Volunteer Handbooks: Essential Tools for Volunteer Development
A cursory search on the Internet for “volunteer handbooks” produces disappointing results. Most examples are no more than a couple of pages stapled together, highlighting dress codes, attendance policies and general volunteering expectations—too bad. A well-written volunteer handbook has the potential to revolutionize your volunteer development program. Why? Because it can not only be a valuable tool for recruitment and training of volunteers, but an invaluable reference tool for supervisors and volunteers.
There are some essential steps to take before putting together the perfect volunteer handbook:
- Assess the role of volunteers in your nonprofit
- Are volunteers essential or regarded as an inconvenience?
- Do you “engage” volunteers or “use” volunteers?
- Do you have a board-level volunteer-development committee?
- Do you recruit high capacity, highly educated volunteers for every aspect of your nonprofit?
- Do all volunteers understand their roles, responsibilities and lines of authority in relationship to staff?
- Do you empower volunteers with disabilities or exploit them?
- Do you engage virtual volunteers or isolate them?
- Collect policies and procedures
- Do you have written policies and procedures for the various types of volunteers: board, committee, program, virtual? These should cover issues like recruitment, training, recognition and dismissal.
- Determine handbook format
- Will you have one handbook or one for each type of volunteer?
- Will the handbook(s) be online, computerized or printed?
- Who will design, proofread and edit the handbook(s)?
- Do you have a budget for producing the handbook?
- How will it be updated?
- Decide on handbook contents
You might want to include the following, with hyperlinks for easy access (if computerized and/or online):
- Volunteer rights and responsibilities, code of conduct
- About the nonprofit (vision, mission, outcomes measurements, history)
- Volunteer recruitment policies, procedures and documents (applications, job descriptions, confidentiality forms, criminal background check forms, etc.)
- Volunteer training and orientation policies, procedures, and documents (sample agendas, dates of trainings, effective meeting guidelines, facilitator guidelines, simplified parliamentary procedures, meeting checklist)
- Volunteer recognition policies, procedures and documents (Volunteer of the Year application forms, performance review forms, self-assessment forms)
- Volunteer dismissal policies, procedures and documents
- Legal issues (Good Samaritan law, Directors and Officers Liability Insurance)
- Event calendar, office hours
- Staff and board organizational charts
- Map of the facility
- Photo release
- Expense reimbursement and vehicle use policies and forms
- ID badge policy
- Smoking, alcohol and substance abuse policies
- Timesheets and attendance policies
- Commonly used terms and explanation of abbreviations
- Use of equipment and supplies policies
- Disaster policies and procedures (internal and external)
Once you have collected all this information and answered all the questions, compile it in an order that makes sense to you. Edit it down to the bare minimum. I prefer all policies and procedures in a table format (Figure 1) to make it easy to read. The simpler the better. Write as though it will be read by a 12-year old. Use lots of white space and graphics to keep the interest of the reader.
I recommend using a computerized format and posting it online for easy access by all volunteers. Sections of the board handbook (like board minutes) can be password protected, accessible only by board members. This is because sometimes volunteers are interested in moving from one position to another. If they can see job descriptions from a variety of opportunities (board, committee, virtual, events, etc.) posted online, the chance of them expanding their volunteering increases. And, since volunteers are always the best donors, it will add to your financial resources, too. Just make sure everything is hyperlinked for ease of use.
Another advantage of online volunteer handbooks is you can add short 15 to 30 second videos of clients and volunteers in the “About” section to help in recruitment of more volunteers.
One last caution, if your nonprofit deals with any legal or confidentiality issues, be sure to have your attorney review the handbook prior to publication just to make sure it meets all legal requirements.
Volunteer handbooks can be invaluable in several ways. First, they force you to evaluate your entire volunteer-development program, identifying gaps in your recruitment, training, recognition and dismissal policies, and procedures. Secondly, they are great tools for keeping volunteers informed and engaged with your mission. And, finally, they can be a great way to develop positive brand identity and add more volunteers and financial resources, thus increasing your nonprofit’s long-term sustainability in your community.
For more information and examples, see “Nonprofit Toolkit: Volunteer Handbooks” and “The Four Hour Volunteer Development Process,” both available at www.mldonnellan.com.
M.L. Donnellan has more than 30 years of experience as a nonprofit CEO, motivational speaker, consultant, trainer, mentor and writer. She is the author of more than 60 books, guides and webinars on nonprofit management, which are in use in more than a dozen countries. She just recently published a series of 12 webinars for Nonprofit WebAdvisor's Nonprofit Executive Director Certification program. She has an M.S. degree in administration and a B.S. degree in human resources management.