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10 Sector Insights on Supervising Offsite Volunteers

Posted By Kasandra James, Subscriptions Coordinator, August-26-15
Updated: September-02-15

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes  

I find it fitting that this month’s subscriber circle on Supervising Off-Site Volunteers was effectively “off-site”. A group of volunteer managers and coordinators gathered at West Toronto Support Services to discuss how they tackle issues that arise from working with volunteers they can’t always supervise in-person, and to share their experiences and ideas with others who understand their challenges.

The group covered several topics including risk assessment, policies and guidelines for off-site volunteers, performance reviews, volunteer feedback and volunteer recognition and motivation.  They shared their ideas on tackling the unique challenge of supervising work they can’t always oversee, and provided each other with a series of strategies to address off-site volunteer supervision. 

I learned a lot during the session and thought I’d share my top-ten insights here:

Before volunteering begins:

  1. Know the level of risk involved in the position, and plan supervision accordingly. The higher the risk, the greater the level of supervision needed.
  2. Be aware of legislation and policies that can affect your off-site volunteers and the clients they will interact with. Rules around vulnerable clients may affect the level of supervision required in some volunteer programs.
  3. Be clear about the roles and responsibilities of the volunteer position. Use orientation and training to reinforce boundaries and position requirements, and don’t hesitate to give refreshers when necessary.

Creative ways to supervise off-site volunteers:

  1. Mix and match your supervision methods. Check-in calls, activity logs and email questionnaires can be as valuable as formal performance reviews.
  2. Recruit volunteer Team Leaders, staff and clients to help. Utilize these sources both to oversee day-to-day programs and to help the review of volunteer performance.
  3. Always leave room for volunteer feedback, whether it’s with a suggestion box, a comments section in the activity logs, or a call to find out how a volunteer is doing.

Effective (and fun) ways to recognize off-site volunteers and keep them motivated:

  1. Keep track of positive feedback from clients so you can let the volunteer know when their work is appreciated. It can help the volunteer feel valued, and it lets them know that you understand how important they are for the clients they work with.   
  2. Have a coffee break. Meet with off-site volunteers occasionally for coffee and treats to say “thanks for a doing a good job”. You can also arrange group meetings, where your volunteers can gather together to network and socialize.
  3. Throw a potluck: Nothing brings people together like food! Host a potluck for your off-site volunteers where they can reconnect with your mission. Use this opportunity to educate and engage your volunteers with a guest speaker or a panel discussion on topics that interest them.
  4. Just say thanks!  Volunteer Canada’s 2013 Volunteer Recognition Study found that overwhelmingly, volunteers prefer to be thanked in person and to know the impact that their involvement is having.  Find a way to give your off-site volunteers that personal “Thank You”.

This incredible group of volunteer managers weren’t afraid to critique different approaches, outlining the pros and cons of different strategies and giving each other valuable feedback and encouragement. We even had a friendly disagreement on whether positive reinforcement or reprimands were the better way to tackle low volunteer performance.

Do you think negative consequences are necessary when volunteer performance slips? What do you do when it’s time (if ever) to let a volunteer go? Bring your thoughts to our next Subscriber Circle: How to Fire a Volunteer.

If you aren’t a Volunteer Toronto Full Subscriber, sign up today, and join in the discussion!

  As Volunteer Toronto’s Subscriptions Coordinator, Kasandra is the first point of contact for non-profits looking for support.
She facilitates monthly Subscriber Circle discussion groups for managers and coordinators of volunteers, contributes to our
Sector Space newsletter and social media communications, and makes sure our subscriptions package continues to help
non-profit organizations build capacity through volunteer involvement.


Tags:  supervising volunteers  volunteer engagement  Volunteer Management  volunteer recognition  volunteers 

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