Developing Your Volunteer Program

Developing a new volunteer program or reorganizing an existing one may seem like a daunting task due to the time and energy, not to mention the trial by fire it sometimes takes before everything starts to mesh and flow.  So, why reinvent the wheel? has created a fantastically comprehensive development plan for nonprofit organizations.  Some of the example documents are from state-side volunteer programs and some of the examples come from programs in other countries. So, pull from the information and ideas that will work best for your agency, tweak them to fit your org. even better and best of luck on your journey!

Developing Your Volunteer Program

Once organizational readiness and risk management have been assessed, organizations are ready to move on to the work of developing the volunteer program framework. This assumes that the results of their self-questioning, staff surveys, and risk assessment have all indicated that a volunteer program would be a) appropriate, b) safe, c) feasible, and d) valuable, both to the organization and to volunteers themselves.

It is at this time that organizations can begin the work of developing volunteer program policies and procedures, including establishing and identifying communications channels, disciplinary procedures, and safeguards to protect volunteers, constituents, and the organization itself from both individual harm and legal implication.

Keeping in mind the adage, as recently quoted by June Bass, Volunteer Services Manager for the Multnomah County Library, “one of the best ways to recognize volunteers is to have a well-run program,” here are some recommendations for essential steps:

Step One – Developing the Vision, Mission, Policies and Procedures

Where the vision and mission paint the picture of what you want to accomplish with your volunteer program, policies and procedures serve as the backbone. This is the place to consider and structure responses to issues like volunteer/staff relations, disciplinary procedures, and methods of communication. Should you run into unchartered waters on your way to achieving your vision, your program’s policies and procedures will be your compass to keep you on track.

Creating the mission, vision, and policies and procedures for the volunteer program also presents an opportunity to collaborate with fellow staff members on developing the volunteer culture at your organization, making sure that volunteers are fully integrated into the organization and supported by all staff members, not just you! Here are some resources, and examples, to get you started:

Vision and Mission

Policies and Procedures: How to Develop

Policies and Procedures: Examples

Volunteer Program Culture

  • From Motivation to Action Through Volunteer-Friendly Organizations (PDF) – Kenn Allen, Ed.D @ The International Journal of Volunteer Administration
  • Organizational Culture – Volunteering in America: Resources for Retention, Corporation for National and Community Service

Step Two – Creating Infrastructure: Applications, Agreements, and Position Descriptions

With your internal systems in place, you’re ready to develop some of the external documents. This includes volunteer applications, volunteer contracts or agreement forms (to outline both organization and volunteer expectations and responsibilities), handbooks for volunteers (sort of an orientation on paper), and specific volunteer position descriptions. There are a number of ways to structure these, so we’ve included several examples below. If you manage volunteers in the U.S., it’s important to remember that the Americans with Disabilities Act also sets the standards for selecting volunteers.

When developing position descriptions, keep in mind some of the current trends regarding episodic volunteering. As more and more individuals seek to fit volunteerism into their already busy lives, they are often looking for short-term or one-time opportunities. So as you develop positions, try to offer a healthy mix of long-term, short-term, one-time, and online/virtual volunteerism opportunities. Also keep in mind the range of skills volunteers can bring to your organization, offering positions in both skilled and non-skill-specific categories.

Volunteer Application

Volunteer Contracts or Agreements

Parental Consent Form

Handbook for Volunteers

Volunteer Position Descriptions: How to Develop

Volunteer Position Descriptions: Examples and Worksheets

Step Three – Keeping on Course: Tracking and Evaluation

Much like risk management, you should regularly review your volunteer program to make sure you are in line with its vision and mission. Annual evaluations – of individual volunteers, your role as volunteer manager, and the overall program (this is a great time to review risk management and policies and procedures) – may seem like a hassle but they are invaluable in keeping a volunteer program running smoothly. Be sure to provide opportunities for volunteers to provide feedback. And try not to approach evaluations as a negative process: not only do they highlight areas for improvement but they also give you the opportunity to celebrate what’s going well!

Similarly, by setting up a system to track volunteer program information, you will be well-equipped not only for evaluation but also for making the case for your volunteer program to potential funders (grant applications are magnets for data!) and the decision-makers of your organization. Tracking doesn’t have to be overwhelming; it can be as simple as using an Excel spreadsheet to record contact information and hours, as well as answers to questions like: When are volunteers available? What do they enjoy most? What do they not enjoy? What are they best at? What motivates them? How do they like to be recognized? How many hours did they volunteer?

With all of this at your fingertips, you’re better prepared to find the right volunteers for the right volunteer positions. At the same time, should you need to make a case for the volunteer program as organizational priorities shift or funding gets tight, you’re already armed with invaluable knowledge on the breadth, scope, and impact of volunteers in the organization!

Here are some resources, including information on potential software programs and how to translate volunteer time into economic terms, to develop your system of tracking and evaluation:



Economic Value of Volunteerism

Step Four – Training and Orientation – For Volunteers AND Staff

The final step before you can begin looking for volunteers is to decide what kind of orientation and training you should, and can, offer. Where a formal training on systems or tools is unique to a specific volunteer or task (and often integral to risk management!), orientation tends to be a more global picture of the organization, providing information that is largely universal to all volunteers. In either case, trainings and orientations are often the equivalent of your volunteers’ first impression, so it’s important to make it positive, informational, and motivating. No small feat to be sure…

At the same time, it is important to train your fellow staff members on how best to work with volunteers. Do some group brainstorming for innovative ideas on how staff can support volunteers – one great strategy is to set up shadow mentoring so that every time Volunteer X is in the office, Staff Person Y checks in with them to see how they are doing and whether they need anything.

This is also the time to talk about appropriate behavior and boundaries as well as determine who among staff will be available to answer questions and provide supervision. The bottom line is that your staff (hopefully!) operates like a team and bringing volunteers on board is bringing new team members on board.

Here are some training and orientation ideas, resources, and models to consider:

Training and Orientation: How to Develop

Training and Orientation: Examples


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