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 class time 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.
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.