A Volunteer Handbook Sample that Will Help Guide Your Volunteers

It’s amazing to me how many volunteer programs don’t have a volunteer handbook.  Many more don’t have a standard onboarding process.  Volunteers need a GPS (global positioning system) to help guide them through the orientation process and get familiar with your new environment.   With this volunteer handbook sample of contents, you can create a guide that can act as your program’s personal GPS.

If you aren’t helping people make a smooth transition, you are risking the possibility that they will drop out early.  Worse yet, without clear information about their roles and responsibilities, new volunteers may develop unrealistic expectations about what you can offer.   Managing expectations is really important in volunteer management, but even more critical during the initial phases of volunteering when new recruits are still checking you out and deciding what their level of commitment will be.

Your Volunteer Manual is your organization’s GPS system, with your organization programmed as the home address.  It helps your volunteers locate where they are, see where they are headed, figure out how long it will take to get there.   Do your volunteers a favor — don’t ask them to wander in the wilderness.

Volunteer handbooks not only help volunteers, but they also help your organization manage risk.  If in the odd chance you have trouble with a volunteer, the handbook documents that you shared the rules, roles, expectations, grievance procedures, etc. with your volunteers early in their placement with you. 

Finally, what a nice way to say “Welcome; we’re glad you’re here!  So, much so that we’re going to take the guesswork out of volunteering, so you can focus on why you came here in the first place — to make a difference!”

A volunteer handbook sample of contents

Contrary to what I’ve seen a lot of out there, a volunteer handbook is not a compendium of technical information your volunteers need to know to do the job you are training them for.  Rather, it is a manual that lists the policies and procedures you expect them to abide by as well as the support they can expect from you.  They don’t need to be boring, either.  You can include photos and inspirational quotes, and you can design it in any shape or format you’d like.  Any format will work as long as the information is there and easy to access.

What else should you include?

Here is a long list of things you might include.

  • A Heartfelt Thank You — a letter of gratitude from a leader (either executive management, the board chair, or a respected community leader)
  • Info about Your Organization — don’t assume they know a lot about you; include things such as mission statement, history, programs & services, organization chart, community partners, map of program sites, key funders, etc.
  • Philosophy of the Volunteer Program — volunteers need to know why they are important to your operations (answer the question “Why Are Volunteers Here?”), the value & impact of volunteers, the right to volunteer, volunteer scope of work and roles, paid staff vs. volunteer tasks, right of refusal
  • Ethics Guidelines — multiculturalism/anti-racism, sexual harassment, domestic violence, mandated reporting, alcohol and drugs, maintaining professional boundaries, volunteer-client relationships, volunteer-paid staff relationships, client service, conflict of interest, prohibition on affiliations, accepting gifts or compensation
  • Working Conditions — info about workplace safety, reporting accidents and injuries, guidelines for working with contagious diseases, procedures for working off site (if allowed), tips for emotional and physical self-care, how to request special accommodations
  • Customer Service — service standards, client referrals, serving limited-English speaking, serving people with mental challenges and disabilities, serving friends and relatives, crisis management
  • Required Paperwork and Reporting — the use of approved materials, confidentiality, client records, whistleblowing, required forms and records (answer the question “Why is reporting important?”)
  • Training — responsibilities of the organization, expectations for volunteers, training modules, schedule, certification, continuing education, train-the-trainer opportunities
  • Perks — volunteer recognition, volunteer awards and celebrations, reimbursement, stipends
  • Supervision and Support — staff roles, attendance, timesheets, leave of absence, resignation, dismissal, the right to progressive discipline, reasons for immediate dismissal
  • Volunteer Feedback — exit interview, grievance and complaint procedure, program evaluation
  • Volunteer Protections — Volunteer Protection Act, insurance coverage
  • Resources — helpful web sites, marketing materials, how to order, office supplies, how to use office equipment
  • Attachments — contact list for key staff, sample marketing materials, etc.

What if I Don’t Have Time to Develop a Volunteer Handbook?

It’s time to delegate!  Ask a committee of veteran volunteers or board members to help you out.  It’s a relatively easy task, as long as all of the policies and procedures have been decided.  If not, think about hiring a consultant to help you think through the decisions that need to be made.