Planning, Recruiting, Managing and Retaining Volunteers

The proper management of volunteer programs for Australian not-for-profit organisations involves a cycle of operations.

Begin, as always, with planning the requirements for a successful program. Planning is essential for the success of any volunteer program and involves
  • Gaining support for the program
  • developing applicable policies and procedures
  • designing volunteer positions
  • creating application forms
  • educating others in the organisation about involving volunteers
Once you have taken care of these planning items, you will have a solid foundation to support your volunteer program.

Before any volunteers are actually signed up, your organisation needs to check that the following is in place:

1. Support and commitment from the organisation

Begin by holding discussions with all relevant staff and management to clarify the reasons you want volunteers. Are you looking for volunteers in order to enhance the services that you provide, to strengthen your community involvement, to recruit potential donors, to enrich your exposure to certain communities, or several of these things at once? You may want to conduct a volunteer needs audit.

The results of such an audit will highlight the type and amount of work that needs to be done to enable paid staff to concentrate on other core activities.
First, develop a simple form to identify some specific ways in which volunteers might assist paid staff. Depending on the size of your organisation, this form may be completed by individual members of staff or by their team leaders. The proforma you design will include categories specific to the needs of your organisation, and may include the following:

Type of task
Duration (No. of hours/week)
Could this work be undertaken outside the office environment?





Database Maintenance

Library Maintenance

Basic Equipment and Grounds Maintenance



Basic Fundraising


Develop volunteer management policies and guidelines that cover the whole volunteer cycle, and have them approved by the board and senior management. The guidelines should head off any potential future misunderstandings between staff and volunteers by clarifying roles and responsibilities.

In order to promote harmony it would be useful if the Board were to acknowledge the role of the volunteer is to enhance and not replace paid staff work. Volunteering Australia has developed a terrific document detailing the rights of volunteers which should be compulsory reading for any group. You can find it at .

It should also be stated that volunteers will be expected to work co-operatively with staff and comply with organisation guidelines.

Although volunteers do not get paid, they still incur costs. Your organisation may need to provide some or all of the following
  •  An appropriate workstation
  •  Reimbursement of expenses
  •  Refreshments
  •  Insurance
  •  Training and
  •  A volunteer co-ordinator

2. The volunteer coordinator

It's necessary to have one person who has responsibility for the area. Working closely with senior management, the volunteer coordinator's work could include
  •  Assessment and prioritisation of staff requests for volunteer assistance
  •  Development of volunteer job descriptions
  •  Advertisement of positions
  •  Screening of applications
  •  Volunteer orientation and training
  •  Management a staff/volunteer relations
  •  Development and review of the organisation's volunteer policies and procedures
  •  Supervision, evaluation and formal recognition of volunteer contributions.

3. Volunteer Job Descriptions

Clear job descriptions need to be written for each position. Senior management must approve all positions.

Well-crafted position descriptions for each approved job will assist the organisation to
  •  Set the criteria for selection and placement of applying volunteers
  •  Understand the scope responsibilities and limitations of the work
  •  Put in place appropriate screening measures for applicants
  •  Develop necessary training materials
  •  Establish standards for performance in supervising and evaluating volunteers, including grounds for possible termination
  •  Develop means to recognize and reward volunteer effort
To provide volunteers with challenge and motivation for continued success, each position description should include an explanation of the program's desired outcomes and the volunteer's role in helping you achieve them. You need to specify the sorts of skills and experience required. It also important to specify the location, time commitment and expected duration of the project.

Volunteer staff, just like paid staff, need clear, accurate and current descriptions of the work that they are expected to do. All volunteer positions should have their own position descriptions, which need to be reviewed at least annually, or whenever the nature of the work changes substantially.

A good job description would include the following:
  •  A brief summary of the mission and major activities of the entire organisation.
  •  A description of the purpose and duties of the advertised volunteer position, including the actual task/s that the volunteer is expected to perform.
  •  Areas of accountability.
  •  Supervisor and lines of authority
  •  Duration of the position.
  •  Expected time commitment each week/month etc.
  •  Workplace location.
  •  Skills required/preferred.

4. Information Pack

The information pack should be sent out to all applicants for volunteer positions. It will assist them to make a decision about your organisation and its volunteer opportunities. It can also be used as part of your community education and donor development programs, and will be the basis for your orientation programs.
The pack could be available in print or electronic formats and include all or some of the following:
  •  A covering letter thanking applicants' for their approach and advising of next steps
  •  Information about your organisation, for example brochures, latest newsletter, annual report
  •  Descriptions of available volunteer projects and/or job descriptions
  •  Any examples of press coverage of the volunteer program, such as articles recognizing volunteer achievements
  •  Volunteer application forms
  •  Volunteer screening forms
  •  Volunteer orientation or training schedules or invitation to upcoming information meetings for prospective volunteers

5. Volunteer application process

A process needs to be developed to ensure efficient handling and screening of potential recruits. This should include:
  •  A procedure for responding promptly to initial inquiries
  •  Mailing of volunteer position descriptions, information packs and application forms
  •  Scheduling of volunteer interviews.
  •  Development and scheduling of information sessions and other required training
If a specific job requires extraordinary screening or training, such as criminal background checks or certification, the volunteer should be informed up-front.
The procedure chosen and practiced should match the level of need for screening and training for a project. For example, a volunteer position with significant responsibility, such as a childcare position where both security and training issues are of concern requires the organisation to undertake every possible security check. On the other hand, a one-off park cleanup project may only require an invitation to the event.

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