Volunteering Development Framework

The Volunteer Development Framework (VODFRA) is the totality of: the reason for doing volunteering at the Red Cross (the humanitarian purpose and the objectives), how volunteering is managed (through the Volunteer Management Cycle, retention and protection) and what volunteers do at the Red Cross (activities, operations and programmes). To this, a fourth element is added: the enabling environment, which makes it possible to carry out all of the above. It gathers and gives coherence in a logical framework to the different tools, experiences and initiatives in the field of volunteering development that have been elaborated by the IFRC and the National Societies in Americas.


VODFRA has four main elements: “Why“, “How“, “What” and “Enabling environment“. These elements work as a whole to achieve a development of volunteering that is effective and efficient within the National Societies, particularly at the branch level. Within each of the elements, there are different areas, tools or actions that must be taken into account to complete the VODFRA. This means that each National Society can see each element as a block to evaluate what is needed and build or develop each element as required.

All the above elements are developed in different documents and training available through the Volunteer and Youth Development Unit of the Regional Office for America and similarly, the key documents are below and each section is explained in detail.

Click here to download the document of the VODFRA


The Red Cross volunteering work must be based on the characteristics and humanitarian needs of the communities in which we work to mobilize the power of humanity. Each National Society establishes the most appropriate method to take into account the characteristics of its own volunteers in the construction of humanitarian assistance in each country based on the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross.

For a National Society, the volunteering development is a a long-term investment and commitment. It begins with the volunteers needs assessment and analysis in order to define the volunteer management implementation and/or review programs to put into practice. The volunteer management involves examining all organizational levels, programs and practices carried out by the National Society.

Furthermore, it is important to ensure enabling environments for volunteers by promoting the Red Cross/Red Crescent volunteer work importance, backbone of the effective humanitarian aid provided to millions of people from affected communities.
Volunteers are our power, they define us and, thanks to them, we are an exceptional humanitarian force in the world. As the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, one of our core tasks is to support our volunteers and provide them with the tools and resources they need to respond to the enormous challenges and expectations that we and our stakeholders have for them.

Our volunteers are the driving force behind our humanitarian work and the most valuable asset that National Societies have. Millions of people around the world work together within the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement to prevent and alleviate human suffering. Each volunteer is a fundamental piece in our organization’s structure and action. This commitment of all those who day by day contribute to strength our organization, implies great responsibility towards our volunteers.

Therefore, it is necessary to constantly improve and develop our network of volunteers in order to face the ongoing and emerging humanitarian challenges. We must continue investing in the development of our volunteer work and in the volunteer management cycle for its permanent improvement in quantity, quality and efficiency. This in order to act better and achieve our humanitarian aims. We hope that our volunteers reinforce their active leadership role in the Americas’ National Societies governance and management bodies, and that they will be the force and engine of development everywhere for everyone.

The Principles and humanitarian values

The Fundamental Principles – Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Volunteerism, Unity and Universality – constitute both a source of inspiration – an ideal to fight for – and practical measures to achieve the RCRC Mission in times of peace, in situations of armed conflict and/or in case of natural disasters and crisis. The Principles prioritize the humanitarian action based on needs and the urgency of those in need, regardless of their political sympathies, race or religion, by providing guidance on how to enjoy the confidence of all the people in these circumstances.

When the Fundamental Principles are understood and respected, the volunteers and staff of the RCRC Movement can carry out their humanitarian work and bring help to those in need, even during conflict situations.

The Fundamental Principles are also an expression of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement’s values and practices. They are a call to action for all the volunteers and staff of the RCRC Movement, which imposes us the mandate – described in the Principle of Humanity – to “prevent and alleviate the suffering of men in all circumstances”.

Click here to obtain the document of the Fundamental Principles of the International Movement of the Red Cross.


The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battlefield, endeavours, in its international and national capacity, to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. Its purpose is to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being. It promotes mutual understanding, friendship, cooperation and lasting peace amongst all peoples.


It makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. It endeavours to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress.


In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the Movement may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.


The Movement is independent. The National Societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their governments and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with the principles of the Movement.


It is a voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.


There can be only one Red Cross or one Red Crescent Society in any one country. It must be open to all. It must carry on its humanitarian work throughout its territory.


The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, in which all Societies have equal status and share equal responsibilities and duties in helping each other, is worldwide.

The humanitarian needs and challenges

The American continent is culturally diverse, geographically large and socially and economically complex. It has an area of more than 43,316,000 km2 and concentrates around 12% of the world’s human population. The region counts on 35 Red Cross National Societies, with more than 536,000 volunteers working in 14,000 branches at local level. In terms of humanitarian aid, during 2015 the Americas’ National Societies assisted at least 2,808,310 people in the region through emergency response operations with the support of the International Federation.

As the largest humanitarian network in the world, our vision is: to inspire, encourage, facilitate and promote at all times all forms of humanitarian activities by National Societies, with a view to preventing and alleviating human suffering, and thereby contributing to the maintenance and promotion of human dignity and peace in the world.

Therefore, our volunteer work have to focus on responding to the humanitarian needs and challenges. In this way, when planning volunteering activities, operations and programs, we have to start from the communities needs assessment and analysis in order to respond effectively and make our action relevant.

The Americas Region context

Most of the countries in the Americas Region are vulnerable to natural phenomenas of increasing scale and intensity: earthquakes, droughts, floods, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions have been responsible for the loss of more than 300,000 lives and 20 billion dollars in the last three decades and have affected the lives of more than 15 million people. Only in 2014, the total number of victims of natural disasters (32.2 million) have multiplied by more than 3  times compared to its annual average for the period 2004-2013, due to the drought that affected 27 million people in Brazil in the first months of the year. An earthquake of magnitude 7.8 shook the north of Ecuador on April the 16th, 2016. According to the authorities, 663 people died, thousands of people were injured and many more were displaced. It is estimated that 1.2 million people have been affected by this devastating earthquake. On September the 30th, 2016, the tropical storm “Matthew” arrived in the eastern Caribbean and became a hurricane that caused serious damage in Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic and the United States.

The hurricane generated the largest humanitarian emergency in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake and the subsequent cholera outbreak. However, equally dangerous are the small and medium-sized silent disasters that actually constitute the majority of the emergencies and crisis in the region.

The consequences of climate changes are contributing to greater the vulnerability and the risk, not only in times of disaster, but also in relation to existing problems of nutrition, food security, access to safe water and waterborne diseases.

Moreover, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of premature death, disease and disability in the Americas Region. The non-communicable diseases cause two out of every three deaths in the region, devastating people, families, communities and, in particular, poor populations, representing a growing threat to the economic development in the region. This situation is further complicated by the growing inequity in access to health services. An increasing number of people have limited or no access to health care due to poverty and/or a weak public health system along with the increase funding of the private health care system, especially in urban areas, or due to cultural differences, as is the case in countries with indigenous populations within.

The impact of epidemic outbreaks in the region, including Dengue, Chikungunya, Cholera and Zika, is also worrisome. In 2016, the Zika virus spread through Latin America and the Caribbean, becoming the region most affected by this new epidemic, which is transmitted mainly through the bite of the infected Aedes mosquito. To date, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has reported 512,345 suspected cases, 164,352 confirmed cases and 4,473 imported cases of Zika virus infection. Zika is not usually a life-threatening virus, however, the region of the Americas has reported 14 deaths related to this virus.

Encouraged by inequality and social exclusion, violence in all its forms continues to spread in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially in urban contexts where more than 80% of the population lives. 43 out of the 50 most violent cities in the world are in the Americas Region, creating a multifaceted impact on all aspects of society. In addition, the Americas Region hosts the 26.6% of the world’s migrant people (61.6 million), and population movement is also an important factor in terms of equity, social cohesion, local and regional economies.

Furthermore, an increase in migration flows affect the region since the end of 2015, particularly in Central and South America, where governments have facilitated the transit of migrants or stopped their entry at the borders. Migrant people have encountered various obstacles that often place them in situations of greater vulnerability and risk. The RC/RC National Societies have made progress in providing assistance and protection to migrants. However, much remains to be done to expand the response, improve the services and and protect the dignity and life of migrant people.

These and many other humanitarian challenges must be central when designing our volunteering programs to serve the communities.

Volunteering Analysis within the Americas Region

As part of the strategies developed in the Americas region by the IFRC, we promote the volunteers and youth leadership as an activating force of social and humanitarian actions.

The scenario in which we develop our volunteer work has undergone great changes in recent times, bringing new challenges to the National Societies. We need to seek a better understanding of the work of volunteers and the volunteer management within our organization in a constantly changing world. The knowledge of the current situation and the understanding of the volunteering situation allow us to have a prompt and effective response to improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable people. Our objective should be to boost the Red Cross Red Crescent programs and adopt initiatives for the volunteer protection, promotion and recognition as a fundamental pillar of our organization.

It is essential to collect evidences of the state of our volunteering systems to respond to the volunteers’ needs and improve the volunteer work. This is why the “Analysis of Volunteering and Youth in the Americas Region” has been launched.

This analysis is based on the Volunteering and Youth Baseline Studies on the development of volunteering in the Region, carried out since 2013. Its purpose is to better understand the challenges faced by the volunteer management system in our organization, in a constantly changing world. This study is part of the strategic process of the development of our volunteer work for its permanent improvement in quantity, quality and efficiency. At the same time, the Analysis aims to be a working document, with the contribution of all of you, that serves as evaluation tool to improve our humanitarian action and make changes when needed.

Likewise, we intend to improve volunteer leadership in the programs we carry out with, for and through the communities, promote the adoption of a leadership scheme in the organization governance, management and operations, towards efficiency and transparency.

This initiative, promoted by the Volunteering and Youth Development Unit, seeks to provide an overview of the Volunteering and Youth situation in the National Societies of the Americas Region and it serves as a starting point for the construction of strategies, at a national and regional level, that aim at strengthening our humanitarian work through the development of volunteering in the continent.

The Analysis provide effective and personalized support, by the IFRC, to the National Societies, based on the priorities and specific characteristic of each organization.

The document conclusions and considerations show the strategical directions to improve our volunteering systems and thus have more and better volunteers integrated into the programs and development processes at all levels.

This study presents the volunteering situation in the Red Cross National Societies in the American continent in order to improve their local and regional response capacity. Within this panorama, we have up-to-date information to develop strategies that promote this humanitarian force of change that is the prestige of the Red Cross worldwide: our volunteers.

Updated information about the baseline studies can be find in our Analysis and Reports section.


Volunteering context/environment in the Americas Region[1]

In Latin America, volunteering is rooted in the communities’ tradition and culture, facing serious issues as poverty and misery (in each country with specific characteristics). Volunteer work acts as source of goods, services and social capital, driven by the humanitarian spirit we can usually find in religion and communities mutual support.

According to some research, volunteering, despite the adverse forces, tripled between 1998 and 2002, becoming a major player in the fight against hunger and poverty (Kliksberg in Perold and Tapia, 2007).

In Latin America, volunteering is not only a great producer of goods and services, but it is playing a key role as a driving force in the communities development, through the creation of social capital based on trust, networking, active citizenship and ethic values.

Volunteer work is an important factor in the fields of poverty, sustainable development, health, disasters and crisis prevention and response, social inclusion and discrimination. In addition, new and different ways of volunteering (from assistance to capacity building) develop, based on active citizenship and community engagement within the humanitarian organisations.

[1] “Profundizar el Voluntariado: Los Retos Hasta 2020” J.M Fresno y A. Tsolakis. 2011


The Volunteer Management Cycle sets up processes that support the National Societies in reaching their aims in the field of volunteering development: this is the core of “how” we manage the volunteer work in our National Societies. This area aims to organize the volunteer work in order to fulfill the RC/RC Movement mission. The cycle moves through several management steps, while each step plays a crucial role. It is important to highlight that, although it is true that the cycle is the main element for the volunteer management at the local level, elements related to the volunteer protection and support are also included.

The “HOW” area includes:

  • the Volunteer Management Cycle
  • The definition of volunteer programs and profiles
  • Volunteering in emergencies
  • The involvement of volunteers in the decision making processes
  • The diversification of volunteering
  • Volunteers welfare – Psychosocial support
  • The volunteer retention
  • The responsibilities and rights of volunteers and the National Society

Volunteer Management Cycle

The Volunteer Management Cycle sets up processes that support the National Societies in reaching their aims in the field of volunteering development: this is the core of “how” we manage the volunteer work in our National Societies. This area aims to organize the volunteer work in order to fulfill the RC/RC Movement mission.

Click here to download the document of the Volunteer Management Cycle

The Volunteer Management Cycle is an integral part of the Volunteering Development Framework (MADVO) and is specifically within the “HOW” area.

The cycle moves through several management steps, while each step plays a crucial role. Communication and evaluation processes are fundamental in the volunteers management thus they are mentioned in this document.

The Cycle is managed at the level of the branches and it is the volunteer manager of each branch responsible for this management. At the national level, the Volunteer Coordination provides the respective support.

The Volunteer Management Cycle document is a theoretical and practical guide that can be used by volunteers managers at the local and national levels.

Further, each element of the Cycle is explained, and these must be adapted to each reality in each National Society and each branch according to their humanitarian needs. So, questions are presented to serve as guides for the generation of solutions.

This document has been updated and prepared by the Volunteering and Youth Development Regional Unit of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the Americas region, based on previous documentation on the subject and experiences carried out with different National Societies.

Volunteering programmes and volunteer profiles

According to the humanitarian challenges and needs in each country, National Societies define which volunteering programs are required to meet those needs (for example: first-aid, lifeguards, emergency preparedness and response, social, youth, community development, etc…).

In order to define a volunteering program it is important to follow this steps:

  • Programme purpose and aims
  • Programme Description
  • Key working areas
  • Volunteers profile and skills
  • Trainings required
  • Opportunities for personal development

Once the programmes defined, all these information contributes to attract new volunteers. The well-defined volunteering programs help the National Society to target the population and better recruit their volunteers among the communities.

Volunteers profile and skills

In the same way, once the volunteering programmes are established, it is necessary to define the volunteers’ profile for each programme and opportunity in the different branches.

The minimum volunteer profile include:

  • Location
  • Title/position
  • Purpose of the position
  • Key responsibilities
  • Qualifications
  • Training
  • Responsible/Director for the position
  • Time required
  • Opportunities for personal and professional growth
  • temporary or long-term position

By creating these profiles for volunteering opportunities, the National Society establishes “the rules of the game” from the beginning and aspiring volunteers commit themselves to these rules.

Volunteering in emergencies

The International Federation has developed practical guidelines for National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to manage volunteers and volunteering programs in emergency situations.

Click here to download these guidelines.

Why develop these guidelines?

Emergencies challenge the National Societies in providing services to vulnerable people in confusing and difficult conditions. A key aspect of the National Societies capacity to provide such services is the ability to mobilize and manage volunteers.

The complexity of emergency situations requires strong and efficient volunteer management systems to be able to provide all the required services.

In the years the National Societies have faced some issues related to volunteer management in emergency situations, for example:

  • Effective volunteering coordination, including the management of spontaneous volunteers
  • Legal aspects related to volunteers in emergency situation, in particular the responsibility of the National Society for volunteers’ action and accidents
  • Legal aspect related to volunteers’ fee/payment/per diem working long hours in emergency situations
  • Decline in the ongoing volunteer’s capacity and motivation after major emergency operations

The purpose of these guidelines is to gather and collect good practices from the entire Movement’s members to support National Societies in improving their work with volunteers in emergency situations.

Who are these guidelines for?

These guidelines may be primarily useful for volunteering development/disaster management at national level. They provide insight to the policies and operational issues negotiated by the National Society governance and management, together with volunteers.

How to use these guidelines?

Each National Society operates in a different social, legal and political context. Some National Societies are the emergency first responders in their country, while others play subsidiary roles to government responses. Some respond to emergencies on a daily basis, while for others emergency response is an unusual activity. Therefore the goal of these guidelines is to promote discussion about the emergency response within the National Societies, and to suggest examples of how the main issues can be addressed, based on the experience of other National Societies. The guidelines are not mandatories.

The guidelines should promote discussion within the National Society between the volunteering coordination, the volunteers and the staff operating in emergency situations. Some of the issues relate to the National Societies policies and require reflection at the governance level, while other operational decisions are likely to be assumed by the management, either before or during an emergency response.

When these guidelines are tested and implemented, it is strongly recommended that the National Society consult extensively with volunteers to gather their inputs and feedback.

Volunteers in the decision making processes

As established in the IFRC Volunteering Policy, “National Societies encourage volunteers to participate in its decision-making and in designing and improving the work in which they are involved. A volunteer has the right to become a member of the National Society, i.e. someone who has formally agreed to the conditions of membership as required under the National Society’s statutes”.

Participation in programmes management and decision-making process

The National Societies will ensure that at all stages of the creation, development, execution and evaluation of the volunteering programmes, the volunteers inputs, ideas and suggestions are actively collected and implemented.

Volunteers know beneficiaries and communities better than anyone else. It is important that they are consulted in the volunteering programmes design and included in the decision-making processes. It is also a way to recognize their contribution, to ensure their retention, and to facilitate their identification with the decisions adopted.

When the participation of members and volunteers is examined, we can observe that there are two organizational paradigms within the Movement. In the members’ model, the volunteers gather around an idea, composing local branches and electing their leaders. Active members act under management or self-management. The concept of volunteering can be weak in this model. In the service delivery model, volunteers are recruited to carry out defined tasks. Local branches provide services, rather than organizing members. Each National Society has to determine which of these models is appropriate for its particular situation.

Here we examine two forms of volunteers’ participation: in the programmes management and in the decision-making process. The importance of volunteers participation in programmes and decision-making has been emphasized in various regional and international decisions. In most National Societies, volunteers participate to a certain degree in the programmes management, although less in emergency situations. The participation of volunteers in decision-making, on the other hand, is limited, particularly at the national level. The management of national programmes is usually duty of the staff, while community programmes are managed to a greater degree by volunteers. Most National Societies consider necessary to involve volunteers in planning when working with their communities and, increasingly, also in the design of programmes at the national level.

Smaller National Societies, which have small amount of paid staff, generally allow more participation of the volunteers. Volunteers determine needs, carry out programs and, sometimes, are incorporated as project staff.

The participation of volunteers in decision-making processes at the national level is usually reduced. Many National Societies report that participation is good both for volunteers (because it motivates them) and programmes (because the inputs of volunteers are valuable). However, although the members of the governing bodies usually carry out their work on a voluntary basis, the volunteers who work in the programmes often do not have a voice in the decision-making processes. The participation of volunteers has been on the agenda since the IFRC Volunteering policy was approved in 2011, and more and more volunteers are elected by their peers to occupy roles in the governing bodies.

On the other hand, the same participation is not given to all volunteers. Young volunteers are often excluded from certain processes because it is believed that they do not have the necessary knowledge to make a contribution. Many National Societies have proposed to improve this situation by including young people in government bodies and the establishment of youth boards and committees.

The volunteers participation does not only imply that the National Societies allow them to take part in the decision-making processes, but that the volunteers themselves are aware that they can be part of them.



In general, it is necessary to increase the participation of volunteers, especially at the national level and in emergency situations. Volunteers are often executing agents and have little to say in the processes that affect their work. In some cases they may prefer not to get involved, but there are many other barriers. It may happen that young or unemployed volunteers are not considered capable of adding value to these processes. In some National Societies, positions in governing bodies are considered prestigious and volunteers from local communities may not be accepted. Sometimes volunteers are not included because there is not the will and the structure to accept new points of view.

In some cases, leaders and staff may consider that the participation of volunteers is a threat, because volunteers will ask questions and demand for change. The structures of the local branches and the training for leaders may promote a change of attitude. Another problem is related to the lack of clear definitions of what is meant by volunteers and members, and the overlapping of functions between government and management bodies.

Financial constraints limit the participation of volunteers, because not all National Societies can reimburse volunteers for costs arising from participation in assemblies and planning processes. Finally, the limited knowledge of the Volunteering policy and the benefits derived from the volunteers participation may be the reason why some National Societies do not carry out these processes.

In any case, National Societies must guarantee the participation of volunteers at all levels of the organization to improve their internal systems day by day. This is a golden rule to achieve the success of our objectives.

Diversification of volunteering

The implementation of the diversification of volunteering in National Societies aims to find new ways to strengthen the institution and support the needs of communities by opening spaces where volunteers and those interested in the RC activities can exploit their skills, characteristics and strengths. It is important that National Societies know the volunteering issues, what they are implementing at this time and in what areas they can do it. Expanding the volunteering approach means creating opportunities for all volunteers in order that they feel comfortable contributing to the institution.

There are many ways in which National Societies can diversify their volunteer programmes, for example:

Online Volunteering is a tool where National Societies can present their projects, needs and receive help from an online network. The United Nations Volunteers, have more than 9500 volunteers from 182 countries who offer technical knowledge such as tools development, support of projects, mapping location and resource management, they also facilitate communication, among other things. In emergencies it could mean a lot of help and all this with a very simple process (i.e.:

The Spanish Red Cross incorporated virtual volunteering for those who want to help and can not travel. They already accept virtual volunteering or online volunteering to incorporate those volunteers who can collaborate from their homes or work-places but not from the headquarters of the organization. The main working tool is usually any device connected to the Internet (computer, mobile phone, tablet, etc.) and the main added value is knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Corporate Volunteering is a type of volunteering that seeks to create or establish links with private companies, which aims at the integration and free participation of their employees through the dedication of their time, skills and talent to no-profit causes and projects like those that our institution has. It also seeks to have agreements with these companies during emergency time so they can count on more resources. It is not a secret that companies have a greater commitment and interest in the social and environmental wellbeing: this is reflected by developing skills and qualities in their employees that are not only technical. This is a good practice of Corporate Social Responsibility: it generates a positive impact on the company, improving the work environment and the involvement of the staff in it, while making a valuable contribution to society.

The idea of creating an Academic Volunteer program aims to take advantage of University Communal Work and community work in schools, in which young people have to perform certain hours of community work. For this, a striking program for students have to be defined, a program where they really feel that they are contributing to the community development. A good Academic Volunteering program is even an excellent way to attract funds, however, young people should feel comfortable with the institution.

Occasional Volunteering is an opportunity for volunteers to offer their services for specify actions as long as they have available to do so. For example, a volunteer who work as a lawyer can provide three hours per week giving legal advice to his/her local branch or to his/her National Society. In the same way any volunteer who can provide an extra service can do it occasionally because it is not previously established, but it is spontaneous.


Incorporation of new profiles in volunteering*

Social changes and demographic trends, together with technological development, bring new profiles to voluntary action. Voluntarism tends to increase in older people, who have good health and time and who have great potential in the context of active aging. Likewise, the volume of university students gradually grows, due to the activity of the universities and colleges themselves. At the same time there is a great flow of migrants in the countries of the region, which represents a challenge and an opportunity since there are many cases of migrants acting as volunteers.

The increasing of unemployement rate that has occurred in recent years, could lead to attract some of these unemployed people.


New forms of volunteering*

The new volunteering forms are usually associated with new social contexts and the new profiles of volunteers; in this framework, we can find all actions related to digital volunteering, online volunteering, volunteering disconnected from community dynamics, occasional volunteering, etc.

The time element, increasingly scarce in our societies and the need to properly take advantage of it, also has an impact the new forms of volunteering, more focused on specific short-term actions than on the long-term ones.

Volunteering, on the other hand, is not necessarily a face-to-face activity. The remarkable evolution of digital technology means that volunteer work is not limited to activities that involve direct personal contact. The new technologies used to establish contacts are one of the most significant changes that volunteering is experiencing.

The rapidly evolving mobile phones technology and the diffusion of Internet allow to an increasing number of people belonging to larger segments of the population to participate in different activities on a voluntary basis.

* “Profundizar el Voluntariado: Los Retos Hasta 2020” J.M Fresno y A. Tsolakis. 2011

Volunteer welfare – Psychosocial support

Caring for volunteers” is a set of tools developed to help National Societies in supporting volunteers before, during and after a crisis.

While the focus is on the volunteers, it also provides useful tools for the staff. Regardless of whether your National Society is large or small, if you are involved in emergencies or if you work mainly with social programs, you can adapt the information to your particular needs.

Click here to download the document “Caring for volunteers

In times of crisis, psychosocial support is not something optional, but an obligation.


Risks to the welfare of the volunteer

By choosing to help in difficult situations, volunteers can be exposed to destruction, death, stories of loss, the pain of the survivors and sometimes insecurity in the environment of the crisis.

In addition, the traditional heroic role of Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers brings expectations about the image they may have of being disinterested, untiring and in some way superhuman, even in front of an overwhelming tragedy. The demands of the situation can significantly overcome their ability to help, and, at the end of the day, the volunteers feel that they have not done enough.

But it is not the exposure to traumatic situations or extreme circumstances that most often cause stress to volunteers.

Those who act as lifeguards often find meaning in their work, and as a result, can deal with the situations to which they are exposed. Instead, volunteers (and staff) often face a stress that comes from the working conditions and work issues related to the organization.


Volunteer retention is closely related to the way in which they are managed and supported. Volunteers remain in the organization when they identify themselves with it, when they feel satisfied and feel that their work is recognized, and when they learn new things or find opportunities for personal and professional growth. They retire when there are no relevant activities, when they do not feel appreciated or when they consider that they do not receive support. External factors can also affect the stay in the organization, such as mobility for personal or professional reasons and the other organizations competition.

Volunteers have different needs and expectations. It is important to understand what their motivation is and what skills and experiences they bring. Recognition is one of the key motivating factors and, therefore, must be a continuous process. In addition to the material recognition, there are other non-formal recognitions, such as saying “thank you”, which have an impact on job satisfaction and the performance of volunteers.



Most National Societies consider that retention and recruitment are priority issues for volunteering development and have increased efforts to improve their performance in this field. More emphasis is placed on assigning appropriate tasks to volunteers.

Providing training opportunities is an effective way to recruit and retain volunteers. Many National Societies also study new forms of training, such online training, to keep up with the new volunteers profiles and expectations.

More and more National Societies recognize that the volunteer retention is related to the institutional culture. Volunteers are invited to express their opinion, to take on more responsibility and participate in decision-making processes.

National Societies use both formal and non-formal resources to recognize the volunteer work. These measures can change from one National Society to another, and may also change from a local branch to another. It is common to give awards or certificates to volunteers for the services provided. Other practices include letters of thanks, uniforms, representation in regional or international events, employment opportunities, appointment as candidate for the governing board, and grant as “life member” for distinguished services in emergency situations.

Some National Societies have recognition policies and/or standards to ensure proper coordination and coherence among the members.

Other National Societies are testing new tools to assess and recognize inputs and outputs in the voluntary sector, as a way to improve the efficiency of programmes, increase volunteer recognition, recruitment and retention, and attract funding.



Besides the financial difficulties, the staff shortage for volunteers management, the lack of training and planning for volunteers, the misunderstanding of what motivates the volunteers, and the slow implementation of volunteer policies are common problems for volunteer retention and recognition. For instance, many National Societies don’t have a clear work plan or training for volunteers. When volunteers do not feel properly recognized or involved in their National Society, they quit.

Recognition is often based on the number of hours loaned, rather than on performance and efficiency. There is a need for coherent and coordinated evaluation and monitoring systems to ensure equal opportunities for all volunteers. For this, it is very useful to have a solid database of volunteering at all levels.

National Societies that depend on external financial resources also face the challenge of sustainability. Recruitment and retention strategies should be reviewed periodically in order to respond to the competition and changing expectations of volunteers.

Responsibilities and rights of volunteers and the National Society

When volunteers join the Red Cross, they have to know their rights, responsibilities and benefits. In this way the relationship with the organization is established on solid bases. To do this, before join the Red Cross, volunteers have to read and sign a document with their rights and responsibilities.

As established in the IFRC Volunteering Policy, National Societies have to provide written guidelines with the rights and responsibilities of both the National Society and its members and volunteers. Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers have to act at all times in accordance with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Fundamental Principles. Volunteers must also respect the code of conduct regarding the use of the emblem and avoid improper uses of it. In case of emergency, they should be available to the National Society, according to their abilities and skills, as agreed with the National Society.

In their work with vulnerable people, volunteers are expected to ensure high quality services. In the fulfillment of their duties, volunteers abstain from all discrimination and respond to the needs of vulnerable people with humanity and respect, in addition to maintaining absolute discretion regarding the people they assist.


The following examples help the National Society in defining volunteers’ rights and responsibilities:


  • The action corresponds to the volunteers’ interests and skills
  • The volunteers receive guidance and information about the International Movement the of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent
  • The volunteers receive training before, during and after the action
  • The volunteers are informed about what happens in the National Society
  • The volunteers are treated as a collaborator and take part in local and national decision-making processes
  • The volunteers have a performance evaluation on a regular basis
  • The volunteers have opportunities to promote and share experiences
  • The volunteers have a confidential personal file in an update database
  • The volunteers are reimbursed for expenses according to the policies approved by the National Council, National Governing Board or Administration.


  • To understand and apply the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent
  • To know the history and culture of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
  • To adhere to the Code of Conduct / Ethics of the National Society
  • To learn and participate in trainings
  • To understand the functions of paid staff and maintain good working relationships with them
  • To carry out tasks with dignity and integrity
  • To accept the task assigned by the volunteer coordinator
  • To know his/her limits
  • To respect the confidentiality
  • To give and receive constructive feedback
  • To work as a member of a team
  • To report incidents


  • Be part of the largest humanitarian network in the world
  • Receive information and documents about the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
  • Have the opportunity to help others
  • Have the opportunity for personal growth
  • Have references and confidential personal files
  • Be recognized for their work
  • Have the opportunity to implement their own skills
  • Have support and guidance


The volunteer programmes, operations and activities carried out by the National Societies encompass all the actions carried out by the volunteers in their National Societies. For example, first aid, volunteer ladies, youth, virtual volunteers, emergency preparedness, social activities, etc. Activities such as YABC, social assistance, health, fight against non-communicable diseases, healthy living community, etc. All these actions have a humanitarian objective based on the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent.

Our objective is to have high quality volunteer programmes, operations and actions, run by prepared and focused volunteers aiming in resilience, community development and carrying on our humanitarian mission.

Within the “WHAT?” we can find:

  • Volunteer activities
  • Volunteer programmes
  • Operations

Volunteer programmes[1]

In order to carry out a coherent volunteer management system, an organization needs to establish a Programme, a logical, organized and uniform frame of recruitment, selection, training, monitoring, motivation, recognition and evaluation of its volunteers.

The Volunteer Programme should be designed with the input of all members who work or will work with volunteers to include different points of view within the organization.

So we can ask ourselves: why should organizations develop a more efficient volunteer programme? Among the possible answers we can mention: to retain and encourage those who approach the organization offering their time and skills; to increase their effectiveness and efficiency in the volunteers management; to respond to the daily volunteers’ demands and needs.

It is important to mention that every volunteer programme must have a coordinator within the National Society who will be that staff member that, together with the national volunteer coordinator / director, will fulfill the following tasks:

  • coordinate the Volunteer Programme;
  • maintain the programme coherence establishing policies and ensuring compliance;
  • ensure that the Volunteer Management Cycle is implemented in the local branches;
  • keep communication channels between volunteers and staff clear and efficient;

All this is related to the “WHAT” part of the definition of the volunteer programmes and volunteer profiles.

[1] Adaptado de: ¿Cómo desarrollar un programa de voluntarios?, Gestión Social, G. Lazzaro (2005)

Volunteer activities

The Red Cross has an endless number of activities and programmes in which people can develop their volunteer work, ranging from community education and training to emergency and disaster situations.

Generally, most of the volunteer activities are carried on within the volunteer programmes in each National Society. But in addition, there are opportunities for people to carry on specific volunteer activities, as helping during an emergency preparing food and shelters, helping local branches in administrative issues (accounting, finance, etc.), doing volunteering at the national headquarter, etc.

In the same way, when preparing volunteering activities that do not belong to the programmes, the National Society has to specify the volunteers’ profile as the rights and responsibility of the position.


Specific disaster response operations are also specific volunteering activities for the Red Cross volunteers.

Regional disaster response teams (RDRTs) are an economic support system for regional disaster response actions. Their staff is composed entirely of Red Cross members. Their objective is to actively promote and strengthen the regional disaster management capacities.

A RDRT is made up of volunteers or staff from National Red Cross Societies who are usually members of their own National disaster response teams and are trained to provide assistance to the nearest National Societies. The RDRT includes a core group of people with transversal knowledge (health, logistics, water and sanitation) and generalist relief workers. Most of them have extensive experience in disaster response in their own country and at the regional level.

How do they work?

The RDRT members receive joint training in order to be deployed within 24 to 48 hours after a disaster to support neighboring National Societies. Some regions are extremely large, as the Central American and Caribbean region; others cover only a few countries that often share same language and culture. The RDRT initiative was launched in 1998 with the objective of making effective use of the capacities of the National Societies in each region.

The standardized training aims for RDRTs to be able to support both national disaster response teams and to work with international teams when necessary. The training is organized by the regional delegations of the International Federation, which maintain a database of the trained members and who alert and deploy a team upon the National Society request. Delegations keep the material up to date to be used on the field, including computers and telecommunications.

Enabling environment

Some fundamental structures are crucial to implement, plan, support and manage the three different areas of the WHY, HOW and WHAT. For example: structures at the national and local levels of volunteer management, policies and strategies, legal aspects of volunteering, cooperation with other partners, etc.

Within the “Enabling Environment” we can find:

  • Established volunteer structures at the national and local level (person in charge / coordinator / volunteer director of the National Society and at the local level / committee or working group(s) on volunteering, etc.)
  • Established and approved volunteering policy
  • Data management (database, information management)
  • Transversal communication with all volunteers
  • Legal aspects of volunteering
  • Volunteer strategies (concrete actions for development)
  • Promotion of volunteering
  • Protection and Safety of volunteers (medical and accident insurance, equipment, adequate training for the right job, etc.)
  • Defined working relationships between volunteers and paid staff
  • Institutional and operational volunteers
  • Cooperation within and outside the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

Volunteer structures at national and local level

The mission and the challenge for National Societies and for the International Federation as a whole is double: to have more and better prepared volunteers who contribute to improving the living conditions of the most vulnerable people by mobilizing the power of humanity, but also having an efficient and modern internal structure that aims to retain, develop and increase the quality of the projects, activities and services offered to the most vulnerable communities.

In order to have a successful volunteer development and management, a National Society has to have solid and clear structures that support and manage the volunteering at all levels (National and local).

The minimum standards for a National Society are:

  • a national volunteer coordinator / director / administrator (can also be a national volunteer team according to the characteristics of each National Society) who is responsible for implementing the Volunteer Development Framework (VODFRA) and supporting local structures ( and / or regional / district / provincial structures) to implement the Volunteer Management Cycle at the local level. Also, the national volunteer coordination / direction works transversally with the National Society different programs, departments, head offices, etc. that incorporate volunteers directly at the national level;
  • an administrator / manager / volunteer coordinator in each local branch that implements the Volunteer Management Cycle. It can also be a local volunteer management team according to the characteristics of the National Society and the branches. Below the characteristics of these administrators / local managers are detailed.

Volunteer administrator at the local level

The volunteer administrator / coordinator has the general responsibility of all volunteers at the local level and is not normally involved in specific programmes administration. An important function of the volunteer administrator / coordinator is to support the volunteers in the local programmes management in the different areas of the local branch. This does not mean that the volunteer administrator / coordinator is the “head” of these programmes or services but he/she is the person who works together with all the coordinators in order to implement properly the Volunteer Management Cycle. This means that the volunteer administrator / coordinator ensure that, regardless of the programme in which the volunteer works, all volunteers are trained, motivated, recognized, promoted, protected, equipped, evaluated and involved in the decision making processes.

Under certain circumstances and in a constantly changing environment, a dynamic approach to the volunteer management requires flexibility to benefit from a volunteer in the role of administrator. Depending on the situation – budget, availability of qualified people, tasks of the position – it may be necessary and even advantageous to consider the negative and positive aspects of voluntary labor in any particular administrative function.

One of the concerns is to ensure the adherence to established policies, that the professionalism level is not sacrificed, that the requirements for the position and quality trainings can be attended, by defining whether the administrator is a volunteer or paid staff.

Here other factors that should be considered when deciding on a volunteer to perform the role of administrator:

  • Do the volunteers show the desire and have the capacity to take on more leadership?
  • Would the use of a volunteer in this role lead a paid staff to other programs and services?
  • Does any of the qualified volunteers have special links with the community, which at the same time would broaden the National Society contact and impact?

Develop and reinforcing relationships between volunteers and paid staff is a task that requires special sensitivity when creating a strategy for volunteer management.

The volunteer administrator (or coordinator) create a link between the community and the organization and an internal link between the volunteers and the paid staff. The administrator manages the volunteer program. This position takes more importance as the volunteers’ expectations grow due to the development of university degrees and qualifications in the field.

This position can be supervised by an Advisory Committee or the National or Regional Coordination in charge of the development and guidance of the volunteer programme. Their responsibilities include the  volunteers incorporation, interviews, selection, placement, orientation, training, supervision, evaluation, recognition and transition.

The administrator must have a perfect understanding and much appreciation for the Movement’s mission and culture. The administrator must also have experience in the human resources management, know how to work effectively with individuals and groups (volunteers and paid staff), have training in the monitoring and evaluation and a little understanding of the marketing principles.

The volunteer coordinator plays a crucial role within the National Society, ensuring the recruitment and retention of prepared volunteers. As an effective communicator, the administrator works in connection with the others members to achieve common goals.

An established and approved Volunteering Policy

Volunteer work has been the core of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement since it was created. During the Battle of Solferino, Henry Dunant carried out a task that would now be considered volunteer management: he recruited people from the local communities to address local needs. Nowadays, of course, the work of the Red Cross and Red Crescent goes beyond the battlefields, but to mobilize volunteers to respond to the community’s needs remains one of the fundamental principles of the organization’s thinking and planning.

Mobilizing volunteers to serve vulnerable people should be THE key competence of a National Societies. But the National Societies capacity to mobilize volunteers is increasingly being questioned. At the same time, there is increasing competition from small and local organizations that face local needs, also in regions where, thirty years ago, apart from the Red Cross, there were very few volunteer organizations.

One of the key factors identified in a study to determine the success of volunteer organizations in the United States of America was that there must be:

A positive vision – clearly articulated, widely shared and openly discussed throughout the organization – about the role of volunteers[1]

The IFRC Volunteering Policy represents for the Movement a step towards this vision. The development of national policies contributes to the understanding of the role and value of volunteers in each of the National Societies.

A policy by itself does not change reality. Each National Society should aspire to be one of the leading organizations in the volunteers mobilization and management to help vulnerable people in their country. When a National Society really wants to develop volunteering to better cope with future changing needs, it has to commit and ensure also a long-term funding.

Why a volunteering policy?

A clear policy provides information for the National Societies development, in addition to supporting it. Without a clear framework for the development of new structures and new procedures, the National Societies volunteering development may lack of coherence and guidance.

The first thing that politics does is explain what volunteering means. We all have an idea of ​​what we mean by volunteering, but that idea is not necessarily the same for everyone.

The Federation Volunteering Policy defines volunteer service and a volunteer as follows:

“A Red Cross Red Crescent volunteer is a person who carries out volunteering activities for a National Society, occasionally or regularly.”

Volunteering takes place within the programmes’ framework. It is not an end in itself, but rather an instrument to address the needs of vulnerable people. The volunteering development have to be always linked to the programmes development.

Volunteering is based on local culture and traditions, so National Societies have to develop volunteer structures and systems that reflect their local contexts. The Movement has to respect this aspect by supporting the volunteering development within the National Societies.

Volunteers should neither benefit nor be financially disadvantaged as a result of their voluntary activity.

Developing a policy is one of the ways to ensure that National Societies’ volunteers and staff are together on same concepts and values ​related to volunteering. In this way, when new people want to join the Red Cross, the National Society can offer clear definitions and training according to the approved policy.

Volunteers dedicate a significant amount of their time to the Movement and the Movement has to support and treat them with dignity. The policy should establish some minimum standards of good volunteers management within the National Societies.

The IFRC Volunteering Policy recognizes that volunteers contribute significantly to the communities development and that they are fundamental for communities’ life. By developing a volunteering policy, National Societies will help to recognize the value of the volunteers’ contribution, and send a clear message to the potential volunteers, as well as to external organizations, taking a serious commitment to volunteering and volunteers.

Volunteering takes different forms in different parts of the world, due to the diversity of social, political, cultural and economic conditions. The IFRC Volunteering Policy takes these factors into account and does not promote a single volunteer model for the whole world. National Societies may wish to adapt the values ​​expressed in the IFRC Volunteering Policy in more appropriate terms from their own cultures point of view.

Policymakers (normally the national board or executive committee) should generally follow the following steps: prepare a policy draft with the participation of the volunteers themselves, approve the policy, ask the management to apply the policy, supervise its application and inform the board about the progresses that are being made.

National Societies can use the IFRC Volunteering Policy as a model to develop their own policy, adapting it to the characteristics of each country.

[1] In: Changing the Paradigm, The Second Report, June 1993, Points of Light Foundation, Washington DC.

Data management (database, information management)

Volunteer management is an important task but also a complex task. Fortunately, databases are a great resource to manage volunteer efforts within a National Society.

A database is a tool in which data can be stored in a structured way. Different programs and different users should be able to use this data. Therefore, the concept of the database is generally related to the network concept since this information should be able to be shared. A database provides users with access to data, which they can view, upload or update, in accordance with the access rights granted to them. It becomes more useful as the amount of data stored grows.

The main advantage of using databases on the Internet is that multiple users can have access to the datas at the same time.

The program consists of a database in which all the volunteers information are included: personal information and contact, relations with the branch in which it collaborates. Each branch can have access to the datas of its volunteers and the headquarter centralizes the all the information.


  • Permanent up to date datas
  • Processing costs reduced
  • Joint volunteer management insurance
  • A single person is in charge for the administrative procedures and reports to local volunteering coordinators on: insurance update date, information to complete the files, etc.

In the same way, the database extracts information for formal recognition systems (birthdays, hours of service, trainings, etc.).

The IFRC, together with different National Societies, has developed a concrete management tool that goes beyond a database: the Resource Management System (RMS)

The Resource Management System (RMS)

RMS is an integrated and web-based system developed for the human resources management (volunteers and staff), Training Centers administration, warehouses and distribution points stock control, projects monitoring evaluation, alerts; all datas are geolocalized and visible in maps. RMS allows National Societies to visualize and analyze risks, contemplate vulnerabilities and know in real time what material and human resources are available (volunteers, staff, offices, projects, stock…).

The Human Resources Module allows, in the first instance, to consolidate the databases of National Societies volunteers, staff and members. Through different work environments, this tool records all users details as: background, skills, training, general information, contact details, others. It also has an individual management function that allows the users to update their data.

For more information about the RMS, please contact the Volunteering and Youth Development Unit of the IFRC Regional Office for the Americas.

Why is a database so important?

It can be said that a National Society lives or dies according to its database.

The information in the database: names, addresses, contact details, personal data, etc., compose the communication line between the National Society, its volunteers, staff and members and with all those who have been in contact with the National Society.

It keeps the National Society in touch with these people, allows to build relationships and talk with them on a personal level about the activities, what is planned and how they can help or participate.

To resume, it is a personal directory that lists the details of the National Society “closest and dearest” volunteers, in an organized and easily accessible way.

Not having a database is like cutting off that communication line: the National Society loses contact with its volunteers, they can not keep informed, ask for help or assistance in times of emergency.

Because many people change their address each year, the database must be constantly evolving to ensure that the communication line remains open and operational.

Communication with volunteers in the National Society

The Internal Communication aim is to identify, establish and maintain a beneficial relationship between a National Society and its volunteers.

There are four stages in which internal communication is vital for this relationship:

  • At the beginning, when volunteers are attracted and convinced to join the organization;
  • During the relationship, when information about the organization’s life is provided;
  • When recognizing the value of the undertaken task;
  • At the end, when the task is finished, to monitor and retain the volunteer

Those different processes and mechanisms assure a correct relationship between the organization and its volunteers. Let’s not forget that what we are looking for is the knowledge, motivation and identification of the volunteer with the mission of the organization. The knowledge increases the volunteers effectiveness in undertaking the assigned task and reinforces their identification with the organization they represent.

Types of Internal Communication

In non-non-governmental organizations, internal communication can be set in an unidirectional way (bottom-up) with the only objective to information, bidirectionally (top-down and bottom-up) in order that some information are also source of motivation, or it can be multidirectional (in all directions) where, in addition to information and motivation, the internal communication ensures spaces for internal audiences leading a better organizational structure.

In our case, the internal communication aims to provide spaces for this multidirectional communication, where the different actors of our organization can communicate with each other. Asking for the opinion of the volunteers, for proposals on how to act, as well as facilitating the relationship with each other is essential to ensure the identification with the organization.

Internal Communication characteristics

Internal Communication should be based on the needs assessment of the target audience. In the case of volunteers, it is important to respond to their information and training needs but also their participation in the communication process.

In any case, this communication has to have characteristics based on the clarity of the language, on the updating of the information in order that the timing between the communication and its execution is as short as possible, under a constant monitoring and evaluation process.

Mechanisms of Internal Communication

The flow of ideas, information and knowledge throughout the organization is essential for its success. The role of internal communication is to create processes and mechanisms for this flow to be carried out and that is why it is so important for the organizational management.

Bulletins, distribution lists, periodic meetings with those responsible for volunteering, information meetings with managers and/or board members, etc are great internal communication tools. But currently the internet development provides a tool that can reunite all the above, except for the personal contact.

Intranet and the use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, WhasApp, etc.) have become vital for internal communication. This helps us to make accessible a large amount of information, create training and facilitate multidirectional communication, accessible by a simple computer or smart phone.

This can lead to a radical change in the institutional organization, not only because it permits direct communication between the members or because it allows to receive information simultaneously, to be informed in real time, to have common and standardized material, processes and documents always available, but because this system ensures feedback from different members and points of view.

Legal aspects of volunteering

The proper volunteers management is fundamental and one of its components is the adequate understanding of the legal context and the possible legal complications that should be avoided both for the institution and for the volunteers.

Among other issues that all National Society must consider when approaching the volunteer management, we can find a proper definition of volunteer, the responsibility and the obligations concerning insurance, health and safety.

Click here to download “Legal issues related to voluntary service – Guide for National Societies

This document is based on the National Societies volunteers’, volunteer coordinators’ and legal advisors’ needs, with the purpose of improving the volunteer protection and management.

Each National Society acts in a specific legal and social context. This not only influences the legal framework in which the actions are carried out, but also the nature of these actions and how they are related to volunteers.

The national legal environment is made up of laws and policies. In some cases, there is a clear legislation on volunteering and voluntarism. In other legal systems there are no clear definitions and this promote “grey areas”; in other cases there are some obstacles or legal decisions that may prohibit or restrict voluntary service.

This implies that the National Societies have to examine the national legal frameworks when analyzing their voluntary actions and decisions.

On the other hand, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement policies and Principles, in particular the principle of voluntary service, impose certain obligations that National Societies must fulfill.

A correct volunteer management in accordance with the national law and based on the best international and national practices, will ensure effective legal risk management.

Many legal issues can affect volunteers and National Societies: understanding these issues and how to address them will help to improve the protection of the volunteer, the beneficiaries and the National Societies themselves.

The guide refers to the IFRC Volunteering Policy and presents some best practices of the Movement. In some cases there is a conflict with the national legislation. For instance, some countries allow remunerations for volunteers bigger than the reimbursement indicated in the Policy. In this case, National Societies tend to promote the best practice based on the local context that benefit their volunteers.

Volunteer strategies

Once a Volunteering Policy has been approved in the National Society, it is necessary to create strategies  and operational plans to achieve the objectives of the policy.

A strategy is composed of a series of planned actions that help to take decisions and achieve the best possible results. The strategy aims to achieve a specific objective through a pattern of action.

Do you know what strategy is and what is not?[1]

Designing and building a strategy is, at the same time, a demanding and fun intellectual activity.

It is said that the strategies provide a general direction for an initiative.

A strategy is less specific than an action plan, it tries to answer, in a general way, the question “How will we get there from here?“.

A good strategy must take into account the limits and resources already existent, such as people, money, power, materials and other factors. It should also consider the general vision, mission and objectives of the organization and the actions. The objectives define the goals of an action as well as the success that it would like to achieve. The strategies suggest the path to follow in this way.

In other words, the strategies help you determine how you will reach the vision and objectives through the difficult world of action.

Instinct versus analysis, art versus science, the strategy is not exactly like a computer program, but it is not simple luck neither.

However, it is clear that it is much easier to recognize a good strategy when it is already done than to do one.

There are no books that can tell us what is the perfect strategy. Moreover there are some great strategy structures that do not work in real life. It is a matter of integrating knowledge and an intelligent practice, in this way you can reach very good results.

Before, planning working groups and planning cycles were the “wrong way to do the right thing” and the right way should be to decentralize the strategy and hold each local unit accountable.

The specialists or consultants should facilitate, not be protagonists of the process; the strategy should be designed only when it is necessary and it is always better when it develops quickly.

The strategy must be simple and easy to communicate without promise awards for its success.

In simple terms, the strategy represent what we try to do. However, the word strategy has lately lost value compared to other buzzwords, as empowerment and innovation.

This is where the strategical thinking value emerges, going beyond the buzzwords and seek the true value of a strategy.

Strategy can be defined as the sum of all decisions, right or wrong, that determine the future and produce good to bad results.

There is a difference between the action strategy and a general strategic plan.

This may perhaps be better understood with this example: Becoming number one is not the strategy, it may be the general strategic plan. The action strategy contains all the decisions that lead to that future.

Although for sure the objective of any company is to achieve favorable results, this is achieved only with differentiation.

For this, it is important to know some principles about the strategy:

  • Strategy is the only way by which the organization generates value;
  • Less than 10% of strategic plans are successful;
  • In 70% of cases, the problem is due to a bad strategy or poor execution;
  • The strategies may vary but not the tools for their measurement;
  • It is estimated that the management team dedicates less than an hour per month to the strategy.

[1] “El Financero” Review, 2016

Promoting Volunteerism

As stated in the IFRC Volunteering Policy, National Societies recognize the value of having a wide variety of volunteers, and promote their membership regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability or age of people. They eliminate any barrier to participation of a physical, economic, social or cultural nature, and attract volunteers according to their eventual capacity.

In addition, National Societies work with governments, the private sector and other partners to promote an enabling environment for the volunteering development.

Promoting volunteerism has to be seen from different points of view:

  • the National Society’s promotion of volunteer work importance and relevance within the communities and the benefits of being volunteer;
  • Facilitate the understanding on how being a volunteer can lead to a personal growth and professional and personal skills (groups management, leadership, public speaking, working with vulnerable communities, project management, etc.);
  • Show the volunteers’ economic and social value

On this last point, the IFRC published a report on the value and contribution of volunteers. This report describes the economic and social value of the Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers. To do that, the IFRC used a methodology aligned with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies project to measure the voluntary work.

This report is based on surveys sent to National Societies and includes case studies of volunteer activities. It shows the amount of money that should have to be paid if the services were not provided by volunteers. The value of the Red Cross and Red Crescent network of volunteers is that they offer an opportunity to invest more, and not less, in the fight against suffering and in the promotion of development, through the mobilization of resources by the community.

Click here to download the “Report – Value of Volunteers“.


Economic value of volunteers

Two in every thousand people volunteer for the Red Cross and Red Crescent worldwide. Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers donated nearly 6 billion US dollars worth of volunteer services in 2010 worldwide, or nearly 90 US cents to every person in the world.

While many volunteers work across multiple fields, the most volunteers – and the greatest proportion of value – were related to health promotion, treatment and services; followed by disaster preparedness, response and recovery, and then general support services. Fewest Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers work in social inclusion.

Slightly more women than men volunteer for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (54 per cent vs. 46 per cent).

Social value of volunteers

In addition to providing value for money, volunteering for the Red Cross and Red Crescent generates social value for the community, for the organization and for the volunteers themselves.

The value for the community: voluntary service is at the heart of community-building. It encourages people to be responsible citizens and provides them with an environment where they can learn the duties of democratic involvement. It promotes social solidarity, increases social capital and improves the quality of the community’s life. It can serve as a means of inclusion and social integration.

The value for the organization: Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies could not deliver essential services without the support of their volunteer network. Volunteers extend the paid workforce by a factor of between 1 and 2,000, with a median average of 20 volunteers to every paid member of staff. The regions with the highest ratio of volunteers to staff are sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia and East Asia.

The value for the volunteer: helping others in need is among the most basic and noble of human instincts. Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers confirm that they are pleased to be able to do something to help, proud to have something to offer society, that they are acknowledged by people in their community for the new skills they have learnt and they have a strong sense of belonging to a caring organization.

Protection and Security of volunteers

The protection and security of volunteers must be a priority for each National Society. It does not consist in having an accident insurance or an isolated training. Protection and security should include adequate training, insurance, equipment for the right task, support, efficient communication of existing security systems to all volunteers, feedback and evaluation processes.

Click here to download the “Volunteers, Stay Safe!” security guide. You can also access the free online training on the IFRC E-Learning Platform .

The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 are part of the International Humanitarian Law. They give protection as well as duties and responsibilities to Red Cross personnel. For the purposes of this study, however, the issue of protection for volunteers is limited to National Society volunteers working at the national, district and local levels. National Societies reported that protection for volunteers in domestic service varied greatly, from Societies having comprehensive insurance policies to those currently developing policies as well as those which have not considered protection. National Societies currently investigating the development of protection policies cited lack of financial resources as a deterrent to their implementation.

Risk and liability issues are being raised in increasing frequency by managers of volunteers.

Volunteers may be injured by accident or by assault:

When I was out in the mountains on a rescue mission, I fell and broke my leg in three places. I spent three days in hospital. The doctor told me I had to be off work for a week. I can’t afford to do that will Red Cross pay my bills?

Volunteers may lose or damage their property:

Someone ran a red light and crashed into my car. I was on my way to my volunteer job. What happens now?

Volunteers may lose or damage program/service recipients property:

The Red Cross Volunteer lost the videos that belonged to our club. They were brand new.

Volunteers may injure by accident or assault program/service recipients:

The lady who brings me my lunch every Wednesday managed to spill hot tea all over me and I got third degree burns.

As regards liability, the importance of volunteer records cannot be over emphasized. An organization can be asked to prove that they have used reasonable care in screening and training volunteers. Verification of criminal record checks (when required) and references can be requested in the case of litigation.

In addition, ethical concerns, whether in the field of medicine, the corporate world or non governmental organizations are in need of clarification. A code of ethics can provide a framework for conduct for volunteers. A growing contract culture within many National Societies where labour intensive services are delivered through volunteer effort requires formal, legal understanding. A National Society must adopt policy positions with regards to contracts and protection of service/program volunteers and service/program recipients.

A volunteer manager must know:

  • The laws of the land as they pertain to human rights and non discrimination
  • The extent of liability coverage for volunteers
  • The code of ethics of the national society
  • The appropriate person in the national society to contact regarding any legal or ethical concern
  • How to document the situation as soon as possible, confining the report to facts rather than feelings
  • The national society’s legal counsel and where counsel can be reached
  • What real or potential risk situation could arise in given circumstances

Traditional volunteer associations in industrialized societies are increasingly developing their own specific legal and ethical policies and guidelines. Litigation is costly in terms of money, time and emotion.

The following quote sums up the issue from the service/program recipients perspective.

One of the things that has been good about voluntary activity is that we haven’t had to set rules for ourselves. We were informed, working side-by-side; volunteers and paid staff. We could do the best we could, and society was thankful for that endeavour. But increasingly, the people who receive the benefits of our activities are simply saying to us, “It makes no iota of difference to me whether I receive a service from government, from business, or from the voluntary sector. It is a standard of care, a standard of service, that I demand.” And consequently, with the advocacy positions that society is taking, with the ability to move into the courts for redress, the ability to mobilize the community, the question of liability and accountability in the broad sense of the word is becoming important. (from a speech given by Raynell Andreychuk, at A New Era for Voluntarism Conference. Toronto, Ontario)

Liability and risk must be managed by the National Society, which sets internal policies and guidelines to deal with ethical issues and who seeks legal counsel for those situations requiring it. Discussion and further investigation of risk and liability is warranted.


Accident insurance for Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers

Volunteers play an essential role in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable populations and should have adequate legal frameworks and protection to carry out this fundamental task.

The volunteers are part of the communities where they work. They contribute to broadening the sphere of influence of the organization and strengthen its ability to monitor the needs in the country.

The volunteers know the community, the language and the culture. They are familiar with local needs and resources and are able to establish a link between them.

The volunteers are there where they are needed. When disasters, emergencies, conflicts or epidemics occur, the volunteers are already there and can act immediately. Those who come from other places will always arrive later and, sometimes, too late.

Are all the volunteers of your National Society insured? Every year, volunteers suffer injuries delivering their humanitarian tasks, and some even lose their lives.

The Secretariat of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies established an insurance plan for volunteers to assist National Societies, following a decision of the General Assembly, approved in 2005, which states that National Societies have to: “…provide adequate insurance coverage for staff and volunteers in case of an accident during a Red Cross Red Crescent activity.”

The IFRC Global Volunteer Insurance Scheme is intended for National Societies who do not already have insurance and covers volunteers carrying out activities on behalf of their National Society.

Click here for more information about the IFRC Global Volunteer Insurance Scheme

Volunteer and paid staff relationships

Two thirds of National Societies reporting stated that volunteer and paid staff relationships can be challenging. In poorer communities, there may be resentment over the financial gain for paid staff. In other National Societies. there are too few paid staff for conflict to be an issue. But disturbing phrases “conflict of interest”, “volunteers block serious business”, “staff can’t make demands on volunteers’”, “staff treated as servants and volunteers not appreciated”, “volunteers if not controlled can cause problems”, and “need to make clear the difference between operations and policy” indicate a need for greater role clarification and the development of improved communication systems. On a more positive note, National Societies recognized the importance of joint planning, matching the views of volunteer and paid staff, maintaining a balance of responsibility and the keystone element, building a “spirit of oneness”.

Volunteers and paid staff ideally become a team when each person involved is committed to the goals and activities they helped plan, carry out and evaluate. Organizational climate defines the atmosphere in any work environment and is determined by the style of leadership employed by boards and leaders. In her article, Staff/Volunteer Relationship “Perceptions” Gretchan E. Stringer states these relationships are based on differing perceptions of time, authority and power. From the volunteer’s perspective, time is a gift. From the paid staffs perspective, time is structured and organized. The expectations placed upon a volunteer to complete a task may be unrealistic. The volunteer feels his available time is not considered. The paid staff feels the pressure of seeing the job done. For the volunteer, authority is represented by the board but the first line of communication is through the volunteer manager, in some instances, a paid staff role. For the staff, job security is a strong motivator and if a situation arises that is difficult or confrontative, there is greater willingness to make adjustments. The volunteer has far greater flexibility since he or she can decide to stay or leave. Hierarchical lines of authority for paid staff include the responsibilities of hiring and terminating employees. It should always be clear that volunteers do not replace or displace the work of paid staff. Volunteers enhance existing services, assist in the development of new programs, add a community focus to the National Society and work with paid staff in a team approach.

Volunteers look to paid staff to share not only successes but also concerns. It facilitates understanding and communication if volunteers are warmly welcomed to observe programs and services, training sessions and learning opportunities. Committees, boards and program volunteers guide the organization but they can only work from the available information. A board is a policy setting group formed to advance the mission of the Movement. Staff work with the board in an advisory capacity but the board makes the final decisions and paid staff carry out those decisions. Communication builds good working relationships between volunteers and paid staff.

Ensure that the following are in place

  • Job descriptions for all volunteer and paid staff positions
  • Volunteer manual outlining roles and responsibilities for volunteers and paid staff
  • Opportunities for shared organizational priorities, objectives and evaluations
  • Agreement on realistic work expectations
  • Appropriate consultation and dialogue between volunteers and paid staff who will be affected by decisions
  • Proactive, rather than reactive resolution of problems or issues of concern
  • Creation of an environment that engenders sense of self worth and value in volunteers and paid staff
  • Adequate time allocation for respectful feedback

Recipients of programs or services also play a role in building effective relationships. Listening, being attentive to their thoughts and suggestions for improvement, fosters the formation of common objectives.

For young people, participation in decision making, feeling a part of the policy making process, is essential for good working relationships with paid staff. Their perspective growth, from egocentrism to idealism to realism is aided when they are given the scope to investigate and to question existing practices within a supportive, democratic environment. Imposing or dictating actions shuts down communication and builds resentments. The establishment of the young person’s personal identity can be greatly influenced by involvement in an activity in which he or she is free to learn and grow.

A synergism, where the total effect is greater than the sum of the individual effects, results when there is mutual goodwill and recognition. This is the result when each and every action of the individual, volunteer or paid staff, contributes to the mission of National Societies.

Cooperation within and outside the Movement

The success of an enabling environment, which is based on local culture and needs, depends to a large extent on the joint efforts and commitment of all sectors of civil society. We must intensify the activities that establish partnerships with other organizations that share the same mission.

In the same way, relations with the private sector should be strengthened to promote volunteering as an integral part of the companies’ social responsibility.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is composed of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the National Societies. These three actors work together to achieve the mission of the Movement. For this reason, the cooperation between the different actors of the Movement will develop further the volunteer management systems. In particular, it is crucial to learn, share experiences and work together with other National Societies.