by Maria Lahiffe
Your volunteer handbook is an important investment in organizational productivity and risk management. People who give their time and their heart to your cause deserve to know what is expected of them, how to keep themselves safe on the job, and how to react to the unexpected.
We started telling you some of the important things to include in your handbook in our last blog post. Read on for the rest of the list.
Every organization has procedures which are general to the organization, such as
This is also where you’ll include information such as the photocopier code, how to dial out (Dial 9? Can volunteers make long-distance calls? Are there limits to that?), how to access voicemail, and any other quirky information about your organization, such as which microwave to use when heating up lunch.
A general volunteer handbook is not a good place to include job-specific procedures, unless they impact people who perform many functions.
Remember that there is a difference between orientation and training. Orientation is general to the organization and will be common to all incoming staff, paid or unpaid. Training is job-specific.
Supervision can be touched on earlier in the organizational overview, which could indicate reporting relationships. As for support, if the job is a stressful one, it is worth including information about self-care, including resources people can access if they need additional support to do their job effectively and sustainably.
Nobody wants to discipline a volunteer, but the situation can arise. Give some thought to processes and guidelines ahead of time, so that you and your volunteers know what to expect. Everyone has a right to progressive discipline, including honest and impartial feedback which outlines what the volunteer can improve on and how, as well as supports they can access in their improvement efforts.
You could also use this section to discuss processes related to a volunteer resigning from your service. You may ask for a certain amount of notice. It is also always a good idea to conduct an exit interview, to learn what was positive about the volunteer’s experience with you, and what you can improve upon. You’ll get better answers if you include the interview questions in this section of the handbook, so that people have a chance to think about them beforehand.
Include copies of any forms here, along with guidelines on how to fill them out. This is also a good place to emphasize the importance of data integrity. Are there data submission deadlines? Let your volunteers know. Should your volunteers use specific agency-approved materials for part or all of their work? Make that clear in this section.
This is a long list of things to include. Obviously, if you’re starting from scratch, you won’t get it all done in a day. Start with the most important information – the stuff which represents a high risk for your organization or where your volunteers have the most questions. Also, don’t forget that volunteers themselves can be an excellent resource in fleshing out the handbook and making it relevant.
One last piece of advice: get your volunteer handbook reviewed by a lawyer and/or a human resources expert. Just because your volunteers are unpaid does not mean they do not have rights. Make sure your handbook is in line with the law and your organization’s HR policies.
Come to our upcoming workshops, where Lola Dubé-Quibell will guide you through the full process of creating a high-quality volunteer handbook. Creating a Volunteer Handbook 101: learn the theory of what should be in a volunteer handbook, and why. Creating a Volunteer Handbook 201: bring your laptop to this interactive session, in which you will actually write your volunteer handbook under Lola’s expert, empathetic guidance.
Volunteer Ottawa offers a comprehensive suite of courses related to volunteer management. Click here for more information, and to register. Subscribe to our Event RSS Feed to be among the first to know when a new workshop is added to the schedule.
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