Volunteering In The Pandemic, How To Deal With People Not Following Safety Guidelines & More! | Track It Forward

Volunteering In The Pandemic, How To Deal With People Not Following Safety Guidelines & More!

Written by Kasey Murphy

Volunteer Coordinator Resource Community Recap 

Topics Discussed: Volunteering In The Pandemic (and what to do if volunteers don't follow guidelines), Virtual Volunteering, Volunteer Engagement

Volunteering in the pandemic has been something that many organizations have continued working on since February 2020. It has almost been a year since the pandemic halted some organizations from volunteering, and many people are trying to figure out how to move forward with volunteering in the pandemic since it might be lasting for a while more. 

Whether it be virtual volunteering in the pandemic, volunteer engagement in the pandemic, or just volunteer opportunities in general - we have some hot tips from Volunteer Coordinators around the world! 

Let’s start with how volunteer organizations are operating currently within the pandemic. 

Hi everyone! I'm trying to get a feel of how everyone's volunteer programs are operating right now. Are you at a capacity level? 
Feel free to explain or let us know how you are feeling! 

- we arent operating at all
- we are at 30-50% in-person capacity
- we are at 10-25% in-person capacity
- we only do virtual volunteering
- we do both virtual volunteering and in-person volunteering
- we are at full capacity

Of the 98 Volunteer Coordinators who participated in our survey, 21% are still doing all virtual volunteering during the pandemic. 16% are at 30-50% in-person capacity for volunteering during the pandemic, and 16% are at full capacity with coronavirus guidelines being followed. Next, 13% are at 55-75% in-person volunteering during the pandemic, while 11% are still not operating at all with their volunteer programs. Lastly, another 11% are at 10-20% in-person volunteers and 10% are doing a hybrid of virtual volunteering and in-person volunteering during the pandemic. 

It’s a hard time to be a volunteer organization because not everyone is on the same page. Improving your volunteer program can be hard when there are restrictions, or you are unable to access all of your volunteers! But, if you keep talking over your issues and reaching out for resources, you should be able to navigate yourself and your volunteers through the pandemic! 

While the pandemic has changed a lot of things for the volunteer world, one thing has not changed and that is the stubbornness of volunteers! Many organizations are learning how to operate volunteering in the pandemic, but some volunteers might not be following the new guidelines or procedures. 

If you are in a volunteer coordinator position, trying to operate volunteering in the pandemic and you feel like you are being resisted, our Facebook group has some advice for you! 

Hi fantastic community, I am at a loss. I ma hoping you can help. I just started a new job as Director General and was told today that volunteers do as they please, don't have to follow any health rules and that if I try to put any type of frame they will all leave. Is that how you guys do it? Do volunteers decide everything and you just accept it? I can't believe that to be so but I don't know enough about Volunteer management. PLEASE HELP!!! Thanks

Advice From The Comments About Volunteer Stuborness During The Pandemic: 

  • “Often when change comes in, it causes volunteers to leave. Its hard for them to understand why the organization was fine with them doing it one way and now they are being asked to change. But it you are kind, consistent with your expectations and explain the why, you'll often find that although you still may lose some, it might be the right ones to lose. Too much change too fast, or inconsistent treatment can make it harder. Sometimes its a tough decision whether to rip the bandaid off quickly and make all changes at once. Good luck, you've got this.”

  • Nooo! Structure helps everyone, and the power dynamics of a volunteer program are tricky - when I took over my program 6 yrs ago that was much more the idea- 'thanks so much for helping/we'll take what we can get' - you can definitely put structure in and make everyone feel it's to their benefit..”

  • “Think about your organization’s mission. I assume it isn’t “to provide volunteer opportunities for the community. Hopefully your mission oriented volunteers will see the changes as good. Change is hard for many people. You may loose some but I’ve found that it also generally opens the door to new people. Imagine how many people were overwhelmed with the lack of structure and never came back.”

  • “Absolutely not because it doesn't matter what their employment status is, they are still your responsibility and so is any work they do for you. I have always treated them exactly like employees”

There are so many good comments to read on this post, you have to check them out for yourself! Read the full post here. 

So, what policies should you be implementing into your volunteer program then if you are able to have volunteering in the pandemic? Like the comment stated above, you are in some ways responsible for your volunteers’ safety. 

I'd be interested in hearing how you all have been able to safely invite volunteers back to your agencies with the pandemic going on?
What policies have you implemented.

Let’s see what some of the comments had to say, first! 


  • “Those we have invited back, we have asked for them to wear masks and sanitise frequently. Some departments have postponed our internships just so only 1 volunteer are in every day rather than several.”

  • “All my volunteers must report travel, exposure, and pending test results to me. They are also required to take an online safety training outlining the organizations policies before they can sign up for any shifts. They must wear a provided disposable mask and follow all social distancing guidelines during their shift as well. It’s tricky but necessary!”

  • “We've had to rewrite our covid policy a couple of times to keep up with issues. Having the whole or part of the team quarantined due to potential exposure to a hotspot or a close contact of a confirmed or suspected case is still a risk.”

  • “For our medical center (NJ) we have 35 volunteers back out of about 500. We made the case that they are trained healthcare workers just like any other employee...just not paid. We limited ages to 17-74 for now. They have "reorientation" with new procedures and guidelines, temperature check upon entering, masking the whole time, and social distancing the whole time. They aren't permitted in patients' rooms regardless of diagnoses or conditions.”

If you want to read more comments, view the full post here. 

Resources For Coordinators on Operating Volunteer Programs During The Pandemic



More on Virtual Volunteering

Virtual volunteering is a new and relevant topic. For organizations that have not found a way to open up to volunteers, virtual volunteering really is the answer. If you can figure that out! It does take a little bit of preparation and learning.

If you are struggling with ideas on virtual volunteering or what type of opportunities you can provide, we’ve got you covered! 

Would someone be so kind to give me some ideas of virtual volunteering? ❤️

Here were some helpful comments about virtual volunteering opportunities:

  • “virtual volunteering doesn't have to mean sitting in front computer on video calls. For example I have volunteers who take photos around thier neighborhood of trees to monitor health and then we record, create a report and send on to city staff.”

  • “We did a virtual STEM Camp. And we've done 2 virtual fundraising events that was created and run by volunteers who met and planned virtually.”

  • “I have volunteers transcribing oral histories and identifying people/places in archival photographs.”

  • “Build a virtual library with stories poetry, how to videos, virtual field trips, and animal videos. have things made, like quilts (by groups or individuals) knitters making socks, sweaters. Crafters making wall hangings or stuffed animals. Making individual craft kits or greeting cards. creating play list with themes. Making sensory boxes (like a beach box with sand, shells, sun screen, flop flops, a cap for the hair. Salt water spritz bottle).”

  • “We've been making the distinction between virtual and remote. Virtual is things that can be done online (video chat sessions with clients, researching silent auction items, cleaning up data in an excel) and remote are things that would normally be done on-site but at home (stuffing envelopes, writing cards, making phone calls).”

  • “We have 200+ virtual volunteers right now ( normally 450 +) 1-to-1 Virtual mentors with Reading help and ESL conversation mentors, ESL Virtual Reading Groups, Virtual Knitting groups, about to start a teen literacy mentors”

If you have any more ideas you’d like to share, comment on the post here! 

Resources About Virtual Volunteering 



If your program has volunteers right now, you might find yourself being extra grateful for their help. Or you might want to know how you can have volunteers feel more engaged in a pandemic-style volunteer environment. You are definitely not alone! 

Hi guys!! ☺️ I am a volunteer coordinator for Hospice of Washington County in Maryland. One of the things on my GOAL list for 2021 within my job is to create and implement a volunteer engagement plan by 3/31. What are some things you guys are doing to promote volunteer engagement, ESPECIALLY during COVID? I was thinking monthly zoom calls....maybe a FB group, a special extra training class to be offered. Since I am newly started since November, I want to create a good relationship with the existing volunteers, and keep them engaged so when COVID cases decrease, we can get them back out into the field. Let me know some of your thoughts and thanks in advance!

Volunteer engagement is tricky before a pandemic, but now after one too, or while one is going on it can be exceptionally difficult. We have talked about volunteer newsletters and Facebook groups in other recaps, but do you have any other ideas? 

Let us know on this post! 

Another way to engage volunteers is to recognize them for their efforts. Usually, this can be seen as a volunteer incentive or a volunteer gift! But, you don’t want to just give away any old thing. 

Been working closely with our Marketing & Communications Manager on suitable branded items that can be used at fairs/events etc. but also suitable recognition items for volunteers (we want to move away from certificates, bunches of flowers etc.) We won't be considering stress balls!! In previous roles, I would have given away pens, highlighters, rulers, sporks...but not sure if they actually bring volunteers on board. Any ideas, most welcome

Some comments listed gifts such as: 

  • Customized chocolate from a local vendor

  • Phone accessories

  • Umbrellas

  • Trunk organizers

  • Insulated bags

  • Custom calendars 

We have a couple of Resources on Volunteer Incentives & Volunteer Engagement