Victim services and domestic violence organizations support thousands of individuals and families each year. It takes a lot of labor to provide comprehensive services to survivors, but fortunately, many organizations have a reliable volunteer network to lean on. These volunteers perform a variety of tasks, many of which are client-facing. While it can be hugely rewarding to give back, volunteer victim advocates on the front lines face unique challenges as they provide support to clients. By offering resources and processes to lighten their load, victim advocates can be better equipped to assist survivors.
In this article, we’ll cover:
What is a victim advocate?
What do victim advocates do?
Challenges victim advocates face
Ways to support domestic violence organization volunteers
How victim services software like CaseWorthy can help
What is a victim advocate?
Recovering from abuse is a long journey, and victim advocates play a huge role in ensuring victims are safe and have resources to aid the healing process. Volunteer victim advocates walk alongside clients as they seek services that address their physical, emotional, and financial needs.
A volunteer victim advocate isn’t just a service coordinator–an advocate is a true champion who focuses on the best interests of their client or clients. They invest personally and emotionally in each case, and are there to listen and support in any way they can. The role of victim advocate is flexible and may vary depending on what organization they volunteer with, but in general, an advocate is there to listen, support, and empower clients through recovery.
What do victim advocates do?
Different organizations have volunteers perform an extensive range of tasks. Victim advocates tend to have more “client-facing” processes they follow than other volunteers on staff. They can usually expect to spend anywhere from 5-10 hours per week volunteering. Some of the most commonly performed tasks are:
Perform data entry tasks.
Hold meetings with clients.
Attend appointments as needed or requested.
Provide on-call crisis response.
How to become a volunteer victim advocate
Most organizations have different classifications of volunteers that require different types of training. Due to the sensitive nature of the work they perform, volunteer victim advocates typically undergo rigorous training following a stringent background check. Individuals looking to get involved don’t necessarily have to become victim advocates–understandably, it’s not a job that’s right for everyone. Domestic violence organizations also utilize volunteers to process donated goods, operate food pantries, clean facilities, and more.
Challenges volunteer victim advocates face
Victim advocates offer up their time and open their hearts to people in need. In order to protect the mental well-being of these crucial volunteers, nonprofits need to stay vigilant and consider the following challenges that commonly arise in domestic violence cases:
Becoming a victim advocate involves highly intensive training. In many cases, onboarding can take weeks and even months depending on how your nonprofit schedules training. This process can be intimidating to potential new volunteers.
In many cases, there is a lack of available resources. Because domestic violence nonprofits provide such an extensive range of services, it’s not uncommon to have shortages of available supplies and funding. For new volunteers in particular, this may be frustrating or overwhelming.
Volunteer victim advocates frequently experience burnout. Walking alongside survivors can be emotionally challenging. Even the most seasoned professional social workers regularly experience burnout. Volunteers in this space are usually highly compassionate individuals, which may make them more prone to feeling overwhelmed.
How to support your volunteer victim advocates
While it’s not easy to volunteer in this capacity, there are ways your organization can make sure victim advocates feel supported. Here are a few things to consider implementing if you haven’t already:
Provide a strong onboarding process. While rigorous training programs are helpful, it’s also important to make onboarding as smooth as possible. Filling out paperwork and hunting down information shouldn’t be front of mind for victim advocates. By having a solid set of processes and steps for a new volunteer to walk through, you can get them in the field quicker and reduce administrative strain.
Rotate staff if possible. Sometimes, volunteer victim advocates may just need a break–and that’s okay. If you have a large network of advocates, consider setting up a rotation schedule so volunteers can take a breather between cases. You can also schedule volunteers on a one month on, one month off basis if you have capacity.
Check-in with your volunteer victim advocates regularly. Typically, a volunteer coordinator helps place, train, and schedule volunteers. In addition, volunteer coordinators can provide emotional support by meeting with victim advocates at least once a month to ensure they feel stable and healthy.
Release versions of impact reports that highlight the work volunteers do. Without volunteers, victim services organizations simply wouldn’t be able to function and help individuals, families, and children. If you’re already compiling reports, you can create a simplified version to distribute in-house to show you acknowledge and appreciate the vital services volunteers provide.
Use software to reduce manual administrative tasks. While it’s impossible to completely avoid having volunteers perform administrative tasks, you can use case management software to ease that burden. Volunteer victim advocates have specialized training and unique skill sets–don’t use their time to do something a computer can.
How CaseWorthy’s victim services software can help staff, volunteers, and clients alike.
CaseWorthy is a customizable case management system that’s used by nonprofit staff and volunteers alike to streamline daily operations. Our software isn’t just a database–it’s a one-stop solution that can schedule volunteers, securely store demographic information and case notes, and so much more.
Stay on the same page with secure storage of demographics and case notes. No victim should have to share their story multiple times if they don’t want to–and with CaseWorthy, all the information volunteers need is in one place. If a case needs to be transferred or reviewed, the new victim advocate can quickly get up to speed by reviewing information that’s already been logged in the system.
CommHub allows for another point of connection. Not all victims are able to physically leave their environment. With CommHub, clients can securely communicate with their case workers and advocates via the internet.
Connect clients with external service providers. You can build your own referral network within CaseWorthy so advocates can pull information quickly and easily to relay to victims.
Schedule appointments for volunteers and victims. In the victim services space, it’s important for your organization to mobilize advocates quickly and flexibly. CaseWorthy’s robust scheduling features allow you to manage appointments for both advocates and victims in one platform.
When volunteer victim advocates feel empowered and supported, they can do more for the clients who most need their attention. Administrative tasks shouldn’t create barriers, and at CaseWorthy, we’re here to help.