Volunteer coordinator

 15 March 2013

A career as a volunteer coordinator involves recruitment, training and administration. Volunteers are widely used in the heritage sector.

Recruiting and managing volunteers. Image: RBG Kew.
Recruiting and managing volunteers. Image: RBG Kew.

What do volunteer coordinators do?

The heritage sector uses many volunteers in roles including fundraising and gallery staff. Coordinators are responsible for recruiting and training them. They are also called volunteer managers or recruiters.

A coordinator must know what kind of work will be done, then find appropriate and interested individuals to do the work.

Once trained, the behaviour of the volunteers is the responsibility of the recruiter. If anything goes wrong, the recruiter is the first point of call.

The job also involves:

  • Setting budgets
  • Being aware of laws regarding volunteer work
  • Managing paperwork and administration of the department

What is the job like?

Recruiting volunteers

Recruiting volunteers is a challenging job. You need to be able to convince people to give up their time for free, often doing tough or menial work for long hours.

A sense of drive and passion for the organisation you work for is very important.

Once you know how many volunteers are needed and what they’re needed for, it’s up to you to find the right people. This might mean holding events to raise awareness, designing ads and calling people.

Training volunteers

Teaching, training and organising volunteers requires the ability to draw up rotas and plans. Being organised ahead of time ensures the work goes smoothly.

Volunteers can come from all kinds of backgrounds, and being able to build relationships quickly is a useful skill. You’re also responsible for explaining exactly what the volunteers will be doing.

As well as teaching, a volunteer coordinator needs to motivate and inspire their team. Making sure volunteers feel appreciated through events, awards or team activities is another part of your job.

Working hours can be varied. Sometimes you’ll work evenings or weekends. It’s also quite common for the work to be on short contracts, as a charity or museum gets ready for a specific event.

Relying on volunteers

A sense of drive and passion for the organisation you work for is very important.

It can be stressful. The final success of your work relies on how good your volunteers are. Relying on people you’ve known for a short period, as well as potentially not knowing when your next work contract might come, can lead to anxiety.

However, it's greatly rewarding to know you’re helping a charity or a museum with their work, while providing volunteers with valuable experience.

How do I become a volunteer coordinator?

  • Having worked as a volunteer yourself is essential, proving your interest and helping you to see the job from the other side. 
  • Art galleries and museums are popular places for graduates and non-graduates alike to look for this kind of work.
  • Approach heritage organisations near you and find out what kind of volunteering opportunities exist.
  • Websites like Do-it, The Prince’s Trust or Volunteering England are good places to look for opportunities.
  • Any kind of volunteering is a start. Check the websites of UK charities to see what you can find, and social or youth work can also help.

If you’re interested in working in the heritage sector, bear this in mind as you look for experience. Because this kind of work is highly sought after, you may find strong competition even for volunteer positions.

What qualifications and training do I need?

Experience counts more strongly than qualifications in terms of entry into this career. However, any degree or HND that teaches you relevant skills, such as business studies, education or human resources, would be an advantage.

You can find internships at many large UK charities, such as Oxfam or the Red Cross. Cancer Research UK also runs a graduate training scheme three times a year. CSV and LANTRA both offer training programmes at various levels.

The Association of Volunteer Managers is a support group for this career that provides news and information on their website. 

Being able to drive so you can help with travel can be a plus. You may also find you need to obtain a Disclosure and Barring Service check if you work with vulnerable people. 

How much can I earn?

Starting salaries for a volunteer coordinator can range from £20,000 to £26,000. Senior positions can earn up to £38,000, although this is more likely in a large, high-profile charity.

The heritage sector is generally not regarded as well-paid, and salaries might be lower than this.

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