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Blog > Why do you need a volunteer handbook?

Why do you need a volunteer handbook?

affiché le 4 mai 2018

by Maria Lahiffe

A good volunteer handbook underpins and supports all aspects of your volunteer management practice. It puts important information into one place, for your reference as well as for your volunteers.

Volunteer management can be considered as a cycle [1]


Planning leads into recruitment, which leads in turn into Orientation & Training. After a volunteer is onboarded, supervision and monitoring is necessary to a successful volunteer placement. Lessons learned throughout the process feed into future planning. All of these practices, done well, contribute to volunteer recognition and retention.


It’s been said so often that it is cliché: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Thing is, it is cliché because it is true. Planning is essential. In the context of a volunteer management practice, planning includes clarifying why your organization wants volunteers (not necessarily as obvious as it sounds), and developing quality job assignments, each of which is directly linked to the organization’s mandate.

The job assignments may or may not make it into a general volunteer handbook, but a good handbook will certainly elucidate why volunteers are important to the organization – because they are volunteers. Your handbook should also clearly state the mission of the organization, and how each organizational function serves that mission.


A big part of recruiting volunteers is tapping into their individual motivations for volunteering. Almost all volunteers do so because they care about the cause that the organization supports. [2] This is why it is so important to be clear about your organizational mission and also about how each organizational function supports that mission. Your handbook can put that into words.

Orientation & Training

Orientation and training are the first line of support after placing volunteers in their positions. This is where you help volunteers develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary to be successful on the job. A lot of that knowledge will be about your organization – mission, vision, values, policies, and procedures. All of these should be in the handbook for reference.

Your handbook can also specify training needs for specific departments or positions, so that you and the volunteer can track their progress against department needs and their own goals.

Supervision & Monitoring

Performance management is essential to volunteer success. Volunteers need to know what is expected of them, and to be held accountable for meeting those expectations. When those expectations are written down, it very much simplifies the process of managing performance. You can refer to the handbook, which outlines the behaviours required by your organization, then explain how the volunteer’s behaviour is different. By making it about the behaviour, not the person, you keep things on a professional level and put the onus of responsibility on the volunteer to self-manage.


Effective volunteer recognition needs to be embedded throughout your volunteer management practice. Some volunteer recognition ideas include: [3]

  • Develop a volunteer policy for your organization
  • Devote resources (time and money) to volunteer support
  • Enable volunteers to grow on the job
  • Solicit volunteers’ input before imposing new policies and procedures
  • Conduct an exit interview when a volunteer leaves

These particular ideas can be incorporated into your volunteer handbook.

A good-quality volunteer handbook is essential to the success of your volunteer program.

Want to learn more? Come to an upcoming workshop.

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Related blog posts:

[1] K. Seel, Volunteer Administration: Professional Practice, 3rd ed., K. Steel, Ed., Lexus Nexus Canada, 2016. [2] D. Lasby, "The Volunteer Spirit in Canada: Motivations and Barriers," 2004. [Online]. Available: http://www.imaginecanada.ca/sites/default/files/www/en/giving/reports/volunteer_spirit.pdf. [Accessed 27 July 2017]. [3] Volunteering Australia, "101 Ways to Recognise your Volunteers," [Online]. Available: https://volunteeringaustralia.org/wp-content/uploads/VA-Managers-101-Ways-to-Recognise-Your-Volunteers.pdf. [Accessed 29 March 2018]. [4] Volunteer Canada, "The Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement: Values, Guiding Principles, and Standards of Practice," 2012. [Online]. Available: https://volunteer.ca/content/canadian-code-volunteer-involvement-2012-edition. [5] Volunteer Canada, "2013 Volunteer Recognition Study," October 2013. [Online]. Available: https://volunteer.ca/vdemo/engagingvolunteers_docs/2013%20Volunteer%20Recognition%20Study.pdf. [Accessed 29 March 2018].
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