volunteer handbookWriting a Volunteer Handbook? What You Need to Know

Writing a volunteer handbook can act as a key, foundational risk management strategy for your organization.  A robust handbook can help protect your volunteers, clients, and agency from unintended harm by providing guidelines for acceptable conduct.  They’re also a great resource for volunteers when they have questions about a policy or process they may have forgotten or missed during orientation.

If you have been tasked with developing a volunteer handbook for your organization but don’t know where to start, read on for our top tips.

Manage Talent Through Your Volunteer Handbook

A volunteer handbook plays a role in the success of managing your volunteer talent pool.  When a volunteer begins their journey with your organization, they aren’t looking for a resource that will cover key technical aspects of the job they will do.  Instead, a volunteer wants to see how they fit into your organization by learning, through social clues, about “how things are done around here.”   A high-quality volunteer handbook can also inspire volunteers to see what’s possible as a result of their service.

Volunteer handbooks can also help deepen levels of engagement.  When volunteers start, many haven’t yet fully committed to your program and are still checking out how your organization runs.  A well-written, informative, and approachable volunteer handbook answers three critical personal questions your new recruits are asking themselves-  Does this organization have the capacity to make a difference in the world?  Can I make a difference here?  Will I fit in? 

Have Fun With It and Get Creative!

Gone are the days of stuffy, bureaucracy. Write your volunteer handbook as if you were explaining how things work to a friend.  Better yet, recruit volunteers to help create your handbook in their own words. Assign each person a section and include their photo and a short quote about why they volunteer at the beginning of that section.

Consider ditching the beefy, multi-paged document jammed in a 3-ring binder.  Not only will you save money on printing costs, but you can post the handbook on your website where volunteers can easily find it when they need it. Or, write it as a comic book or graphic novel, with illustrations and lots of colors.

It will also allow you to get more creative with the contents. Sprinkle in volunteer and client testimonials. Include photos of volunteers in action or, take photos of clients with hand-held signs that note why they personally appreciate your volunteer team.  To reinforce critical concepts, you can also create an accompanying video of volunteers sharing key points.  

What Should be Included in a Volunteer Handbook?

Now for the heart of the matter- what should you put into your organization’s volunteer handbook?

Below are a some of the categories you should think about including.

  • Organizational Overview – Organization Mission, Org Chart, Staff Roles 
  • Professionalism and Ethics – Representing the Organization, Conflict of Interest Policy, Accepting Compensation, Gifts, Impartiality, Appropriate Use of Organization Resources
  • The Role of Volunteers – Welcoming Volunteers From all Walks of Life, Value & Impact of Volunteers on the Lives of Those They Serve, Paid Staff vs. Volunteer Tasks
  • Workplace Safety  –  Working Conditions for Volunteers, Safety Rules & Checklist, How to Handle Emergency Situations, Reporting of Accidents & Injuries, Contagious Diseases, Client Home Visit Protocol (if allowed), Suspected Abuse or Illegal Activity, Sexual Harassment & Domestic Violence, Alcohol & Drugs
  • Service Standards – Anti-Discrimination Policy, Serving Low-Literacy & Limited-English Speaking People, Professional Boundaries & Risk Management, Liability Protections, Federal Volunteer Protection Act, State-specific Good Samaritan Law(s), Volunteer-Client Relationships, Client Confidentiality, Client Records, Serving People in Crisis
  • Supervision & SupportSelf Care and Wellness, Special Accommodations, Volunteer-Paid Staff Relationships, Confidentiality of Volunteer & Staff Personal Information
  • Training Program – Orientation and Training Course List, Peer Mentoring (If applicable), Schedule, Requirements, Certification Testing (if a highly-skilled, high-risk job)
  • Supervision & Support – Volunteer Coordinator, Other Staff, Time Sheets, Leave of Absence, Travel Reimbursement, Other Perks, Grievance and Complaint Procedure, Technology, Inclement Weather Policy
  • Volunteer Separation and Dismissal – Resignation, Exit Interview, The Right to Progressive Discipline, Reasons for Immediate Dismissal
  • Required Reporting –  Forms, the Importance of Data Integrity, Data Submission Deadlines, Use of Agency-Approved Materials

Putting it All Together

Short on time? Pick areas that represent a high risk for your organization or areas where volunteers frequently have questions.  Don’t forget that volunteers can help determine what you do or don’t need in your volunteer handbook.

Finally, be sure to have your handbook reviewed by your human resources or legal staff.  Just because volunteers aren’t paid, doesn’t mean there aren’t laws or regulations you must follow.  Make sure you’re aligned with your agency’s expectations and the law.

What would you add to my list of Volunteer Handbook “must-haves”?  Add to my list in the comments section.