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Designing Volunteer Opportunities

When you are developing volunteer roles for TCD volunteers, please consider the following:

College and Other Commitments

Rights and Responsibilities of the Volunteer

What is expected of the Volunteer Project

Child Protection Issues

Promoting your organisation in TCD

You may also want to take a look at Volunteering England's Make it Happen Guide (PDF, 614KB) for small organisations on how to involve student volunteers. This document offers guidance on tailoring volunteer policies and agreements to match the particular motivations and strengths of the student population.

College and Other Commitments

It is important to remember that most students will not be available to volunteer at certain times of the year. In the run up to exams, or when deadlines are looming for important assignments, it is important to be flexible and allow student volunteers to take time to prepare. Holiday periods between term such as Christmas, Easter and the summer are also times when students are less likely to be in a position to commit time to voluntary activity as they may be gone home, working full time or taking time to travel.

The College year begins at the end of September and so this is often the best time to try to attract student volunteers. Students are often willing to try new things, starting to plan out their schedule and work things around their timetable. Remember that if you recruit volunteers but then leave it too long to follow up and get them started with your organisation, they may develop other priorities. If your voluntary opportunity requires Garda Vetting, be conscious of how long this takes. A student who signs up in late September may not be cleared to volunteer until the New Year. If they still have availability and enthusiasm at this stage, they might begin volunteering in January but may need to wind down their commitment again coming up to exams.

Exams for undergraduate students, usually begin in April and many will want to reduce their volunteering commitments in the run up to this period. Therefore, it can be useful to look at the College year in two blocks of ten or so weeks either side of Christmas when students are in a position to volunteer.

If your voluntary opportunity requires Garda Vetting, be conscious of how long this takes. A student who signs up in late September may not be cleared to volunteer until the New Year. If they still have availability and enthusiasm at this stage, they might begin volunteering in January but may need to wind down their commitment again coming up to exams.

It is also worth bearing in mind that different cohorts of students may have differing availability. For example, postgraduate students are more likely to have availability out of term, in the summer in particular. However, they may have reduced availability coming up to deadlines or exams. Students of some disciplines have less classtime than others and are therefore able to volunteer more often. Some students may have most of their lectures during the day, while others will have availability by day but lectures in the evening. Some groups of international students may not be returning home at weekends or over some of the shorter holiday periods and may therefore still be able to volunteer during Christmas and Easter breaks. Other students work part-time and their availability may depend on their shifts.

Ultimately, it is important to discuss periods of reduced availability with each individual volunteer and be flexible so that peaks and troughs in availability does not prevent your organisation from involving enthusiastic volunteers who can enrich your organisation and so that students do not feel unable to volunteer by virtue of the fact that they have exams in six months time.

Rights and Responsibilities of the Volunteer

Volunteers' rights

  • To know if, and how, you are being selected.
  • To be provided with a description of the volunteering role and what is expected.
  • To be given meaningful work to do.
  • To be offered appropriate training.
  • To be thanked and have your contribution recognised
  • To confidentiality- your records and references will remain confidential.
  • To receive supervision and support.
  • To get something out of the work for yourself as per your own aims and objectives.
  • To know who to go to should a problem arise.
  • To have concerns or questions dealt with promptly.
  • To be given reasonable notice if there is a change of schedule.
  • To make mistakes and learn from them.
  • To be made aware of any disciplinary and grievance procedures.
  • To be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and not to experience discrimination.
  • To have safe working conditions, including insurance cover provided by the volunteer project
  • To be informed about, and given the opportunity to play an active part in, the organisation as a whole.
  • Where possible, to have out-of-pocket expenses reimbursed.
  • To be able to say 'no' and to leave without feeling guilty

  Volunteers' responsibilities

  • To obtain information the volunteering project and role and reflect on your motivations before making a commitment to volunteer.
  • To be honest in all your dealings with an organisation, particularly if you may not be suited for work with certain client groups.
  • As a representative of the volunteering project, to respect its values, aims, staff and clients.
  • To carry out the prescribed volunteer duties to the best of your ability.
  • To comply with relevant policies of the volunteer project e.g. Code of Conduct, Health & Safety etc.
  • To adopt a professional approach and maintain appropriate boundaries with any client groups.
  • To be punctual and reliable and give the organisation sufficient warning if unable to turn up.
  • To attend essential training and support sessions.
  • To act and dress appropriately.
  • To respect the confidentiality of the volunteer project and associated persons.
  • To provide constructive feedback to the volunteering project.
  • To ask for guidance if you are unsure of any aspect of your volunteering role
  • To inform the volunteer project manager or supervisor if there is a problem.
  • To leave when asked and/or when no longer enjoying the volunteering experience
  • To give advance notice to the volunteer project if you intend to leave the project- absenteeism is not an appropriate alternative.
  • To treat others involved in the volunteer project with dignity and respect.
  • As always, to respect the law and, where relevant, College regulations.

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What is expected of the Volunteer Project

It is helpful to develop a volunteer policy and/or volunteer agreement so that both you and your volunteers are clear about what to expect. Such documents should refer to the following issues:.

Volunteers are entitled to research and select a volunteering opportunity which is suited to his or her own interests, goals, schedule and other needs. Similarly, a volunteer project has the right to look for certain qualities and skills in volunteers which match the organisation's values and requirements. Volunteer recruitment is often done by means an application form, interview process, induction session, the checking of references and CVs or any combination of these. Organisations through which volunteers have unsupervised access to children and vulnerable persons should also require volunteers to undergo Garda vetting (criminal record check) prior to any such unsupervised access. Other volunteer projects who work with children and/or vulnerable populations may also require this as a matter of good practice. Due to backlogs in the system, the Garda vetting process may take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks.

Once someone begins to volunteer, the project or organisation should provide insurance cover for the voluntary activity and ensure that the rights of the volunteer (above) are upheld at all times. Volunteers should be provided with a clear role description, details of what training is provided, as well as copies of any relevant policies (claiming expenses, child protection, protection of vulnerable adults, grievance, health & safety etc.). If you are working with a particular client group, you should also discuss appropriate boundaries with your volunteers in order to prevent any client from becoming overly dependent on a volunteer and vice versa. There should be a designated person in your organisation who deals with volunteers and who should be available to offer guidance and information when required. A volunteer should also feel comfortable approaching other persons in the organisation in case the volunteer liaison person is not available or not an appropriate contact for the particular concern or query.

It is important that both the volunteer and the organisation are satisfied with, and benefit from, the volunteering experience. It is in the interest of a volunteering project to ensure that volunteers have a positive and rewarding experience. If a problem arises, the volunteer should be in a position to discuss how this might be resolved with the appointed volunteer liaison person. You should ensure that a volunteer who chooses to leave the volunteer project knows to communicate this to the volunteer liaison person in advance. Equally, the organisation ought to address any grievance in a fair manner and may ask volunteers to leave if their involvement hinders the organisation achieving its goals.

The Volunteer Ireland website offers useful resources which provide guidance to organisations involving volunteers. In particular, see the Volunteer Management section of that organisations website for information on volunteer recruitment, recognition, retention, training and more.

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Child Protection

Where a volunteer placement includes working with persons under 18 years of age, the volunteer project should have a tailored child protection policy which volunteers must read and uphold at all times. This operates to protect the volunteer as well as the child. Volunteers should also be provided with Child Protection Training.

Any Child Protection Policy should be based on the principles of good practice articulated in the Department of Health and Children document entitled ‘Our Duty to Care' (2002). This document uses the term ‘worker' to include volunteers in an organisation and outlines the practices and procedures which should be employed in an organisation which works with children and young people.

Volunteers need to be made aware of who the ‘Designated Person' in the volunteer project is as that is who is responsible for reporting allegations or suspicions of child abuse (including physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect) to the health board or An Garda Siochána. It is also the responsibility of this person to support and advise volunteers about Child Protection policies and procedures. If a volunteer has a child protection concern, he/she should approach the Designated Person immediately and in confidence. In the event of a serious emergency (i.e. where the child is at immediate risk of harm) and where the Designated Person is not contactable, the Gardaí should be contacted directly .

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Last updated 26 January 2012 Civic Engagement (Email).