Have volunteers rights?

Bullying, constructive dismissal, failure to implement an adequate complaints system, no proper role description and false allegations are among subjects that get honourable mention at Employment Appeals’ Tribunal cases. There is ample evidence that similar bad practice also exists in the voluntary sector.

A recent publication outlining the rights of volunteers suggests that if all else fails and a volunteer’s complaint is not dealt with adequately the option of leaving the group is always open; ‘There are thousands of great not for profit organisations looking for volunteers. When you give up your time for others, make sure they value that time.’

The problem with this approach is that more than likely the people who benefit from your voluntary efforts do appreciate your work and if you encounter problems it will probably be as a result of conflict with other volunteers who have; or believe they have, a supervisory/management role for no other reason than ‘length of service’ or ‘group think,’ borne out of an established network within the team. While walking away may indeed be a sensible move it won’t improve the culture and may deprive you of an activity that brings you great satisfaction. People volunteer in order to enjoy doing something they have an aptitude for and don’t expect to run up against problems more often associated with the work-place.

Quote from Christie Lindor; ‘Organizational culture, in its simplest form, is an ecosystemic mashup of values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, symbols, rituals, attitudes, and behaviours shared by a group of employees and driven by leadership. Culture is the behaviour that results when a group arrives at a set of – generally unspoken and unwritten – rules for working together.

The principles which are now widely used in relation to the directors of charitable organisations are: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty, and Leadership.

  There are many Governance templates that will help your volunteer group adhere to these principles but poor culture is more difficult to change. Everyone has to recognise the need for and be willing to change before a cultural shift takes place but it is achievable.