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Blog > Write good job descriptions

Write good job descriptions

posted on Nov 29, 2017

by Maria Lahiffe

Writing good job descriptions is a key step in your volunteer recruitment. Job descriptions are the foundation of many important processes, such as recruitment, selection, setting expectations, training, performance management, and risk management. Start with a clear wall and a big pile of sticky notes.

Start with your mandate

When writing job descriptions, start with your organization’s mandate. This means that this process should be repeated after a strategic retreat, when the board has renewed its strategic plan. If you already have volunteers working for you, then set those job descriptions aside for this process. Start from the organization’s mandate, which will usually be your mission statement.

For example, the mandate of Volunteer Ottawa is: VO builds community by strengthening the non-profit sector.

Break it down

Your board, during its strategy session, will likely have decided on three to four key functional areas. These are the main areas of endeavour through which you achieve your mission statement. For example, VO works in three key functional areas:

  1. recruiting volunteers,
  2. building non-profit organizational capacity, and
  3. fostering collaboration between the non-profit sector and other sectors, such as private sector and government

Break it down further

Each of these functional areas needs to be broken down into components, and each component needs to be broken into tasks. Documents which can help with this breakdown process include the strategic plan, budget documents, contracts, and promotional materials.

For example, some of the components of VO’s capacity-building function are as follows:

  • develop curriculum
  • create a schedule
  • manage the location
  • promote seminars

Each of these components needs to be further subdivided into tasks. A task is an action which can be completed in a set time period, usually between three hours and three days, by someone with a defined skill set. For example, the component of developing curriculum, above, can be divided into the following tasks:

  • skill analysis
  • instructional design
  • presentation skill training
  • assessment

Identify necessary qualifications

Once you have identified the tasks which need to be done, the next step is to identify the attributes of the person who would be most likely to achieve the task successfully. Consider

  1. qualifications, e.g. university degree
  2. skills, i.e. abilities gained through education, job experience, and/or life experience
  3. personal attributes, e.g. analytical, good with people, patient

Compare with existing job descriptions

This exercise should be repeated each time the board re-evaluates the organizational strategy. Once you have developed task descriptions and identified necessary qualifications, compare these with existing job descriptions. You will likely need to communicate these changes to the volunteers already working with you, so that they can continue to do work which advances your mission.

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Volunteer Canada, "A Matter of Design: Job design theory and application to the voluntary sector," 2001. [Online]. Available:
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