Is Your Organisation Volunteer Ready?

1 February 2014 | Magazine Articles

It seems that often community organisations have far more problems, and more complex problems, with their volunteers than with their paid staff, and sometimes it is pretty clear why.

There are many things that go wrong in volunteer management, but a lot of them can be mitigated early on, particularly at the volunteer recruitment phase, and in preparing to recruit. To ensure that your organisation is ready to recruit new volunteers, consider the following points:

• Have a clear human resources policy for volunteers, providing a set of ground rules that can be referred to in future if a problem arises. This policy, or a summarised version, should be given to all new volunteers at the recruitment stage, along with your code of conduct.

• Periodically review how volunteers are involved in your organisation, whether there are other areas that would benefit from volunteer involvement, how these roles will be divided, and what job title each will have.

• Ensuring there is a position description for each role, outlining tasks, goals, areas of responsibility and who they will be reporting to, is helpful. One of the common reasons that volunteers leave positions is feeling they are being asked to do too much, and the role becomes different or more than what they signed up for.

• Create a ‘volunteer contract’. This can be a simple one page document that outlines what you expect from your volunteers, and what your organisation offers to its volunteer staff.

• Ensure volunteers sign a confidentiality and privacy statement, particularly if your volunteers have access to any personal or sensitive information. This could be included in your contract or application form.

• Create an application form for volunteers. This will ensure that you get the information you need, including referees, emergency contacts, information regarding the volunteer’s motivation – “what interests you in volunteering for our organisation?” “What would you like to gain from your voluntary role?” If you know what the volunteer wants, you’re more likely to be able to meet their needs.

• Referee checks are vital, and it is important to be consistent with these – even if you think your potential volunteer is perfect for the role, it is good practise to do the check, just in case.

• Create an information/application pack for potential volunteers – this will include the position description, information about your organisation, an application form, Police Check form and a copy of your volunteer contract.

• On the subject of Police Checks – do them. At this stage they still cost nothing, but could save you from a lot of problems later on. Even if your volunteers do not have access to clients, or to money, they still have access to your other staff and volunteers, and to equipment and supplies. A criminal conviction does not need to exclude a volunteer, but that depends on the nature of the conviction, how recent, and your organisational policies regarding criminal convictions.

• Ensure you have thought through what orientation and training your volunteer will need, and who will be responsible for that. We find that volunteers are often given little orientation, making it more difficult to feel they belong. If they don’t feel they belong, they will be unlikely to stay.

• Consider how you will support and celebrate your volunteers on an ongoing basis. Although this is later down the track, planning ahead will ensure that your volunteers feel recognised, and will show them that you value their contribution, a key part of volunteer retention.

I would assume that if your organisation was recruiting for a new paid staff member, you would already have a clear position description, an application process, perhaps an application form, a set of interview questions and a referee check form. Do you have the same systems in place for volunteers?

If you do not have these processes in place, there are plenty of templates and examples on the internet. Google them, ask organisations that are similar to yours if they have what you are looking for. Community organisations are very good at sharing resources.

Check out for a range of resources, examples and templates.

Heather Moore - Tonic Magazine (Issue 21, February-April 2014)