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How to set up a volunteering programme

If you haven’t involved volunteers in your organisation before or are thinking about starting a volunteer programme or project this guide aims to covers some of the key things you need to think about.


Identify the need for volunteers

A key starting point is to identify how you plan to engage volunteers in your organisation. You may already have some ideas for volunteer roles in mind, but there might be others you had not previously thought of. Once you’ve identified some tasks for each of the volunteer roles, then you could write a volunteer role or task description, as these will help explain to volunteers what you need them to do, and what you wouldn’t expect them to do. Remember that these aren’t written in stone, so they can be adapted according to the individual’s capabilities and needs. Don’t forget to review the role or task description on a regular basis with the volunteer. If their role changes over time, then the role or task description can be modified to reflect this.


Involve staff and other stakeholders

Try to get other stakeholders in your organisation to recognise and support the need to set up a volunteer programme. Some staff may be sceptical about the value that volunteers could make to your organisation, or they may be afraid that volunteers will be used to replace paid posts. It can be useful to organise a meeting to discuss the issues and bring these fears out in the open. Techniques such as staff talking in pairs and then feeding back to a larger group can encourage more openness. By discussing your ideas for volunteer involvement with other staff at an early stage, you should be able to put their fears to rest, and demonstrate to them that volunteers, rather than being a hindrance, can actually be of huge benefit, not just to the organisation, but to its end users and the wider community too.

Developing a volunteer strategy for your organisation could help you to articulate your reasons for involving volunteers and your vision for how this will work and align with the mission and objectives of your organisation.


Consider practical issues

On a practical note, it's important to look at space and equipment. Volunteers will need adequate physical space to work in, and may need access to phones, computers and other equipment depending on what their actual role will be. It can cause real friction to introduce volunteers to already cramped accommodation, so check that your organisation is able to accommodate the volunteers that it intends to recruit.


Design and plan your volunteer programme

You will probably find it helpful to design a framework for your volunteer programme. This may include a volunteer policy or handbook, which will inform staff and volunteers how volunteers will be involved at an operational level including:

  • background information about the organisation and the role of volunteers
  • relevant policies and procedures related to volunteer expenses, health and safety, insurance cover, monitoring and evaluation
  • information about the support and supervision arrangements that the volunteer will receive, including training and induction processes

How much will it cost and do you have adequate resources in place?

While volunteers give their time for free, it's unfair to expect them to be left out-of-pocket for any volunteering activity they carry out for your organisation. It’s good practice to have a budget so that you reimburse expenses they incur while volunteering. You will also need to consider any other costs associated with you programme. This may include:

  • training for volunteers and the volunteer co-ordinator/manager that will enable them to fulfil their roles
  • publicity materials for recruiting volunteers (you may also want to consider providing information in alternative formats and other languages, depending on who you're targeting)
  • the cost of staff time for admin including processing application forms, producing recruitment materials, contacting applicants etc

Set aside time to support and manage your volunteers

All volunteers will require some level of support and management. In some organisations this role is undertaken by staff but it can also be a role that volunteers undertake too. The level of management and support you provide should be proportionate to the roles volunteers are undertaking.

It's important to acknowledge the skilled and complex role of those who manage volunteers. With the exception of the very smallest organisation, every organisation will probably need one person who is the main point of contact or lead volunteer co-ordinator/manager. This may be a member of staff or a volunteer.

For some people, volunteer management may just be part of their role and so for staff just part of their job description. Some organisations have a member of staff or volunteer who focuses just on volunteer management. If you are intending to recruit a new post, then you will need to factor this into any funding bids for your volunteer programme. If you are asking a member of staff to take on this role in the organisation then you should consider what training they may require to take on the role and the costs associated with this. It may also impact on the time they are able to spend on other work and they may need additional support. If volunteers are managing volunteers they may also require training and support.


Think about sustainability

If your project is time limited or you have a limited amount of funding you should consider at the beginning of the project how you will seek to make it sustainable or think through what you will do when it comes to an end. This will include being open and clear with volunteers involved how long the project is funded for and what might happen to their role at the end. It’s important to have these discussions early so that volunteers are clear about what they can expect.

Developing partnerships with other organisations who involve volunteers in similar roles can be a way to ensure that you can signpost volunteers to other opportunities should they wish to continue volunteering beyond the life of your project or programme.

Further information


Page last edited May 10, 2017 History

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