Idea 18: Develop a communication and support system.

Communication with volunteers is a two way process, offering the organization the opportunity to monitor and support the volunteer and offering the volunteer the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback. While communication and supervision is a way to help volunteers with any difficulties they encounter, it is also a way of offering positive feedback and recognition for the work they are doing.

Each volunteer should have a designated contact person who maintains regular contact and is available for the volunteer to contact. It is particularly important to establish regular contact and communication with volunteers who work in the field away from regular contact with an organization. Keeping volunteers informed of any changes in the work environment, policies, procedures, health and safety requirements, and organizational changes and events will help keep them current and connected to the organization.

Regular meetings of groups of volunteers with the same job are opportunities for volunteers to talk about their experiences – what’s working, what’s challenging, what they like.

Voices from the field:

  • Make sure your volunteers know when a learner’s problems seem too complex they can talk to you and get assistance or advice.
  • If volunteers are working unsupervised, like the tutors who work with learners, away from our office, make sure you maintain regular contact with them.
  • Ensure that your volunteers know that they can contact you at any time. Encourage them to contact you any time they have questions.
  • Ensure constant and ongoing communication and validation.
  • If I knew then what I know now, I would have started earlier with keeping in better/regular contact with volunteers.
  • I try to communicate with our volunteers over the phone. This seems to be more personal than email.
  • Staying in touch with tutors at least once a month to make sure that they have everything that they need and feel that the match with their learner is working.
  • Volunteers can be worried about their role in a learner’s development. As well, they may need help to search for the right materials or way in which a particular lesson should be taught. With the guidance of a coordinator they will gain confidence in their skills and feel good about what they are doing.

To learn more:

Bortree, D. S. (2012). Communicating with volunteers and staff. In T. Connors (Ed.), The volunteer management handbook: leadership strategies for success (2nd ed.). (pp. 273-285). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
» Looks at theories of communication and different ways to communicate with volunteers and staff.

Energize Inc. (2012). 25 tips for optimizing online communication with volunteers. Retrieved from

Graff, L. (2005). Best of all: the quick reference guide to effective volunteer involvement. Dundas, Ont.: Linda Graff & Associates.
» The chapter on supervision includes tips on enhancing effectiveness of volunteer supervision and a section on boundary setting as an important aspect of supervision.

Harrow, S., Leggett, M., Robertson, S., Townsend, L. & Davduik, S. (2005). Building capacity to attract and retain literacy volunteers: a research report. Toronto, ON: Imagine Canada.
» This research report looked at motivations and experiences of current and former READ Saskatoon tutors and makes recommendations for steps to increase capacity to recruit and retain literacy volunteer tutors.

Jackson, R. (2012). Three things volunteer managers can learn from the social media revolution. Retrieved from
» Ideas on how social media can influence volunteer management.

McCurley, S. & Lynch, R. (2006). Maintaining communication linkages with volunteers. Retrieved from
» This book excerpt considers the supervision of and communication with volunteers who work away from the office.

Last updated: June 28, 2012