The style and frequency of supervision will depend to a large extent on the roles that volunteers do. Counsellors for example will require regular formal clinical supervision by a suitably qualified person.  Other roles will require a less formal arrangement but it is good practice to have some form of regular supervision in place. It may be that you choose to call these support sessions something other than supervision if that is more comfortable or appropriate.

Offering supervision at regular intervals either one-to-one or in small groups will help you assess general competence, the development of relationships with co-workers and your user groups and to identify any training needs.

In determining the frequency consider the following:

  • Number of hours that the volunteer gives
  • The nature and demands of the role
  • How long the volunteer has been involved

It is important that all volunteers who work similar hours in similar roles have the same supervision arrangements. Volunteers may not to see the need for supervision, particularly if it involves an extra commitment outside of their usual volunteering hours.

It helps to explain that it is two way and as much for their benefit as the organisations’. Help them to see it as their personal time to give feedback and receive input not as you checking up on them. Remember that volunteers may be extremely competent in their role and may also have been with the organisation for longer than many staff.

Try to arrange sessions at times when they would usually volunteer. If it has to be outside of this then make it clear that travel expenses will be reimbursed and try to be as flexible as possible about time and location. A telephone call at a mutually agreed time may be an acceptable option.


Aims of a supervision session

For the group or organisation to gain

  • An improved understanding of the tasks and issues involved in volunteering for each part of the group or organisation
  • A perception of how things are going
  • To hear the volunteers views and ideas of the development of the group or organisation

For the volunteer to gain

  • Direction from the volunteer coordinator, management committee or trustees
  • Feedback on their work
  • Support and advice

Running the session

  • Set aside enough time to ensure that everything is covered
  • Make sure you will not be interrupted.
  • Choose an appropriate venue. This does not have to be your office. Consider a meeting place convenient for the volunteer such as a local coffee shop
  • Keep notes of what was discussed and let volunteers have a copy

Using self evaluation as part of supervision

People learn best when they see for themselves what needs to change. The questions you ask during supervision can prompt this process. Include questions such as:

  • What has gone well or what do you like about what you did?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • What support do you need from me or others?

Giving feedback

Part of the session will also involve giving feedback on a volunteers work. Useful, constructive feedback should be:

  • Specific
  • Descriptive
  • Remedy-seeking as opposed to blame seeking
  • Well-timed and current
  • Checked for understanding