Volunteer Handbooks (Part 2): What should you include?

11 June 2021 | News

A volunteer handbook is an important investment in the productivity and risk management of your organisation. People who are giving their time, energy, skills, and heart to your cause deserve to know what is expected of them, how to keep themselves safe in their role, and how to react to the unexpected. (If you're not sure why you need a volunteer handbook, check out the previous post on the topic)

In Part 1 of this series, we talked about why we should have one, so now that we know why a handbook is essential, the next step is to decide what to include in it. How about some suggestions?

Overview of your organisation:

This could include information about the vision, mission, and values of the organisation as well as an organisational chart and an explanation of the roles of each staff member. This is also where you could mention the reporting structure.

Ethics and professionalism:

Volunteers are often the front-facing members of our organisations, working with stakeholders and clients. It is essential that they are provided with guidance about how to best represent the organisation. In this section, you may also want to include information about any conflict of interest policy, for example anything regarding accepting gifts or extra compensation. It would also be a good place to include other ethical information such as being impartial in their work, and the appropriate use of the organisation's resources.

Workplace safety:

This is the section where you should include:

  • Safety rules and checklists
  • Reporting of incidents
  • Working conditions for volunteers
  • Harassment policy
  • How to handle emergency situations
  • Any procedures related to working with vulnerable populations

The Role of volunteers:

We all know that, for many of our organisations, services would all but grind to a halt overnight if we suddenly lost all the volunteers. There is value in ensuring that we let volunteers know just how important and appreciated they are. Considering that 97% of volunteers do so because they care about the cause that their chosen organisation supports, it will help your retention efforts if you can show the impact links between the contributions made by volunteers, and the wider organisational cause.

This is also a great place to outline, generally, what roles are availabele within the organisation. Research shows us that only 45% of organisations properly and effectively match volunteers' skills with appropriate roles. So, someone who is recruited to stuff envelopes for your annual campaign may actually be a great leader for one of your other programmes, but they may never say anything if they aren't aware of any other options available to them.

Service standards:

This is a good place to consider including things like:

  • Anti-discrimination policies
  • Liability protections
  • Volunteer/Client relationships
  • Client confidentiality
  • Client records
  • Serving clients with low literacy/numeracy and/or limited ability to speak English
  • Professional boundaries