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4. Volunteer Policies and Procedures

  • Introduction
  • What are policies and procedures?
  • Getting started
  • What should be included?
  • Volunteer policy checklist
  • Introducing new policies and procedures to existing volunteers


The very mention of policies and procedures can give some managers a headache so let's start by dispelling two myths: policies and procedures don't have to be complex and wordy and they don't take forever to write.

Policies and procedures are often about writing down what you are already doing Make it a manageable task by keeping it simple and doing it over a period of time. Remember to go back to it regularly and update it if necessary.

Having a volunteer policy is essential for organisations intending to involve volunteers; it underpins effective volunteer management. A volunteer policy will help to:

  • clarify volunteer roles and responsibilities
  • establish values, beliefs and direction for volunteer involvement
  • strengthen good relationships within the team
  • ensure continuity over time and from staff to staff
  • formalise current practice

What are policies and procedures?

A volunteer policy states your position and/or your belief about something. It gives direction and guidelines for making decisions. Policies tell people what to do. For example, you should have a policy on volunteer expenses which clearly states under what circumstances volunteers will be eligible to make a claim.

A volunteer procedure describes the steps and sequence of activities that support a policy. Procedures tell people how to do it. For example, your expenses procedure will tell your volunteers how they apply for expenses and how much they can claim.

Getting started

It's common to feel a bit overwhelmed by policy-making so here are some tips to keep the task manageable:

  • Remember that policies are often about writing down what you are already doing
  • Policies don't have to be complicated. In fact, the more straight-forward the better
  • Individual policies can be written over a period of time
  • Prioritise according to which policy is most needed
  • Don't reinvent the wheel: if there are similar organisations with established policies and procedures see if you can get a copy.

Think creatively about how the task can be achieved. One possible option would be to delegate the task, or parts of it, to a small group. If your organisation already has volunteers, involve them in the process too.

Ask existing volunteers would any of them like to be involved in a new challenge or Recruit a volunteer with knowledge and expertise to help draft the document.

What should be included?

The volunteer policy should reflect what your volunteers and organisation need. When making a list of what to include, think about the order in which the policies should be written. Start with the policies which you need most and don't avoid the more contentious ones.

Volunteer Policy Checklist

Have you a policy on Yes/No Next steps (write/review)
Why you involve volunteers

Role descriptions

Recruitment and selection

Relationships between volunteers and the team/management

Relationships between volunteers and the client group

Training and development

Working conditions


Support and supervision



Involvement in organisational structures

Dealing with problems

Download the Word version of the Volunteer Policy Checklist Word document icon

Policies should be written in the present tense, using clear and concise language.

Below is an example of what an expenses policy might include.

Expenses Policy

The cost of volunteering should never be allowed to discourage volunteering. Volunteers will be reimbursed for out of pocket expenses incurred directly as a result of their volunteering activity.

Expenses include

  • public transport to and from the service: up to a maximum of €5 per day or the cost of disc parking for the hours worked
  • mileage allowance for travel agreed in advance with the manager
  • lunch allowance of €5 if working over 4 hours
  • exceptional costs agreed in advance with the manager
  • specialist protective clothing or other essential equipment
  • car insurance

The procedure follows the policy:

Procedures for claiming expenses

  • costs can only be reimbursed for receipts submitted
  • volunteers must submit an expenses form to the manager for approval
  • expenses must be submitted within one month of being accrued
  • expenses will be reimbursed within 10 working days of being submitted

Introducing new policies and procedures to existing volunteers

While most volunteers will welcome having policies and procedures in place, you may find resistance from some volunteers. They may see their introduction as threatening or unnecessary, too formal, contrary to the spirit of volunteering or too closely resembling a paid work situation. If volunteers have concerns you need to acknowledge them and look at how you can promote the positive aspects of having a volunteer policy and minimise the concerns of volunteers.

Keep in Mind

  • The introduction of policies and procedures will make the volunteer programme better for everyone.
  • Change can be hard to implement. Make sure you promote the positive aspects of having policies and procedures.
  • Policies and procedures are often written in response to unforeseen problems. Avoid this by being ready.
  • Involve the team in drafting policies. Set up a working group or involve people on an interest basis.
  • Start by introducing a policy which the team will welcome.
  • Be firm that everyone will have to follow policies and procedures that are agreed.
  • Accept that the introduction of more formal volunteer management may result in volunteers leaving.

Further information sources

Ask other volunteer involving organisations for a copy of their Volunteer Policies & Procedures

Volunteer Development Agency (2001) As good as they give: planning volunteer involvement, Volunteer Development Agency: Belfast, Northern Ireland


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