Creating and adapting volunteer positions
Not every person will fit into an existing volunteer role. To create more inclusive volunteer opportunities, and boost volunteer participation, you can create or adapt volunteer positions to suit the individual.
Creating accessible roles is easy, you’re probably doing it already!
Making reasonable accommodations for your volunteers is relatively easy. These are some examples:
- provide a chair for a volunteer to sit down while completing tasks.
- assign tasks to volunteers, based on their individual strengths.
- minimise face-to-face communication tasks for people feeling socially anxious or with communication challenges.
- allow someone to volunteer for a shorter period of time.
- work around a volunteer’s work or family schedule
- Have an open expression of interest (EOI), encouraging volunteers to get involved even if they can’t meet all of the position requirements. Check out our EOI template here and our page on advertising a volunteer role
Hayden volunteers at a cafe run by his local church. Hayden has a hearing impairment and communicates using sign language. When he began volunteering, he was nervous about serving customers, so his volunteer manager suggested he start by making coffee. As his confidence grew, he began to serve customers as well. His manager created a useful poster for customers to learn the signs for their order.
Gary wanted to increase his social connections. He applied to be a volunteer with a local Community Centre. They needed a volunteer to pick up sausages and bread for their weekly BBQ, prepare the BBQ and cook and serve the sausage sizzle. Gary didn’t drive. They split the role into two. One volunteer collects the food and Gary completes the rest.
Tess really wanted to volunteer with animals but was finding it hard to fit it in between study and work commitments. She reached out to a local animal shelter, who created a role for her so that she could help out remotely. Tess now is sent photos of animals ready for adoption, she writes a short description for each one and shares them on the shelter’s social media.
Get to know your volunteers
The process of creating an inclusive volunteer position begins with getting to know the individual, and what they are hoping to gain from their volunteering experience. During your interview you’ll find out about all their interests, support needs and strengths. Be open and honest about the intention of the conversation and explain that you want to create a volunteer opportunity that best suits them.
Ask questions like:
- What do you like to do in your free time?
- What is your availability?
- What are some things you feel like you’re good at?
- Are there any skills you’d like to practice or learn?
- What are your goals/things you’re working towards?
- Is there anything we should know to ensure you enjoy your time volunteering with us?
Check out more inclusive interview resources here
Creating or adapting a volunteer role
There are many ways you can make a volunteer role more inclusive. What approach you take will depend on the individual volunteer, the tasks volunteers undertake within your organisation, and your current volunteer workforce. Options include:
- Explore new areas within the organisation where volunteers may be able to become involved, e.g., supporting staff, IT services, general maintenance, tidying and organisation, social support, fundraising, or welcoming visitors. As long as the role does not replace a paid staff member, it’s ok for them to help out in other areas of your organisation.
- Some volunteers may appreciate smaller, simple or repetitive tasks. Explore new tasks that could be undertaken by a volunteer such as shredding/photocopying, distributing marketing materials, welcoming visitors at the door, or helping with tea and coffee!
- See if there’s potential for one-off, event-based or short-term roles, e.g., community events, social gatherings, or working bees.
- Each organisation will have their own policies and procedures for creating a volunteer position description. You can check out some examples at the Volunteering Australia resource hub
Adjusting an existing volunteer role:
- Break down the role into individual tasks.
- With the volunteer, determine which tasks they would like to undertake (this may change as time goes on and as volunteer becomes more confident)
- Be willing to make adjustments to the way a task is carried out.
- Adjust the timing for a role, i.e., how frequent or long shifts are.
- Share tasks or time commitment of one role between multiple volunteers.
- Understand that some volunteers may only want to take on a small number of tasks, but that their help is still valuable.
Ask a potential applicant – “Is there anything you’d like to tell us that would help make your volunteering experience with us the best it can be? – This is their chance to let you know. However, not everyone may feel comfortable disclosing a disability at this stage.
What Volunteers Can’t Do – it’s important to keep in mind that volunteers cannot:
- replace a paid worker (this includes replacing a staff member during periods of leave)
- volunteer for more than 16 hours a week (this is a suggestion only, if you require volunteers every day, think about breaking up shifts, training more people in this role or seek funding or management buy in to make this a paid role)
- Be made to attend or stipulate strict attendance. (However, you can request a minimum period of commitment)
- carry out tasks that they are untrained/unqualified for
The new National Strategy for Volunteering mentions this in their strategic objectives 1.3 “Ensure volunteering is not exploitative”. Check out the National Strategy for Volunteering 2023-2033 here
Check in and review regularly
Creating and adjusting a role doesn’t just happen when a volunteer first comes on board. Their volunteer role may change as:
- They begin to feel more comfortable or confident.
- They want to try out new things or develop new skills.
- Their support needs change
- Their availability changes.
Support while volunteering
While there is support for paid staff for reasonable adjustments in the workplace there are currently no equivalent schemes for volunteers. However, often people living with disability have their own equipment, or only require small changes. People with disability are good at assessing environments, so chances are they won’t apply to volunteer if they know the facilities or role won’t suit their needs. Find out more about accessible workspaces here
Some people may also benefit from more one-on-one assistance or support. Ask if they have a support person, friend or family member that they would like to volunteer alongside. You may need to consider your policies around this and if this person(s) may also be required to complete volunteer paperwork and induction.
You may also consider buddying them up with another volunteer or staff member to help them feel comfortable and take a bit more time to teach them the role. No one from your organisation should be expected to provide personal care like toileting, feeding, or other tasks that should be performed by a trained and paid support person. However, you might need to grab something out of the fridge for them, make a cuppa or open the door for them.