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Working with volunteers and the challenge of over -professionalizing

Working with volunteers has many challenges.

At the international office of Reclassering Nederland we work with 260 volunteers worldwide who are visiting the Dutch prisoners abroad.

Working with clients in the probation field requires well equipped volunteers. Education and training is therefore needed. It motivates volunteers. So we guide them on a daily basis in their contact with the clients. We want to provide them with our methods and vision, but how far should we go?

Are we making them semi-professional, or are we letting them be volunteers with all that comes with it.


We see that volunteers have something different to offer than professionals.

We see that their biggest talent is 'being present':

+ being there,

+ connecting and attuning to the client,

+ putting the client perspective first

+ and taking care of the relationship.

This attitude comes to the volunteers naturally.

It is often connected to the reason why they want to be a volunteer.

You want to preserve this and with educating and “professionalize” volunteers too much they might lose this quality.

In composing the training, one of the main dilemmas is how far to go in training volunteers with our professional concepts and methods. Working with volunteers also means connecting to their specific talents.It’s a challenge to find a good balance. between the “professionalization” of volunteers and their specific individual talents.


What helps to address the dilemma of professionalisation versus being a volunteer with less knowledge of the methods?


How much and what topics you want to teach the volunteer depends on a few aspects.

Role and tasks

In the vison of the CoPPeR project the role of volunteers is supporting the community building aspect (social inclusion). The volunteer provides social support, he will accompany the client and give guidance & practical support. He will not have an active role in risk management.

This makes that we chose to give general information about the probation field and focus much more on the relationship (working alliance, the basic attitude) and skills needed to build this relationship.

Motivations and talents

Be aware of the motivations, strengths, wishes and preferences of your volunteers. Does this fit the role and tasks.

Be careful with professional concepts

Make use of the professional concepts and methods but be careful with it (restrain) and trim them down so that they fit the volunteer.


We at the CoPPer project found a well balance between the basic requirements a volunteer should know. And equipping them with basic skills in order to feel confident in guiding the client and still feeling the space to act to what comes natural to them.

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