Volunteering is an important part of many organizations, providing valuable skills, services, and support. But managing volunteers can be a challenge. That’s why having a volunteer handbook is so important.
A volunteer handbook outlines expectations for both volunteers and organizations, providing guidance and clarity. It sets out roles and responsibilities, outlines procedures, defines policies, and answers questions - even the ones you didn't know you had.
This comprehensive guide will walk you through the best practices for creating an effective volunteer handbook.
Understanding Your Organization's Needs
Your volunteers need to understand the needs of your organization as well as its mission and values. This way you can be sure that everyone is working toward the same goals, and contributing in a meaningful way.
Defining Your Organization's Mission and Values
At any nonprofit's inception, it's important to define its mission and values. This helps set the right direction for the organization and guides all decisions.
- Start with an overarching mission statement that defines why your organization exists and what it hopes to accomplish.
- Create a set of core values that will guide how the organization operates and interacts with others.
Make sure these values are communicated to all members of the team, so everyone is on the same page.
Identifying Volunteer Roles and Responsibilities
It's essential to have clearly defined roles and expectations for each volunteer, as well as the organization they're supporting. A good way to start is by developing a framework that outlines the scope of work for each role.
In addition to providing your volunteers with the necessary information, you also need to make sure they have the tools and resources they need to do their jobs effectively. Make sure they have access to any materials they need, such as handbooks or training manuals, and provide ongoing support and feedback throughout their volunteer term.
Assessing Policies and Procedures
This assessment involves understanding the goals of the organization and how current policies and procedures support those goals. It also includes gathering feedback from volunteers and assessing their satisfaction with the organization and its services.
With this information in hand, you can make informed decisions on how to refine existing policies and procedures and create new ones that better serve the organization's mission. Additionally, you can use the assessment to identify areas of improvement for the organization and develop strategies to increase volunteer satisfaction.
Key Elements of a Volunteer Handbook
Writing a volunteer handbook is a great way to showcase your organization's accomplishments and provide guidance to volunteers. Create your volunteer handbook by starting with these key elements:
Table of Contents
A table of contents with jump links makes it easier for people to navigate your document online quickly. Even in the printed version, people can reference the table of contents to turn right to the page they need to review.
Include a welcome letter from a staff leader, community engagement director, or even a fellow volunteer. This letter helps create a connection between staff and volunteers.
Think about how you want your volunteers to experience your organization. Do you want to sound friendly and inspiring? Use language that will help you come across this way. Be sure to mention how much volunteers mean to your organization and the community by giving thanks for their interest and support.
The About section should include your mission statement, background about the organization, your impact on the community, and your aspirations.
It's important to provide some context about your organization's background and its place in the community. Show potential volunteers how their work will be making a difference in your district. Also, take this opportunity to talk about the outcomes you hope to achieve in the future and how volunteers are key to reaching those goals.
Get volunteers excited about all the ways they can get involved! Review your volunteer projects and programs. For each one, give a brief explanation with examples of the work.
If you're going to post your volunteer handbook online, include web links that point to the projects page. If you're printing the manual, why not throw in a QR code that takes volunteers straight to your online volunteer opportunity listings?
How to Get Involved
A video tour of your volunteer website, online portal, and facility is a great way to get new volunteers up to speed on the key elements and features of your organization. A screen capture tool can be used to give them a guided tour of how to use your portal, from signing up for an opportunity to bringing a friend, logging hours, and canceling a shift. If you are printing the handbook, provide step-by-step instructions and images to help guide them.
Volunteer Policies and Code of Conduct
It's understandable to expect volunteers for your organization to follow certain standards of behavior, whether they're participating online or in person.
- Violence, Discrimination & Harassment: A volunteer handbook is key for volunteers to comprehend the expectations and conduct standards of the organization. It should include a straightforward statement disallowing any sort of violence, discrimination, harassment, and sexual harassment in the organization.
- Social Media: If any of your volunteers want to post about their volunteering experiences online, you should provide a few key points that answer these questions: Do you want them to share their experiences on social media? What tags, hashtags, and accounts should they use? How do you want them to represent your organization online? And, what content should they avoid posting?
- Privacy Statement: The privacy of the community you serve is paramount. Make sure your volunteers understand that. Write down the procedures for keeping personal data secure, and how best to discuss private issues. Talk about the confidentiality and safety of your volunteers' information. A good volunteer management software can help you keep volunteer details safe and sound.
- Health and Safety: Explain COVID protocols, emergency evacuation plans, and site maps. Let volunteers know what risks they may face and how to stay safe. You can even provide copies of any volunteer waiver and release forms. Just make sure everyone is aware of the possible dangers and knows how to avoid them.
Get all your training documents, e-learning materials, and videos organized in one place. Use this space to put down the major takeaways from your volunteer training program as well. The major takeaways from the volunteer training program should include:
- Understanding the mission and purpose of the organization and its volunteers
- Knowing the roles and expectations of a volunteer
- Understanding the rules and regulations related to volunteering
- Learning how to effectively communicate with staff, other volunteers, and stakeholders
- Understanding the organization’s policies and procedures
- Learning how to effectively represent the organization in different settings
- Developing problem-solving skills and a sense of responsibility
- Knowing how to manage time and prioritize tasks
- Learning about cultural sensitivity and diversity awareness
- Being aware of safety protocols and emergency procedures
- Understanding risk management strategies for volunteers and staff
You also need to make sure volunteers know who to contact if they need to give feedback or make an official report. Include a list of the staff, their roles & contact info, so everyone knows who to reach out to.
Writing the Volunteer Handbook
A volunteer handbook needs to convey important information to your volunteers while also being relatable and easy to understand. The key is to keep your language clear and concise and to organize the content in a way that is easy to digest. This will help ensure that your volunteers not only understand the content but can use it.
To create an effective handbook, start by breaking down the content into sections just like we presented above. This way you can focus on one topic at a time and make sure all of the information is clear and organized.
When writing, use language that is easy to understand and avoid overly complicated words or phrases. Instead, try to write as if you were speaking directly to your volunteers, so they get the message.
Visuals and examples are essential for helping volunteers understand new information. Images, diagrams, flowcharts, and even videos are all great tools for illustrating key points. Using real-life examples from current or past volunteers can help demonstrate the practical application of the handbook.
Examples of Volunteer Handbooks
United Way needs donations to supply the programs and services that give to people who need the basics for a great life. This generates sustainable changes in their local areas. For this to be possible, they need plenty of volunteers which is why they put together a volunteer handbook.
You can see all of the basic elements we listed in this guide. From the table of contents to the various sections organized by theme, this handbook is well organized and formatted to accommodate lists and photos.
Start Creating Your Volunteer Handbook
A volunteer handbook is a great way to get essential info into your volunteers' hands. It's a guide they can use during onboarding and beyond. It's also great for volunteer leaders because it'll help you save time by having answers to common questions ready. Plus, having key info written down can help keep volunteers around longer.
Civic Champs is designed with volunteer retention in mind. Not only do we help you manage your volunteer program more easily. We're also concerned about the administrative portions of your nonprofit. With this guide, you can start creating your volunteer handbook which will boost volunteer engagement.
As CEO of Civic Champs, I lead our team of passionate change leaders to create technology solutions to create a seamless and rewarding volunteering experience for both volunteers and service organizations.