1. What are my responsibilities as a volunteer?

    Your responsibilities as a volunteer are exactly the same as those of an employee. You have a duty of care to clients, staff, other volunteers and the public. You must adhere to the policies of the organisation and obey the law. For example, If you drive a bus, you need to have the correct license for the number of passengers. If you are a cook, you need to follow food safety policies.

  2. Why do I need to ask my manager for a job description and the policies of the organisation?

    You may be given hard copies or emails of your job description and the organizations’s policies. In my experience, though, this is not always the case. You may have to ask for them.

    If you act outside your job description, you may be taking an unacceptable risk. You may not be covered by insurance. If you are a cook, it is not likely that you will be insured to drive a bus full of children. Someone could sue you personally if you had an accident when driving the bus. If your role is to visit a person in their home, you will not be insured if you take them out for lunch. It is up to you to point out to staff that your job description does not cover tasks that they might ask you to do in good faith.

    Policies are written and put in place to make sure the organization complies with the law. They also help staff and volunteers to make decisions and to be consistent. You need to know the policies to make sure that you comply with them.

  3. Will volunteering help me to make friends?

    Now you might be thinking that you can make friends with your client. When that lady with the dog tells you that she needs a lift to the doctors, you may offer to take her. Well no. You can’t take her if it’s not in your Job Description.

    That schoolboy that you’ve been mentoring every Tuesday? No, you can’t take him to the movies with your grandson on the weekend.

    It’s not easy to say No, when an elderly person that you have come to love, asks for your contact details. Or when a struggling young person looks to you for support. But no, you can’t call by unannounced to check how they are going. That would be an invasion of their privacy.

    Most organisations have these kinds of rules to protect both clients and volunteers from abuse. Clients may become too needy and take advantage of your good nature. Unscrupulous volunteers may try to abuse the frail elderly, or vulnerable children. So make friends with your like minded volunteers, or make a friend outside of the volunteering space.

    You will protect yourself by obeying the rules!

  4. Can I discuss my clients with others?

    You must respect the boundaries and the privacy of your clients. Their private affairs must remain confidential unless they have given permission – for example they may give you permission to talk about them to a relative, a doctor, or a social worker.

    It’s illegal to pass on a client’s contact details or private affairs to others without their permission. If clients kindly ask after another client, you can’t tell them that that person is in hospital with cancer. Just say “I’m sorry I don’t know” or “I can’t discuss that.”  You can pass their inquiry on to the person in question, who may give you permission to provide an update. But they have the right to refuse.

  5. Is my current or prospective volunteering role the best fit for the organization, for its clients and for me?

    Volunteers are usually caring people. Sometimes they are even people-pleasers! You show up because you know that people are depending on you. Over time though, things can change. Once you learn the tasks and procedures to follow in your role, and get to know your fellow workers and clients, it’s a good idea to take stock.

    Do you feel that you are doing a good job? Does your volunteering take up too much of your time? Not enough? Are your fellow volunteers like-minded people? Do the staff run the organization well and follow best practice? Do they treat you with respect? Have you made friends as you had hoped? In what ways do you benefit from the experience?

    At the very least, asking these questions may tempt you to address any issues you may have in your current role.

  6. How easy would it be to resign as a volunteer?

    This is the last question you will be thinking about, but it is a good idea to make it the first!! Will you be the only volunteer in the organization? If there are no others to cover when you leave, it could make it difficult for you. Will you form emotional ties that are hard to sever? Will vulnerable people be relying on you so that you will feel guilty if you have to leave?

    Remember that no-one is indispensable, and that your first responsibility is to your own health and your own family. It’s OK to recognize when things have become too much. It would be polite to give some notice, if you can, when you do decide that you have to resign.

I hope that I might have helped you decide on where your best interests lie when it comes to volunteering. Please share this post to help other seniors find their ideal volunteering situation.

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