality results on limited resources can mean that once we have a group of volunteers we can be desperate to make sure we keep them. The most effective programs take a volunteers needs into account and allow them flexibility to leave at any time knowing that the door is always open.

The focus is often on what the community gets from the volunteer effort, but this year during National Volunteer Week spare a thought for what we can give the volunteers and how we can keep this essential workforce motivated, happy and thriving.

Some fabulous advice here for all charities from Adrienne. Let’s try and look at things a little differently when it comes to our volunteers.

See you in the pond,

The Fish Chick

VT logoAdrienne Picone is the CEO of Volunteering Tasmania (VT) and is responsible for the day to day management of the organisation and ensuring that they deliver on their strategic goals. Adrienne reports directly to the VT Board. She is passionate about all things volunteerism and strives to ensure that volunteering is universally acknowledged as being integral to the social, economic and cultural cohesion of our community. You can contact Adrienne at

Valuing our Volunteers

Making sure your volunteers feel appreciated is one of the most important things you can do… if you want to keep them around!  After all, they freely give their time and energy and expect little in return – certainly they don’t do it for the money!  There are a number of ways that you can make your volunteers feel special. Here are some ideas below, and while most of them seem quite obvious, I’m surprised at how many non profits forget them!

We’re so glad to see you!

There’s nothing like a warm welcome to greet you on arrival and it’s a sure way to your volunteers heart. Make sure you include your vollies in conversations and let them know that what they are doing is important and valued. Be sure to ask them how their week has been or what they did on the weekend – and take an interest in them as individuals.

Coffee with heart

Include your volunteers in the coffee run

Buy them a coffee! $3.50 is money well spent and such an easy way to show your appreciation.

Ongoing training and opportunities

Where possible offer your volunteers the opportunity to learn new skills through training. Encourage them to develop their volunteer skills within the organisation or take on other roles that they might find interesting or challenging.

By doing so you will increase their feeling of being valued and reduce volunteer turnover. If your volunteer applies for a job elsewhere show your support by providing a written reference or agreeing to be a referee.

Formal recognition

Make sure you tap into the opportunity to thank your volunteers by celebrating International Volunteer Day and National Volunteer Week (NVW). Volunteering Australia has some great information regarding NVW – with everything from celebration tips to Fast Facts about NVW – check out their website for more information here.

Hold your own volunteer thank you function – high tea, barbeque, picnic lunch or breakfast is a great opportunity for a get-together of staff and volunteers. Part of the function could be a formal presentation ceremony where volunteers can be presented with a certificate, badge or organisation t-shirt.

Some non profits hold activities such as bare-foot bowling or a movie night so that volunteers can get a sense of how they fit into the overall structure of the organisation and the good they are doing.

You could also consider nominating your volunteers for awards or even featuring a volunteer in your newsletter.

Don’t forget the little things…

  • Birthday and Christmas cards.
  • An anniversary card highlighting their year(s) of service. Note how they made a difference in your organisation over the past year.
  • A little (or big) card saying well done with a chocolate waiting on their desk following a recent project they completed.

Just say it – “Thank you!”

Just two small words – thank you – but they mean so much. Let your volunteers know you appreciate their time and effort. They could have been spending their time playing tennis, having lunch with friends or having their nails done – instead they chose to help your organisation.

Whilst recognising and celebrating volunteers’ achievements can take some time and planning, it is well worth it as the rewards can be substantial. It will help maintain volunteer loyalty and increase retention levels, which in turn benefits your organisation.

Do you agree with these ways of acknowledging volunteers? Are there any other ways you recognise your unpaid team members? Let us know. 

See you in the pond,

The Fish Chick.