Call for Applications: Volunteers – Mentors for Mandela Washington Fellows

Volunteering is a great way of assisting non-profit organisations whilst getting the work experience you need.

Youth Month is an important time to consider our efforts at upskilling young people in South Africa – especially while more than 3.7 million young people who are actively looking for work remain unemployed. According to Action Volunteers Africa (AVA), youth volunteerism, in which a young person gives of their time to acquire workplace skills, is a very important first step towards full-time, paid employment.

Are the young volunteers in your organisation receiving the best preparation for their next step towards paid work? If not – or if you plan to welcome young volunteers to your team – the following suggestions, based on the experience of organisations like AVA and the Good Work Foundation, can help you to make simple adjustments that will assist your volunteers in getting a foot in the door of formal employment.

These suggestions are summarised from DGMT’s article providing access to further information and resources.

1. Recruit effectively

The ideal volunteers should show more than a need for compensation and secure employment. They should show commitment to your organisation’s cause and be eager to address social issues. This is not just for the sake of your cause, but because it will mean that they will be more motivated to learn.  Furthermore, it is important for you to assess their skills upfront so you can place them in a position best suited to their development.  Also, identify the areas where they are struggling (personally and professionally), so that you can support them to work around these challenges.

2. Pay an allowance

In order for volunteers to participate fully in your organisation and make the most of their volunteering experience, it is important to pay them an allowance that covers basic costs such as transport. To avoid confusion, communicate clearly that an allowance is not the same as a salary. Therefore, it does not mean full-time employment and does not apply to any days of work that they miss.

3. Provide opportunities for further learning

Where possible, offer opportunities for youth volunteers to develop skills beyond what they will learn from their daily tasks, and which will better prepare them for paid employment. These may include: developing a strong work ethic; communication skills; interpersonal skills; problem-solving; time management; and coping with stress and emotions. This article provides detailed guidance on mentoring young people and offers a simple coaching/mentoring curriculum.

4. Manage well

Your management will have a profound impact on the young volunteers’ performance. Firstly, provide structure and let them know what you expect from them. Secondly, provide feedback on their work and let them take on tasks that are more difficult once they master easier ones, thus enabling further learning. Thirdly, always ensure that the volunteer feels valued and respected.

If you are looking for best practice advice for managing and retaining volunteers, read these tips from Knowhow Nonprofit and this resource from the National Youth Development Agency.

5. Assist with further employment

Even if your organisation is unable to hire the volunteers at the end of their volunteer period, you will assist them enormously if you provide a reference letter that describes the key technical and personal development skills they acquired.

According to JobStarter, an online career planning and mobile learning platform, it is useful to:

  • name the volunteer’s skills (e.g. event planning and organising);
  • describe the tasks that afforded the volunteer these skills (e.g. planned and organised regular brownbag lunch learning sessions for the organisation); and
  • share the output of the tasks with the future employer (e.g. over the course of a year, X hosted 18 sessions, which were each attended by about 30 staff members).

Here are some helpful resources when writing a reference letter or assisting a young person with their CV:

Since young people often do not have a network, you could assist by referring them to other organisations seeking candidates similar to the volunteers. Alternatively, help them grow their network by introducing them to people in your network.

If you are interested in giving a young volunteer an opportunity to work at your organisation, and you are uncertain where to start, AVA is a good resource to draw on.

Find DGMT on Facebook for regular updates on how we can ensure that every South African has the opportunity to fufill his or her potential.

Photo courtesy: DG Murray Trust


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