How do I Write a Handbook for Volunteer Organizations?

red people concept image by Gongea Alexandru from

Volunteers are the life blood of a nonprofit organization. Many nonprofits don't have enough staff to run an organization effectively so volunteers fill the gap. Organizations that develop and highlight policies and procedures for their volunteer program and that define the roles and responsibilities of volunteers reap the benefits that accompany a first-class volunteer program.

Write an introduction. Include the name of the agency, the mission statement and core values, a list of staff members and a list of board members. Volunteers not only help with projects but are also ambassadors for your organization. They have to know how the agency works and the people who represent the agency in an administrative capacity. Also include information on whom the agency serves, what it does to help, and the programs it supports.

introduce the agency to the volunteers in the first paragraph of the handbook and welcome them. Although volunteers are not paid staff, they must be treated with respect from day one. Be sure to recognize their value as central to the mission of the organization. Write two short sentences to thank the volunteers in advance for their service to the agency and to let them know how central they are to the mission.

Create the handbook in an 8 1/2-inches-by-11-inches format, or preferably 6 inches-by-9-inches, so it is easy to carry and volunteers can keep it handy for reference. The handbook can also be put in a three-ring binder so updates can be added easily. Set up policies and procedures in a step-by-step manner using simple, clear language. Don't use $10-words to make points. Volunteers come from all educational backgrounds, and the language of your handbook should be at an educational level anyone can understand.

Create job descriptions for the volunteer positions. Describe the roles and responsibilities so volunteers can pick the position that best fits their interests. Job descriptions will help your agency match volunteers to an appropriate volunteer opportunity. People volunteer for different reasons, and they have different skills. A good job description will allow volunteers to choose the right opportunity for them and for your organization. Add sample copies of sign-in sheets, registration forms, etc. Agencies have database tracking for volunteer hours: time sheets help make tracking hours easier.

Describe the types of initial and additional training available to the volunteer. List orientation dates and how they can update their skills or learn new ones. Develop a calendar of dates for training and orientation. Inform volunteers if they need to sign a confidentiality statement. If they do, review the statement with them, answer any questions and explain the reason for the statement. During volunteer orientations, review the volunteer handbook carefully and allow time for volunteers ask questions. (It is always nice to have simple refreshments at the volunteer orientations.)

Describe the process for screening volunteers. Let them know if they need a background check, if the volunteer position they choose has special licenses, risks, medical clearances, TB tests, badges and so on. If they expect to drive for the agency, explain what type of insurance they must have to do so, or any additional insurance they would need to work as a volunteer for your agency. Explain any liability issues, and have waivers for signing if you have high-risk volunteer positions. Volunteers have to know the risks of certain volunteer opportunities. Make sure to include the waiver forms, and during orientation, explain the rationale for them and give volunteers the option of signing these forms. This process will protect the agency in the event of an accident.

Explain how volunteers qualify for awards. If the agency has a recognition program, outline when it is held, how the agency recognizes volunteers, if it is a gala event, luncheon or special awards ceremony, and the event dress code. If the volunteer recognition event is a special occasion for volunteers, describe it so they understand that the staff of the agency becomes "the volunteers" for this event, and the volunteers become the guests.


  • Sometimes a volunteer experience does not work out for either party. Make sure you have a termination clause in your handbook and designate who implements it.


  • Respect volunteers, appreciate their efforts and their time, and recognize their needs with an informative handbook that outlines everything they need to know.