Volunteering has become an increasingly popular activity in the U.S. Today, more than 77 million Americans volunteer annually, collectively giving nearly 7 billion hours of their time to charitable causes. Volunteers are an invaluable asset to nonprofit organizations across the country and to the people they serve.
Though volunteers are distinct from paid employees, that doesn’t mean organizations shouldn’t create and follow policies for volunteers. Developing a volunteer handbook that includes policies similar to those for employment will help all parties involved, including the volunteer, your organization, and the people you serve. Let’s look at six pivotal policies of a volunteer program.
1. Screening Policy
It’s understandable to feel grateful and eager when people want to volunteer with your organization, but it’s wise to take the time to screen applicants before allowing them to volunteer. By implementing a comprehensive screening policy, you can learn about a volunteer’s strengths and weaknesses and place them in a role where they will thrive. You can also learn about their general suitability to ensure they do not pose any threat to your organization or the people you serve.
Screening policies may include any combination of the following:
- Verifying the written application information, such as age
- Following up with personal references
- Conducting a comprehensive criminal background check
- Checking the National Sex Offender Public Registry
- Looking up the applicant’s driving record
- Conducting interviews
Organizations should use any screening procedures needed to ensure their volunteers are well-suited to their roles within the organization, even if that role is short-term. Whether you partner with a third-party provider or conduct screenings yourself, make sure applicants first give their consent to undergo a background check.
2. Position Description Policy
Screening applicants isn’t the only way you can successfully place volunteers. Position descriptions can go a long way toward helping volunteers find their fit. An applicant can read the details and determine whether they should apply to volunteer for that role or look for one that would be more suitable. Write detailed descriptions for each of your volunteer opportunities, including pertinent information like:
- Technical qualifications required
- General skills needed
- Time commitment
- Activities/tasks involved
- Location of the work
Volunteers should not enter a role with any uncertainty around what they’re getting into. Instead, they should feel informed and empowered to get started as a volunteer with your organization. Of course, orientation procedures can help them learn more about their role and your organization, but you can contribute to a strong start by informing volunteers even before their first day.
3. Privacy and Personal Information Policy
Since the application and screening process necessitates obtaining volunteers’ personal information, your organization needs policies for how you will handle these details. These may include volunteers’ home addresses, emergency contacts, driver’s license number, and even Social Security number, for instance. Only ask for the data you need to effectively screen and manage volunteers.
You should create policies to determine how you will handle volunteer information. This policy should address questions like:
- How long you will retain information after a volunteer has left your organization
- Who in your organization has access to view these details
- Where you will store volunteer data and how you will restrict access to it
- If and under what circumstances you would disclose volunteer information to someone
If you plan to share volunteer details with others or use their contact information to place them on your mailing list, fully disclose that. You should also get volunteers’ consent if you plan to take photos of them you might post online or use in the press.
4. Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy
The Volunteer Protection Act (VPA) provides immunity for volunteers who inadvertently cause harm. However, the VPA does not apply if the harm is due to “willful or criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct, or a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of the individual harmed by the volunteer.” An example of this situation would be a volunteer becoming violent with staff, other volunteers, or beneficiaries. You could prosecute a volunteer in this scenario, but how would you handle the incident at the time?
As with any organization, nonprofits should have policies for their employees regarding workplace violence and harassment. Organizations’ leaders should consider how these policies extend to their volunteers. Consider what steps your organization will take to prevent and handle situations of harassment or violence in the workplace. Think through possible scenarios, such as a volunteer experiencing harassment from someone outside the organization, a volunteer harassing an employee, a beneficiary becoming violent with a volunteer, and so forth. Don’t wait until one of these challenging circumstances occurs to figure out your policy.
5. Feedback and Evaluation Policy
A helpful way to create volunteer program policies is to think of your volunteers as employees. Of course, there’s a difference between people donating their time and people who are on your organization’s payroll. However, just like your employees, volunteers can be the face of your organization, and as such, they need feedback on their performance. Evaluating a volunteer’s work performance may seem presumptuous, but offering feedback can encourage volunteers and help them thrive in their roles.
In your volunteer policies manual, include an evaluation framework, including information such as:
- How often you will give volunteers feedback
- What form evaluations will take
- How you will assign mentors or supervisors to assess volunteers’ performance
- Whether you will also have an avenue for volunteers to offer feedback
- Who will be able to view a volunteer’s evaluation
6. Dismissal Policy
In a perfect world, you would never have to dismiss a volunteer from their role. Unfortunately, even well-meaning people who want to help others can be a poor fit for your organization’s mission and goals. In the some cases, volunteers may have the wrong motivations for volunteering or lose interest and stop showing up. To prepare for these unfortunate scenarios, every organization should implement a policy that defines the procedure for dismissing a volunteer.
Think through some circumstances that would necessitate a dismissal. For example, Oregon Senior Medicare Patrol’s Volunteer Risk and Program Management handbook lists 11 potential, though not exhaustive, reasons why the organization might let a volunteer go. Among them are serious issues like being intoxicated while on volunteer duty, committing illegal acts like theft, or mistreating beneficiaries. In some cases, a less urgent issue may necessitate a dismissal if it’s a repeated problem you’ve attempted to address with the volunteer to no avail.
Manage Your Volunteers With Volgistics
As we’ve seen, managing volunteers should not be a haphazard process. With the right policies and management tools in place, you can enjoy a productive and positive relationship with your volunteers.
Volgistics delivers end-to-end management of volunteers, allowing you to manage application forms, store volunteer information, create schedules, generate reports and more. Contact Volgistics today to learn more about how to manage your volunteers more effectively and conveniently using our cloud-based software solution.