Lately, I’ve heard some complaints from other volunteer managers about students. Students are a special subset of volunteers. They often have specific goals to accomplish, a required number of service hours, and sometimes, your opportunity is their first chance to learn about a field they’re interested in. Students can be beneficial to your organization, but without good supervision and structure, they can quickly become a hindrance.
Here are some of the most common complaints and what you can do to address them:
Complaint: “Students are lazy. They just sit there, and all they want is their hours sheet signed.”
Solution: Prepare meaningful tasks.
This kind of problem usually isn’t because the student is lazy- it’s because the organization doesn’t know what to do with the student. Having student volunteers takes work on the part of the organization. For the first week or two, invite the student to meetings and schedule times for them to observe different people or programs so they can see what you really do. From there, meet with the student to plan out meaningful tasks and projects appropriate for their skills and level of experience. Meaningful tasks are those which actually contribute something of value to the agency. Students should be able to see that what they do matters. Prepare a task list for the student to do on a regular basis if they finish their work early, but do not focus on creating “busy work” for students to do all of the time. Remember, you’re providing learning opportunities in exchange for the extra help.
Complaint: “Students text all day and spend too much time browsing Facebook.”
Solution: Have clear expectations.
Some students may have little experience in a professional setting, and they may need some ground rules to follow. (Don’t assume they’ll know your dress code, IT policies, or when it’s appropriate to take personal calls.) Be upfront about what your organization expects and give students some guidelines. For example, my agency requires students to sign off on our volunteer handbook, which includes policies about using cell phones when interacting with our clients. Let students know what you can and cannot provide. They may need to complete a specific type of experience- let them know right away if your organization doesn’t offer something they need to do. Ask for contact information for your students’ instructors so that you may contact them with questions or feedback.
Complaint: “Students are telling me they’re bored, and they can’t find anyone to help them.”
Solution: Train staff members to supervise students.
All staff members should be trained to supervise volunteers effectively. Student volunteers may need a little extra supervision and attention. Make sure your staff members know to provide students with the appropriate directions and supplies to complete their tasks. Remind them to be present when students are scheduled and to clearly communicate to the student what to work on if they need to be out of the office. Let staff know that they can correct students right away if they see inappropriate or unprofessional behavior.
Complaint: “Students are upset that we gave them low scores on their evaluations. For some students, I didn’t know what to put down since I hardly ever see them.”
Solution: Evaluate your student volunteers regularly.
Evaluations are necessary for almost all students who will be completing ongoing work for your organization. For students who will volunteer for several months, consider meeting with them regularly throughout their service to check in, address any problems, and offer additional opportunities for learning. These regular checkins will help students learn throughout their time with you, and you’ll be more likely to be able to offer a positive evaluation at the end of their service.
Do you use student volunteers? What are your tips for hosting students effectively?