The seven policies your volunteer program must have

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In your volunteer program, it is likely that you have a number of policies and procedures that ensure things run smoothly. Maybe you created the policies yourself, or they’ve been in place for years, or it’s someone else’s responsibility to make sure your policies are up to date. But did you know there are seven important policies that your volunteer program has to have to be successful?

Let’s start with four that are specific to your volunteer program:

1. Role Creation and/or Position Description Policy. This policy should be in place to help you and anyone in your organization create meaningful volunteer roles. This ensures that any perceived need for a volunteer undergoes a consistent process, such as a role planning procedure or risk assessment, before a role can be created. In addition, having consistent guidelines for position descriptions will make it easy for potential volunteers to know what the role entails and if they’d be a good fit.

2. Screening Policy. A screening policy is the key to the successful selection and placement of volunteers. Your policy should include the whole process, from the initial application to the volunteer’s first shift, and should be consistent for everyone in your organization. Consider how volunteers apply to roles, what they’ll need to send with their application (like a resume or cover letter), how the interview process will look, and how you’ll contact references, if necessary. You can also use the screening policy to determine what roles would require a Police Reference Check.

3. Feedback & Evaluation Policy. You might be used to giving volunteers feedback on the fly but an evaluation framework in your policy manual can make it easy to plan for both informal and formal feedback for your volunteers. Do you have a probation period? Do you offer monthly or yearly evaluations? Do you have systems in place for volunteers to give YOU feedback? An evaluation policy should cover all of these considerations, and is useful for establishing what kind of support you can offer to volunteers.

4. Dismissal Policy. If you can only implement one policy on this list, this is it! A dismissal policy allows you to set the parameters for what behaviour and/or performance leads to volunteer dismissal. This can include specific circumstances that could lead to a dismissal without warning, as well as levels of consequences, warnings and discipline that could lead up to dismissal. Make sure your dismissal policy is created before you dismiss a volunteer, so that everyone knows what steps to follow and the process is consistent for every volunteer.

The next three are policies that your organization likely already has in place and that correspond to some specific legislation – I’ve included the relevant laws for Ontario, but these can vary across the country. You may want to create your own version of each policy for the volunteer program depending on how information, volunteer selection and supervision are managed, respectively:

5. Privacy & Personal Information Policy. If you’re a government agency in Ontario, your Privacy policy will connect with the Freedom of Information Protection of Privacy Act, but for most organizations, the Federal Personal Information Protection & Electronic Documents Act governs collection and use of personal information. Since volunteers will be providing their personal information (such as contact, medical & emergency info), you’ll need to collect consent and let them know why this information is being collected and how it’ll be used and stored.

6. Accessibility Policies. In Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires every staff member and volunteer to receive training on the Customer Service Standard of working with clients with disabilities. Your policies should cover this training as well as your organization's own customer service procedures, but you should also include a policy on accessible hiring and volunteer selection. Acknowledge that you’ll do your best to accommodate the needs of volunteers with disabilities, when possible, and that your screening process will be accessible and inclusive.

7. Workplace Violence & Harassment Policy. Under Ontario’s Occupational Health & Safety Act, your organization should have guidelines around workplace violence & harassment prevention. These guidelines and protections should be extended to volunteers (although not legally required) and may necessitate different processes for dealing with complaints. This policy can also inform the assessment of risk related to potential violence and harassment, along with joint health & safety committees that could (but often shouldn’t) include volunteers.

Building your policies – and the procedures to accompany them – can seem like a daunting task. Don’t forget to use your volunteers as a resource to support the development of policies; some might even be able to write them with you! Also consider your organization’s system for policy development and revision – is the board involved? Is a committee involved? Is there a staff member who normally handles this sort of thing? Follow the systems you already have in place to make these policies a reality, and make sure every volunteer knows about them once they’re a part of your program.

If you’re looking for more ideas, you can find a number of sample policies from the HR Council (adaptable for volunteer programs) or in Volunteer Toronto’s Volunteer Management Resource Library.

Sammy Feilchenfeld is the Training Coordinator at Volunteer Toronto. Working with volunteer managers and coordinators from Toronto’s voluntary sector, Sammy develops and delivers in-person, on-demand and online training on a variety of volunteer management topics and trends. Volunteer Toronto is not a legal aid service and the suggestions in this article are provided for advisory purposes.

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