Managing volunteers

Volunteer involvement must be planned, organised, and aligned with your organisation's goals and its resource allocation. The Board and the senior management has to understand, approve of, and support the direction of the volunteer program.

Volunteer procedures

Administrative procedures guide and support the volunteer program. Standard forms for position decriptions, applications, interviews, reference checks, police record checks, performance appraisals, and exit interviews provide a framework for treating all volunteers equally. Accurate records provide a means to keep track of individual volunteers and the program as a whole.

Policies and procedures should be communicated to all volunteers and then followed consistently and equitably.

Volunteers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Specifically, everyone has the right to equal treatment in employment without discrimination on the grounds of:
  • race
  • ancestry
  • place of origin
  • colour
  • ethnic origin
  • citizenship
  • creed
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • age
  • marital status
  • same-sex partnership
  • family status
  • handicap.


The organisation's budget should include provision for
  • volunteer expenses (out-of-pocket expenses)
  • funding allocations necessary for the salary and benefits of paid staff with responsibility for supervising volunteers.
  • appropriate space for volunteers to work
  • tools & equipment
  • uniforms (if required).
  • volunteer recognition (events and items)
  • appropriate insurance coverage
  • training/professional development costs
  • evaluation costs
  • any other resources that will support volunteer effectiveness.


An individual should be designated as Volunteer Co-ordinator responsible for the volunteer program.

Managing volunteers demands a wide range of skills with a high level of complexity. Whatever the size of the organisation, the individuals responsible for volunteers must have the necessary skills, experience and support to do the job well.

The person designated to manage the volunteer program is responsible for an essential element of the organisation's human resources, and they must work collaboratively with other staff and consult them when before considering any new directions within the volunteer program.

If staff members work with volunteers, their own position descriptions should specifically include their key functions and responsibilities related to volunteer involvement.

Volunteers should receive levels of supervision appropriate to their task. Many volunteer assignments require minimal supervision, but some that are more complex (or involve higher risks) require a higher degree of supervision.

As with paid staff, volunteers need to hear how they are doing. If volunteers are performing below requirements, or putting themselves or others at risk, they must be told. Regular, as well as informal, performance reviews also provide an opportunity to commend and to thank volunteers for their efforts.

Records (whether simple paper files or sophisticated software programs) should be maintained on every volunteer involved with the organisation, using a confidential, secure system. Records should include at least
  • application form
  • record of interview
  • position description
  • referee's reports
  • performance appraisals
  • current contact information.
Such records can be used for references, performance appraisals and emergencies. They are also necessary in the situations where a volunteer is not measuring up, or is putting staff or clients or property in danger, and management and supervisory procedures have been unable to remedy the problem. Even for volunteers, procedures for sanctions - reprimand or dismissal - need to be documented according to approved procedures.

The dignity and respect of the volunteer are vitally important, but the safety and well-being of clients, staff and other volunteers are paramount.

Orientation & Training

Volunteers must get an orientation to the organisation, must be filled in on its policies and procedures, and should receive appropriate training for their volunteer position.

Volunteers should
  • be issued with an organisational procedures manual, or shown where to access a copy.
  • be told about the organisation's complaints and dispute resolution procedures
  • be told about emergency procedures and resources
  • be trained for any job that requires specialist knowledge

Meaningful Work

Volunteers require written position descriptions, just as paid staff do, to ensure that they are aware of the scope (and the limits) of their duties.

Volunteer positions should involve volunteers in meaningful ways, and should be flexible enough to draw on their individual abilities, needs and backgrounds.

Individual needs vary considerably, and successful volunteer programs thus adapt volunteer assignments to fit these needs when possible. This may involve changing the times, the scope, the duration or the location of the assignment. The more adaptable the organisation, the easier it will find it to recruit and retain volunteers.
Review volunteers' tasks regularly to check on their continuing relevance and value.


Volunteer involvement should be evaluated regularly. An evaluation of volunteer involvement includes:
  • reviewing goals and objectives
  • identifying results achieved
  • obtaining feedback from current volunteers and clients
  • collecting and reviewing both quantitative and qualitative data about volunteer involvement
  • assessing the performance of volunteers, and
  • conducting exit interviews for departing volunteers.
The findings from the evaluation should be fed back into the planning cycle (see Planning, Recruiting , Managing and Maintaining Volunteers).

For the remainder of the volunteer cycle see the separate helpsheets dealing with