What is the purpose? Why is it useful?
Unfortunately work undertaken in NGOs is often seriously undervalued with the skills developed by volunteers regarded as virtually irrelevant in the world of business.
At a time of mass unemployment across Europe and thousands of people working without wages on a voluntary basis developing and enhancing valuable skills, we felt the time is right to challenge this view.
The aim of this project is to provide a guideline with examples to assist all NGOs in writing professional references of interest in the modern commercial and industrial world.
Chapter 1. Introduction
Chapter 3: How to Raise Awareness Amongst Employers
Chapter 4: The European Template
“Volunteer work, often referred to simply as volunteering is a crucial renewable resource for social and environmental problem-solving the world over. The scale of such work is enormous and the contribution it makes to the quality of life in countries everywhere is greater still.” (International Labour Organisation, Geneva).
Globally around 971 million people are engaged in volunteer work every year and are contributing an amount of US$ 1.348 trillion to the world's economy. This means that, if the world's volunteers constituted the population of a country, it would have the second largest adult population in the world, behind only China, and would boast the seventh largest economy in the world. Focussing on the European perspective hundreds and thousands of volunteers across Europe have made, and continue to make, an incalculable and outstanding contribution to social cohesion. They bring awealth of experience, skills, talents and abilities which contribute to the success of valuable projects, without which communities would be much poorer. But unfortunately this substantial contribution is often not recognised.1 NGOs themselves need to understand and speak the language of the business
world, if they want to open new pathways into employment for their volunteers. The skills developed through volunteering could be utilised for improving the employability of people, or for staff development, but this opportunity is scarcely used. The overall goal of the Grundtvig Learning Partnership is to enhance awareness and recognition of the value of the skills developed through volunteering. We all work with volunteers in our organisations and recognise their value to us and to the community.
The product of this partnership has been the production of this Guideline for NGOs working with volunteers on how to identify and document the skills, know-how and expertise of their volunteers in a manner which is understood, recognised and valued by local, national and European employers. We have developed the outline as a basis for a professional reference letter for volunteers in NGOs. It is a useful addition to the Europass Framework.2 You will find this agreed format in the template given below. You will also find examples given from different countries demonstrating particular customs which should be followed. We hope that you find the Guideline and template both inspiring and useful to you in a very practical way.
We have consulted with our colleagues in business and industry in all eight countries to ensure that the guidance we offer here is relevant.
More information about individual Grundtvig project team members with specific contact details can be found in section “About us” on the website.
1 In all but a handful of countries, however, existing information on the extent and character of volunteering is anecdotal in nature or has been collected in ways that does not allow comparison across times or localities. As a result, volunteering remains under-valued and its potentials under-realised, globally. This problem which the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Johns Hopkins Centre for Civil Society Studies set out to solve with the development of the 'ILO Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work'. The ILO Manual offers the first official, permanent system for the collection of cross-nationally comparable data on volunteering. Developed by the Centre in Cooperation with the ILO and an international Technical Experts Group, the Manual has been specifically designed to measure the amount and character of volunteering through regular labour force or other household surveys, making it feasible and affordable to implement regularly. The Johns Hopkins Volunteer Measurement Project seeks to boost the understanding of the true size and scope of volunteer activity around the world, by improving the measurement of volunteer work in the official economic statistics that can be used to shape policy throughout the world. REFERENCE: http://ccss.jhu.edu/research-projects/volunteer-measurement
2 To integrate all relevant documents complementing the Europass CV, the European Skills Passport has been introduced in order highlight skills and qualification of individuals in an comprehensive way. It is an electronic portfolio that to which it is possible to upload any of the other Europass Documents (Language Passport, Europass Mobility, Diploma Supplement and Certificate Supplement), or any other document that might prove useful when you submit your CV, including a reference letter based on this Guideline. For more about Europass and the European Skills Passport see http://europass.cedefop.europa.eu/en/home.
In this chapter NGOs can find out more about the current practices of writing work references in the business world across Europe, (3.1), Furthermore, in sections 3.2
and 3.3,we will present a European format, detailing how a professional reference (letter) for volunteers in an organisation can be written, to help them progress to paid employment in the commercial world of business and industry. This could also be used for volunteers to apply for a position with more responsibility in their own, or another, NGO. We will explain in more in detail, how to phrase the different paragraphs of the references and give some examples we used for our volunteers. At
the end of this chapter we provide examples of reference letters from our eight different organisations in eight different European countries using our new template.
When you read the summary below you should get a clear understanding of the diverse backgrounds from which we came to engage in this project. The fact that we reached unanimous agreement on the proposed format outlined in this guideline gives you the strongest indication of how important we believe this outcome to be.
In Germany a reference letter is essential. It is official. There are legal obligations on what needs to be included and that the reference must be positive. As a result of this ruling, German business leaders have developed a sophisticated ‘hidden language’ to give other employers an accurate opinion of the employee. In Slovenia, as a complete contrast, reference letters are hardly ever used. The concept is unusual. A Curriculum Vitae and formal qualifications with an interview are the main source of decision making when selecting employees. (At one time there were employee personal records which companies kept for cross-reference to use with work contracts.)
In the Czech Republic there is a legal obligation for employers to provide a reference letter if an employee asks for it. However, there is no guideline on the content or how to write it. Each employer may choose their own format and what to include. In Slovakia references are not in common use, but as in the Czech Republic, an employee may ask for a reference. This should be within 15 days of leaving a job. Employers may use their own style, there are no rules but they are careful not to write bad things due to the law on discrimination.
In Romania a person leaving a job can ask for a reference letter but there is no legal requirement for an employer to complete one. They may choose to do it or not to do it, it is up to the individual employer on how to write it and what to include.
In Malta a reference letter describes the work of the employee, their remit, and competences. Employers highlight the competences and also give a recommendation to potential future employers. In Malta it is standard practice to add the Identification number of the referee. It is also important to mention the integrity of a person. If the employee has not been efficient, the letter of reference would be rather plain and simple and would leave much unsaid.
In the UK an employer should always provide a reference for an employee. This may be at the time they are looking for another workplace, or many weeks, months or even years after they have left. Many different formats are used, but there are expectations about what should be covered, for example the work that has been completed and the level of performance. A good employer in the UK would always stress the positive aspects and give clear examples of strengths and very good or excellent performance as evidence.
As with Malta, the message in the reference for some candidates can be as much about what is not said. In other words the reference may be rather flat with not much information or examples, just some bare facts relating to the duration of employment and tasks undertaken. This would give a clear message to potential future employers.
In Bulgaria a reference letters are widely used mostly during application and recruitment process. However there is no agreed format or a guideline about the content of the letter or the way it is structured. Reference letters are usually very general. Each employer decides on the content, the layout, the format of the reference letters they write. Reference letter from a civil or voluntary organisation is still a rare but emerging practice. More and more employers find such letter relevant and useful.
In our partnership we have created a European format template which we all unanimously endorse as the basis for reference writing to support your volunteers when they are applying for jobs. It consists of some basic elements which are important in all European countries. We strongly recommend it for use all across Europe.
This should always be formal, even if you know the recipient, because the whole approach to this reference should be professional.
If you know the name of the person to whom you are writing, you should begin with the appropriate title and their name i.e. “Dear Professor/ Dr/ Mr/ Mrs (Jones)”. In this case the letter will finish with “Yours sincerely”.
If you do not know their name, begin with “Dear Sir or Madam” and finish with “Yours faithfully”.
It is important to describe briefly your organisation in the strongest terms so that the person from a business reading the reference will understand the value of the opinion expressed in the reference. Therefore, you should include the size as well as the purpose or mission of your organization. This might include the number of employees, volunteers, the size of your budget, the people you reach, visitors and beneficiaries... Please try to avoid acronyms which might not be understandable to external readers of the reference.
Explain in which sectors you work and at which level, (local, regional, European). You should stress the complexity and achievements of your organization, so that someone reading the reference understands that your NGO manages a significant portfolio large or small, where leadership, management, and a wide variety of important skills are needed to operate successfully.
“Gemeinsam leben & lernen in Europa” is a private, non-profit organization situated in Passau, Germany. We are organising projects and events to target awareness–raising on our five main themes: a) promoting volunteering, b) fighting racism and xenophobia, c) social and professional integration of the disadvantaged, d) gender equality and e) cooperation within Europe. Yearly we train and coordinate around 120 volunteers in 20 to 30 different projects and activities, reaching over 1000 and more users. We work on regional, national and European level.
CSV is the UK’s leading volunteering and training charity. Every year CSV involves over 150,000 volunteers in high quality opportunities that enrich lives and tackle real need. They help transform the lives of over one million people across the U.K. training over 20,000 young people and adults each year, helping them to develop the skills and confidence they need to progress to further education or paid employment or to set up in business.
The Kultlab Celje Society is a private, non-profit organisation whose activities are mainly focused on the fields of culture, human rights and social issues. The organisation main office is in Celje while it is operating on a local, national and international level. As a non-profit organisation their staff is involving volunteers in national and international activities and projects so they can gain additional skills and knowledge through different experiences and practices.
Tulip Foundation is an organisation established in 2004 with a mission to encourage social responsibility in Bulgarian society by enhancing co-operation among civil society, corporate sector and national and local authorities to improve the quality of life and developmental opportunities for the people of Bulgaria. Over the last years Tulip Foundation has supported more than 750 projects of local organisations around the country with over 15 million BGN (equivalent to around EUR 8 million). Tulip Foundation organises national competition and award ceremony “Voluntary Initiative of the Year” since 2010.
One of the basic goals of the civic association CARDO – National Voluntary Centre is to support the development of volunteering in Slovakia. CARDO provides services and information for volunteers and voluntary organisations, promotes volunteering in public, attempts to involve as many people into volunteering as possible and creates a positive environmnet for the development of voluntary activities in Slovakia and in Europe.
The Malta Health Network (MHN) brings together a number of health related organizations including patient representative groups, support groups and health professionals organisations. The MHN strives to give patients a voice on Health related issues both on National, European and International level. MHN works to influence health related policies and practices for the welfare of the community and promote the representation of Health NGOs.
Cluj Napoca Volunteer Center is a local NGO that promotes volunteering as a means of involving citizens in solving out the problems of the local comunity as well as a personal development procces for the colunteers themselves. Through the services offered and the projects implemented, we are offering support to individuals interested in becoming volunteers (in understanding the concept of volunteering and finding the volunteering opportunity that fits them best) as well as to professionals from other NGOs in developing a structed system for volunteers managemnet in their organizations and increasing the quality of their work with volunteers.
Example Czech Republic:
The civic association "Association of Program Five P in the Czech Republic" is an umbrella organization and a member of Big Brothers Big Sisters International (BBBSI). in order to support implementation of the Program 5P in the Czech Republic. Program 5P (Assistance, Friendship, Support, Care and Prevention) is a volunteer program designed for children aged 6-15 years. The umbrella organisation supports all 21 regional centers in the Czech Republic and is partner of national and foreign organizations with a similar focus.
You need to cover a number of important aspects relating to the volunteer’s performance during the time they have spent with you to date:
David is part of a long-term volunteering project that our organization is implementing (september 2011-september 2012) with financial support from the European Commission, through the Youth in Action Programme. The name of the project is “PLAY – Practice Learning and Action for Youth” and it involves organizing alternative activities based on non-formal education methods for children in our community. David is working in the local Children’s Hospital where he is developing a clinic animation programme. His daily work includes educational activities (especially related to multicultural education and raising awareness on the cultural diversity in a fun and interactive method), arts and crafts, facepainting, games and leisure activities, etc. Besides all this David has been very active in our organization and especially in getting involved in as many projects and programs as possible, including presentations about volunteering and the European Voluntary Service, developing collaborations with local artists (especially in relation to theatre), participating or organizing public events to promote volunteering in the local community (volunteer parade, Living Library, street art events etc.).
Miguel Prats Belda, Support Worker
Miguel joined the European Voluntary Service scheme and moved from Spain to Preston in the UK to work in the CSV Learning Centre. He works with students who have dropped out of education or training. He works with a team to help re-engage these students to become more active and participate.
List the work related professional (hard) skills your volunteer has acquired, developed and demonstrated whilst with your organisation. Always give examples. A list of suggestions is given here. Please note that these suggestions will not be directly applicable, but are designed to be helpful.
Add all specific skills related to the job the volunteer was doing.
Language: She studied english language- german language at Comenius University. Her english is very well (read, written, spoken). During university studies she attended the course spanish language. After six months of active use (we were the partner in a international project) of language on daily basis I can say her ability to communicate in the spanish language is a very high level.
(PC and language skills)
M.S. is a volunteer at Kultlab Celje for approximately five year now, and during this time I was working with M.S. on some project.
As volunteer, M.S. was responsible for creation of web sites and its designing, and also he was involved in other designing tasks within various projects (designing books, leaflets, posters, etc.). With his computer skills he was also very useful for helping our elder and younger members in their work with computer, so many of them were, with his help, been able to improve their computer skills and knowledge. I can also add that M.S. was actively involved in some international project where he had to communicate in foreign language (English language – reading and writing) - he was able to do that without bigger problems.
I can expose that M.S. was very dedicated and committed to all task and duties he had and I can confirm that M.S. has the expertise from different computer skills, especially from the fields of computer programming and design (web programming and design within Joomla and Adobe applications). M.S. is also very skilled with other standard computer applications (Microsoft applications, internet) and he has a good knowledge of English language.
List the work related social (soft) skills they have acquired developed and demonstrated whilst with you. Always give examples. A list of suggestions is given here. Please note that the examples given alongside are only suggestions which will not be directly applicable but are designed to be helpful.
Anna Blumenthal was responsible for the overall management of our Boys’ Day 2013. Her responsibility included the overall coordination and communication between schools, companies and the boys, the recruitment of participants, the acquisition of suitable work opportunities in kindergartens, nursing homes and other social institutions, the matching process, the fundraising, the PR work, the team coordination with the other volunteers and all project related activities. Mrs. Blumenthal had to work under time pressure all the time, as the official date of the Boys Day was moved one month before. But even under time pressure and stress Anna Blumenthal never lost the control: she was able to draw all the necessary resources needed, was creative to find new financial resources, was very flexible to adapt to new situations and circumstances and solve all the problems, which occurred during the project process.
Originally, Tomáš Kubík was hired as an IT support person and he was supposed to deal mainly with up-dating and inputting data in a central contact management database. In addition, he was charged with the implementation of our Annual Conference gathering more than 120 representatives of our partner organisations. Within a few weeks, Tomáš learned all the routines and nuances of the job and delivered a stable and precise performance. Moreover, based on his pro-active approach, he was quickly introduced to other areas, such as searching and analysing data for the purpose of complex reports, trouble shooting and communication with our IT contractor, needs analysis and development of an internal database tool for project management and evaluation using a wide range of sophisticated tools and sources of data. Tomáš was quick in analysing complex contexts of his tasks, excelled in accuracy and showed a great sense for detail. He was also inventive and innovative in terms of looking for effective, time-saving solutions and at the same time able to deliver considerable amount of work, often on tight deadlines. Within the conference implementation task, he showed superb organisation, co-ordination and project management skills while co-operating with a project team consisting of 5 other volunteers and two permanent staff members. It goes without saying that he had to deal with a lot of stress and performance pressure.
If the volunteer is not staying in the organisation, you should give a reason why the volunteer is leaving/has left your organization. You may, (or may not), wish to add that you are sorry to lose them and would be happy to re-engage them.
Example male: After providing financial consultancy for older people in a day centre run by our organisation for four years, Damian Blagoev is now moving to The Netherlands to work on his Ph. D. Before leaving Damian introduced out team to a colleague of him who is willing to continue the consultancy on a voluntary basis.
Example: Regretfully, Ann had to relinquish her duties at work as she needs to look after her elderly and sick mother who needs her constant care and attention.
You should make aclear and honest statement of recommendationfollowing all the statements you have made about theindividual concerned.
Moreover, Mr. Reißmann showed the exact right amount of trust and involvment within the Eurodesk team. Due to his ability to cooperate, his trustworthiness and his balanced character, he is very much appreciated and recognized in his team. His behavior towards supervisors, co-workers and institutions such as schools has always been flawless.
We would like to thank Mr. Reißman for his excellent cooperation and wish him the best for his future career. If any recommendation for a future employer is needed, do not hesitate to contact me.
Example female: I highly recommend Ioana for her seriousness, reliability and assertiveness with which she approaches the tasks assigned to her as well as for her forthright and positive nature, her entrepreneurial spirit, her openness and warmth in personal relationships and for the enthusiasm and efficiency which she accords all hers activities.
Employers in the business world are very busy and often pre-occupied with the success of their business in a highly competitive environment. They must satisfy shareholders, The Board of Directors and customers worldwide in order to remain vibrant and viable.
All approaches by NGOs should be highly professional and well-planned. You need to use specific strategies to engage with commercial companies to establish a relationship of mutual respect and mutual benefit.
When you write your reference letters for your volunteers, you must remember to:
And, do not:
As a reference-giving organisation, you need to raise awareness amongst employers of volunteering as a pathway to gaining work experience and job-related skills. We suggest that you:
Actively participate and present the work your organisation does, and the European reference format, at conferences/events/meetings with the private sector, chambers of commerce, confederations of businesses
The more volunteering organisations use the European reference format, the more it becomes known. The following are some suggestions on how you can raise awareness about, and the usage of, the reference format, amongst NGOs:
„reference for volunteers – how to write it to enhance recognition in the world of business“
(Adapted from the Grundtvig project: “Reference - Valuing and using skills development through volunteering as a pathway into employment” )
The overall goal of this Grundtvig learning partnership is to enhance recognition of the value of the skills developed through volunteering. Sometimes the world of business is slow to recognise the wealth of experience and skill a volunteer will have developed whilst in a voluntary organisation. At the other hand the organizations themselves need to understand and speak the language of the business world, if they want to open new pathways into employment for their volunteers.
Therefore the project team, consisting of partners of eight different European countries, developed a first draft of a European format. In consideration of national diversity in writing recommendation letters, we agreed on a final model which we believe is appropriate for use across Europe. This should promote the highly valuable work of volunteers in our societies.
We propose you to use the European format template as the basis for reference writing to support your volunteers when they are applying for jobs. It consists of some basic elements important in all European countries. Due to the fact that it is considered as a generally accepted format we especially recommend it for the use across Europe.
As mentioned above, each country has its own practice of ‚how to write a recommendation letter‘. For the use in a national context it is important to consider these practices and include things particularly suitable to the “basic” template. To make it easier for organizations, there will be additional information and examples related to these special practices.
Example for a German reference letter:
‚Gemeinsam leben & lernen in Europa‘ is a private, non-profit organization situated in Passau, Germany. We are specific on events and projects to target awareness – raising on our 5 main themes:
e.g.: Ability to design, plan, organize, and implement projects and tasks within an allotted timeframe
e.g.: foreign languages, IT skills, specific skills
For the last couple of months, I've been volunteering with people with disability and throughout this time, this provided me several opportunities to gain more experience in this field. I came to understand and appreciate better the needs and difficulties that people with disability encounter in their daily life. The delight that one feels when volunteering, instils a yet greater motivation in the heart of the volunteer to keep on making a difference in the life of other people. I can say that voluntary work is a life changing experience because it aided me to solidify further my values and beliefs about life. For all these reasons, I believe that voluntary work is not only beneficial to the ones who receive it, but also to the altruistic people who willingly provide a helping hand.
Samuel Curmi, Malta
This website has been produced with the financial support of the European Union within the lifelong learning programme.