A Volunteer Policy is a document outlining the basis of your volunteer programme and underpinning all your operations that include or affect volunteers.
A Volunteering Policy is a bit like having a ‘user guide’ for managing your volunteers. It demonstrates to everyone that you are committed to fair and consistent practices in your dealings with volunteers. It also defines their role within your organisation and protects them from unfair treatment.
Taking on volunteers in your group can be a big commitment, and given the importance of the volunteer's contribution you must ensure that a structure or framework is in place to support the volunteers and staff in their work together. Having a framework will make your life easier – making sure that everything is clear and well managed.
There are a lot of things that you might want to take into account when considering a framework for involving volunteers but the best way of pulling all this together and ensuring that it really informs your practice is by developing a Volunteering Policy. The details of your Volunteer Policy will vary depending on your own group or organisation.
Often in real life, the volunteers come first and the policy is developed afterwards. While it is easier if you consider how you are going to manage your volunteers before you recruit them, if you already have them working for you, then developing a Volunteer Policy is a good way of making sure that you have everything covered. Your Volunteer Policy should be a working document and not just a random list that is drafted and stuck in the back of a cupboard.
Understanding the needs of volunteers
Your Volunteer Policy should take account of the whole 'journey' that a volunteer has with you. A brand new volunteer will need different information and support from you than one who has been working with you for a while.
When a volunteer first enquires about working with your group or organisation, they will need:
an application pack that outlines the recruitment procedure, information on the role and where it fits in with the organisation
a named person to contact within the organisation
Once a volunteer has started working with your group, their needs change:
a support and supervision structure –including reviewing progress, addressing development needs and informal catch ups
an induction process and training
a system to ensure a volunteer’s voice is heard, for example, volunteer meetings, suggestion box.
Finally, when a volunteer leaves they will need:
an exit interview process
a celebration and thank-you procedure
What to include
To make your Volunteer Policy a useful, working document aimed at making your involvement of volunteers more effective and easier, it should include the following:
Introduction & Principles
Start your policy with an explanation of what the organisation does and why it involves volunteers in its work and the principles that underpin volunteer involvement.
Recruitment & Selection
Provide brief information about your recruitment process and how volunteers will be selected and screened. State clearly if they are required to provide references and/or be disclosure checked.
Volunteer agreements & tasks
Set out how volunteer roles will be defined and agreed.
Include a statement of commitment to paying volunteer expenses. For example, these might include covering out-of-pocket expenses for travel, childcare or meals. It will also be useful to set out how your volunteers will be reimbursed – do you have an expenses claim form for example?
Induction & training
Your policy should also include a statement that commits the organisation to providing appropriate induction and training to all volunteers.
Show your commitment to providing all volunteers with support that is appropriate to their role and responsibilities.
The volunteer’s voice
How will your group involve volunteers in discussions and decisions? How will they be able to express their views and ideas about the organisation and its work.
Insurance/Health and Safety
Include a statement to say that volunteers are covered by the organisation’s insurance, and that your organisation has a Health and Safety policy.
It is also important to reference your organisation’s Equal Opportunities/Diversity policy
Include details on how your group will handle complaints by and about volunteers. This will show that you have a well-planned strategy around involving volunteers and have thought ahead about how you would deal with any problems.
Any volunteers are bound by the organisation’s confidentiality requirements and this should be stated in the policy. If you have a separate confidentiality policy this should be mentioned here too.
What happens when a volunteer leaves
As much as you might want your volunteers to stay forever, sometimes they will leave you. Your policy should include a commitment to providing references and supporting volunteers on to other options where appropriate.
Set a review date
Once you have written your policy - do not leave it on the shelf. Go back to it every six months. Is it still working for you and your volunteers? Do you need to make amendments or additions to reflect any recent changes.