Sandra Kiviaho, the Advisor of Policy & Organizational Development at the Canadian Hunger Foundation, offers an insider’s perspective on some opportunities, challenges and tips for developing an organizational policy that can support and strengthen public engagement activities.

Public engagement often requires volunteers to support its various outreach activities. Organizations may find it valuable to create a volunteer policy to help clearly articulate the expectation of the organization to volunteers and the expectations of the volunteers to the organization. This will help the organization protect itself as it conducts various types of public engagement outreach, and volunteers will appreciate understanding how they are perceived by the organization and what they can clearly expect in their roles of volunteers.

To develop a volunteer policy, first you need someone who is willing to spearhead the initiative. This person could be a volunteer coordinator, public engagement staff or a human resource person. They would need to develop a case for organizational support for the policy (i.e. showcasing why it is important for the policy and perhaps how it would resolve possible challenges), and seek senior management approval.

Once approved, they may wish to conduct research by seeing the types of volunteer policies other organizations have to support their public engagement work. They may also research online, for example for templates at Volunteer Canada. It is also important to speak with staff who utilize volunteers to find out how volunteers are contributing and their roles and responsibilities. By doing this they will find out what aspects will need to be governed by the policy.

They will then need to draft the policy for the needs of the organization and then share it for feedback with staff and ideally volunteers. A revised version would then be presented to senior management and eventually brought forward to the organization’s board for approval as per the organization’s policy practices.

Some of the main challenges facing the development of a volunteer policy for public engagement activities are securing initial approval to move the process forward, finding the time to draft the policy, and finding willing participants to comment and edit throughout the process. Sometimes the length of time the process entails can be a challenge to keep people’s interest. Some ideas to overcoming the challenges are to build a strong case for support as to why it is important to have the policy in place, find a small group of interested people to support the process, continually follow up and commit to regular time slots to work on the policy to keep the process moving forward. Helping people to understand the benefits and to feel appreciated in their contributions will also be useful.

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