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Developing and Managing Volunteer Programs

© Copyright Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.
Adapted from the Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision in Business and Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision for Nonprofit Staff.

The Library topic is called "Developing and Managing Volunteer Programs" to emphasize that, for the organization and its volunteers to benefit the most from each other, volunteers should be managed as part of an overall, systematic program, somewhat similar to the systematic approach that should be used to managing employees. Certainly there are differences between how employees and volunteers are managed, but the differences are probably much less than most people realize.

The following links are to sections in this overall topic and the sections are organized in the order in which they might be needed in an organization that is starting a volunteer management program -- the order of the links themselves suggest the systematic nature of a well designed volunteer management program. Organizations that already have established programs can use this overall topic by going directly to the sections that are relevant to current priorities in their current program. The links below present a wide variety of perspectives and materials about volunteer management programs/systems.

Sections of This Topic Include

Planning Your Volunteer Program

Considerations in Establishing or Modifying Volunteer Management Systems
Online Tutorial About Volunteer Management Programs
Role of Volunteer Managers
Staffing Analysis (Deciding Whether Volunteers Are Needed)
Legal and Risk Considerations
Policies and Procedures
Volunteer Job/Task Descriptions

Operating Your Volunteer Program

Volunteer Recruitment
Screening Volunteers
Selecting ("Hiring") Volunteers
Orienting and Training Volunteers
Supervising (delegating, evaluating, addressing issues, rewarding, etc.)
Volunteer and Staff Relations
Assessing Your Volunteer Management Practices

Additional Information

Virtual Volunteering
General Resources

Also consider
Related Library Topics

Learn More in the Library's Blogs Related to Volunteers and Volunteer Programs

In addition to the articles on this current page, also see the following blogs that have posts related to Volunteers and Volunteer Programs. Scan down the blog's page to see various posts. Also see the section "Recent Blog Posts" in the sidebar of the blog or click on "next" near the bottom of a post in the blog. The blog also links to numerous free related resources.

Library's Human Resources Blog
Library's Leadership Blog
Library's Supervision Blog


Designing and Operating Your Volunteer Management System

Considerations in Establishing or Modifying Volunteer Management Systems

Note that the extent to which an organization develops and implements a volunteer management system depends on the nature of the activities to be conducted by the volunteers. For example, an organization that uses many volunteers, some of whom directly serve people, will probably use a very comprehensive system. In contrast, an organization that occasionally uses volunteers to stuff envelopes, might do a brief solicitation to recruit any volunteers that the organization can get and then do a very brief training, afterwards leaving the volunteers alone to perform their task.
Definition of Volunteer
Managing Volunteer Boundaries
Are Nonprofits Keeping Up With the New Volunteer?
Guide To Volunteering
The concept of micro-volunteering gains momentum
Volunteer Recruitment and Management

Online Tutorial about Volunteer Management

Volunteer Program Management Mini-University

Role of Volunteer Managers

The primary role of the volunteer manager is to establish and operate the volunteer management system.
Susan Ellis' resources for volunteer managers
Volunteer Managers and the Time Management Trap
Resources and Research for Volunteer Managers

Staffing Analysis (Deciding Whether Volunteers Are Needed)

Staffing analysis includes the activities to examine what expertise is needed to achieve the business and/or strategic goals of the organization. Then the types of needed expertise are further examined in order to discern which types might be provided by paid employees and by volunteers.
Also consider the topic for employees: Workforce planning (including succession planning)

Legal and Risk Considerations

There are a variety of types of legal and risk considerations when using volunteers in an organization, eg, what insurance is needed, what rights to volunteers have in the workplace, what employment laws also apply to volunteers, and how can you ensure that volunteers act ethically, etc. The reader will get a more clear understanding of legal and risk considerations by reading the topics in the following section about management policies and procedures.
Federal Law Protects Nonprofit Volunteers
Myths of Risk Management: Part 1
Myths of Risk Management: Part 2
Myths of Risk Management: Part 3
Insuring Volunteers


Policies are general guidelines that personnel can reference in order to make decisions and get guidance on how to act in certain situations, eg, a policy about dress codes. Procedures are specific step-by-step directions regarding completion of a specific task, eg, powering up a computer. Policies help ensure that volunteers are supervised and that they act according to a legal, ethical and organizationally-preferred manner in the workplace. Policies are often in regard to, eg, definition of volunteer, rights and responsibilities, confidentiality, background checks, safety, record keeping, conflict-of-interest, dress codes, orientation, training, supervision, evaluations, corrective actions, etc. The astute reader will recognize that the policies in regard to volunteers are very similar in nature to the policies for employees.
Benefits of Policies
Policies and Procedures for Volunteer Programs
Know Your Boundaries

Volunteer Job/Task Descriptions

You should be clear about what you expect from each of your volunteers. Volunteers deserve to know what you expect from them, as well. To recruit volunteers for a specific role or job, you will need a clear job description from which to develop the advertisements and to show to any potential candidates. Therefore, each volunteer should have a job, or task, description. The description should specify at least whom the volunteer reports to, any general duties and responsibilities, and any specific tasks to perform. Job descriptions might include additional information, eg, level of expertise and education needed for the job, minimum requirements of expertise, etc.
Sample job description
Guidelines and Sample Job Description
How to Write a Job Description That Your Volunteers Will Love
Managing Volunteers: Writing Useful Job Descriptions
Volunteer Job Description Worksheet
Also consider the topic for employees: Specifying Jobs and Roles (analysis, description and competencies)
Also consider the topic for employees: Job Descriptions


Volunteer Recruitment

Recruitment usually involves identifying the most likely sources of suitable candidates for volunteer positions, how to approach those sources, and then approaching each source. Sources might include, eg, advertisements in the newspaper, word-of-mouth of employees, recommendations from clients, online (or virtual) sources, professional placement advisors ("headhunters"), volunteer fairs (events in which many organizations that need volunteers attend to recruit volunteers), etc. Candidates who are interested in certain positions often complete an application form, including providing a resume.

General Guidelines

Successful Recruitment Techniques
Recruiting Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials
Big Brothers/Big Sisters: A Study of Volunteer Recruitment and Screening


Characteristics of Good Recruitment Message

Where to Post Volunteer Opportunities: 15 Volunteer Recruitment Websites for Nonprofits

7 Super Steps to Recruit Volunteers

Online Recruitment

10 Reasons Why You Need to Recruit Online Volunteers
Also consider the topic for employees: Recruiting (sourcing and advertising)
Recruiting and Engaging Volunteers Online

Screening Volunteers

Each potential candidate for a volunteer position is usually screened. The extent of screening for each position depends on the nature of the tasks to be performed by the volunteer, eg, whether the volunteer will be working directly with people in a health facility, etc. Screening often involves carefully examining each application, conducting background checks (eg, to verify information in the resume, identify any legal problems, etc.), and interviewing the most suitable candidates.

General Guidelines

Screening and Selecting Volunteers: Powerful Ambassadors or Massive Headaches?
How to conduct volunteer screening
Also consider the topic for employees: Screening Applicants

Application forms

The Volunteer Application Form
What should not be on an application?

Background Checks

Criminal Records Checks for Prospective Staff and Volunteers
Volunteer Background Checks: Giving Back Without Giving Up on Privacy


Screening and Interviewing Volunteer Applicant
Volunteer Screening: The Interview
Also consider the topic for employees: Interviews

Selecting ("Hiring") Volunteers

After candidates have been screened, ideally there is one candidate that seems to be the most suitable for each unfilled volunteer position. Each suitable candidate should be formally (or officially) approached with an offer letter that describes the terms that the organization is offering and the activities that the organization wants the volunteer to conduct. The offer might include any benefits, eg, free trainings, use of facilities for private use, etc.
Sample Volunteer Contract
How to Identify Great Volunteers
Also consider the topic for employees: Selecting (Hiring) New Employees

Orienting and Training Volunteers

If the nature of the volunteer's work is very basic and routine, then a volunteer might require only a very basic and general introduction to the organization and task they are to complete. In contrast, if the nature of the volunteer's work is rather complex, eg, supervising patients in a particular setting in a health facility, then the volunteer will likely require a complex orientation to the organization and also training about, eg, policies and procedures, how to respond to particular situations, when to ask for help, how to use certain facilities, etc.
Volunteer Training and Development Got You Down? Consider Going Online
Also consider the topic for employees: Employee Orientation Programs
Also consider the topic for employees: Training Basics for Supervisors and Learners

Supervising Volunteers (Retaining, Feedback and Motivation, Evaluating, Rewarding, and Firing Volunteers)

Supervision includes a variety of activities, eg, establishing goals with the volunteer, observing the volunteer's activities to achieve the goals, providing guidance so the volunteer achieves the goals effectively and efficiently (ie, has strong "performance"), evaluates the volunteer's performance, rewards strong performance, addresses any performance issues, and fires the volunteer, if necessary. Some supervisors are also closely involved in staffing analysis, development of job descriptions, recruiting, selecting, and orienting and training, as well. The activities to establish goals and provide guidance are usually considered to be the activities of delegation. If the goals are specifically assigned to the volunteer, with little or no involvement from the volunteer, and the supervisor closely watches the volunteer (rather than generally guides them) and provides specific directions, then those activities might more aptly be described as work directing, rather than delegating.

Supervision and Delegation

Supporting, Recognizing and Challenging Volunteers
Seven Steps to Effective Volunteer Support
How to Get the Best from Your Volunteer Workforce
Management and Supervision
Volunteers, Part I: What Makes them Stay?
Volunteers, Part II: What Makes them Leave?
Strategies for Dealing with Unreliable Volunteers
Setting Goals for Your Volunteer Program
5 Critical Questions for Your High Performing Team of Volunteers or Employees
Also consider the topic for employees: Delegating
Also consider the topic for employees: Establishing Performance Goals

Retaining Volunteers

Volunteer Retention
Manage Staff and Volunteer Turnover
Also consider the topic for employees: Retaining Employees

Giving Feedback and Motivating

Also consider the topic for employees: Observation and Feedback
Also consider the topic for employees: Coaching
Also consider the topic for employees: Morale (Boosting)
Also consider the topic for employees: Motivating
3-Step Communications to Re-engage Volunteers
Motivating and Thanking Volunteers


Also consider the topic for employees: Evaluating Performance


Matching the "Thank You" to the Volunteer
Twenty Great Ways to Reward Volunteers
Also consider the topic for employees: Rewarding Performance

Addressing Performance Issues

When is a Volunteer Burnt Out?
Also consider the topic for employees: Performance Plans
Also consider the topic for employees: Recognizing Performance Problems ("Performance Gaps")
Also consider the topic for employees: Performance Improvement / Development Plans


When and How to Fire a Nonprofit Volunteer
How and When to Let a Volunteer Go
Dealing with Difficult Volunteers
Also consider the topic for employees: Firing Employees

Volunteer and Staff Relations

Sometimes employees and volunteers can perceive themselves to be so different from each other that they spend little time together, don't communicate between each other, and eventually experience conflict between each other.
How to Deal With Conflict in the Workplace
Reducing conflict between staff and volunteers

Assessing Volunteer Management Programs

To ensure that the volunteer management system remains high-quality, including that the organization and its volunteers are benefiting a great deal from their relationship, it's necessary to regularly assess the quality of each activity (eg, developing job descriptions, recruiting, training, supervising, etc.) to conclude if the activity is being conducted effectively and efficiently. Results of this overall evaluation should be used to adjust activities. Thus, the cycle of the volunteer management system starts over again.
Volunteer - HR Management system audit
Developing a volunteer program: Initial assessment

Virtual Volunteering

Virtual volunteering is when the volunteer provides their donated services entirely over the Internet or from a home computer. Information about virtual volunteering can be about the entire range of activities in a volunteer management system.
Virtual Volunteering
Virtual Volunteering Research
Virtual Volunteering Guidebook
Wikipedia entry regarding Virtual Volunteering

General Resources

Susan Ellis' comprehensive Volunteer Management Library
Ellis' extensive list of general resources
International Center for Volunteer Effort
Volunteer Today Volunteer Resources
Volunteers of America
Points of Light Foundation
Innovations in International Youth Volunteering

For the Category of Human Resources:

To round out your knowledge of this Library topic, you may want to review some related topics, available from the link below. Each of the related topics includes free, online resources.

Also, scan the Recommended Books listed below. They have been selected for their relevance and highly practical nature.

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