Charities and not-for-profits are some of the most trusted institutions in Australian society. Media and communications activities are a critical business function for most volunteer involving organisations. These activities engender public support for important social and environmental issues, they enable organisations to recruit volunteers to support their services and programs, and they enable much needed donations to keep organisations running. Volunteers are an asset to charities, not-for-profits, and community groups, and can be a powerful advocate. Organisations should consider how to include volunteers in their media and communications activity as well as communicate with volunteers about their opportunities and obligations in this regard.
Media and communications delegations, opportunities and responsibilities should be considered in National Standard 1: Leadership and Management from both a risk and policy perspective. Involving interested volunteers in public relations activities can be a powerful way to recognise their contribution in alignment with National Standard 7: Volunteer Recognition.
Keeping volunteers up to date on things going on inside your organisation as well as in the broader ecosystem is a critical aspect of keeping them engaged and ensuring they feel part of the team. Your organisation should consider how it plans to communicate with volunteers. Most volunteer workforces are diverse, and volunteers will have varying communication preferences. Consider how you can facilitate different modes of communication to ensure all volunteers feel valued and heard. Group supervision, peer support, staff meetings, and recognition events are mechanisms your organisation can introduce to enable engagement and provide opportunities for feedback.
Your organisation may involve volunteers in the design and delivery of external media, marketing, and public relations activities. This may include contributing to policy and advocacy work, writing content for your website or social media platform, or acting as a spokesperson for your organisation. It is important for you to have robust policies and procedures that dictate what volunteers are authorised to do with regards to external communications.
It is important to bear in mind that volunteers have a legal right to their intellectual property. This means that if they are creating collateral for your organisation, they retain ownership of their work unless they assign their intellectual property rights to you. Some volunteer agreements include a clause that asks volunteers to assign their intellectual property rights to an organisation. If your organisation intends to do this it is important to communicate what that means for the volunteer, and provides them with the opportunity to say no. In the event that such an agreement is not reached, a volunteer has a legal right to request your organisation cease using any intellectual property they have created.
More information on intellectual property of volunteers, including a sample volunteer agreement, can be found in the Not-for-profit Law National Volunteer Guide.
Volunteers have the right as ordinary citizens to engage in social media and other online activities such as contributing to blogs and writing opinion pieces. You should be clear with volunteers what your organisation’s expectations are regarding the use of social media. This should form part of your Media and Communications Policy and should be accompanied by a procedure that clearly outlines what volunteers can and cannot do with regards to communicating their involvement with your organisation. It is important to convey that volunteers are bound by the same privacy legislation and principles as paid staff and they should not share any personal or confidential information, either personally or publicly, they have obtained through their volunteering role.