Volunteer/Staff Ratios and Relations

By Sarah Jane Rehnborg, et. al.
From Strategic Volunteer Engagement, RGK Center for Philanthropy & Community Service, 2009, pp. 28-30

Volunteer/Staff Ratios

There are no specific rules of thumb that determine a standard volunteer/staff ratio,  or that  trigger when  a volunteer manager needs  to go from  a half-time to a full-time position. Likewise, volunteer hours are not a good proxy to develop equations translating part-time volunteer positions to full-time-equivalent standards for super- vision formulas. Working  with  8 volunteers each giving 5 hours of service weekly ( 40 hours of total service per week)  is significantly more  time  intensive from  a supervision standpoint than working with  a single  individual providing an equal  amount of time.

We do know, however, that more intensive volunteer expectations require greater staff support and closer supervision.  For example, the Court Appointed Special Advocate program standards specify one supervisor to 30 volunteers (National CASA Association, 2006).  For supervision purposes, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department Volunteer Policy Guide recommends one gardener to 15 volunteers (SFRPD, n.d.). Neither number, however, indicates the staffing complement of the volunteer office that recruits and prepares these people for service. Each organization must examine its own goals, activities, and workload in volunteer engagement and decide accordingly about volunteer management staffing. Benchmarking your program with others in similar areas of service may also provide insight about appropriate staffing levels and expectations.

Volunteer/Staff Relations

Almost any new or changed undertaking naturally gets met with resistance. If you dramatically ramp up your community engagement program, staff are likely to raise concerns about already overwhelming workloads, job security, the qualifications of the volunteers, the timing of your decision, or roles that community members may assume. If you have followed the steps outlined in this Guide, you will have handled many of these issues as you engaged your staff in a shared planning process. A few additional pointers may also help you over this hurdle.

  • If you have not done so already, form a committee of staff and other stakeholders to assist with planning and implementation of the community engagement initiative. Your willingness to listen carefully to the demands of your existing personnel will go a long way in developing their   receptivity to the new venture. You will need to carefully consider if all of their concerns are founded, but certainly those that are need to be addressed during the planning process.
     
  • Generally, people working in the service sector are active volunteers themselves. Help your staff consider the service they have performed, and relate their experiences as a volunteer to their work as staff who will now interact with volunteers. None of us wants our time wasted, nor are we eager to be treated poorly.  Personalizing the volunteer experience helps staff to regard your new workforce positively. 
     
  • Orient your staff to your expectations just as you would orient volunteers to your organization.  If you are serious about this undertaking, you need to make that clear. Not only should staff be expected to work within the guidelines of appropriate expectations, but also they should be rewarded for doing so. When recognizing volunteers thank the staff who supported them too. Connect merit raises and the other bonuses to this expectation, as you would to other job requirements.
     
  • And finally, inform staff about the expectations and reality of the volunteer workforce. The vast majority of people offering to serve are eager to help - they are not there to take jobs or to assume 40-hour-a-week responsibilities. Provide staff with an update on who is volunteering, as well as how they can become valued members of your organization's team.
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