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The Importance of a Volunteer Handbook

By Heather Brown
November 20, 2015

A volunteer handbook is a key foundational risk management strategy. It will help to protect your volunteers, clients, and agency by providing guidelines for conduct, procedures, and policies.The handbook serves three major purposes: relaying crucial organizational information, establishing clear expectations, and emphasizing the importance of volunteers. By providing this information with your volunteers upfront, you welcome them to your agency and ensure that they understand their role and responsibilities.

Begin your handbook with a welcome letter. This is an opportunity to create an open environment and explain the essential role that your volunteers fulfill. Keep the letter brief and avoid using technical terminology, acronyms, or jargon. It is best to have the letter written by the Executive Director or a board member to relay how very important the volunteers are to your organization.

Once you have welcomed your volunteers, create a section in your handbook to relay important organizational information. Utilize this segment to briefly explain the background and history of the organization and your plans for the future. Include your vision and mission statements so that your volunteers understand the core values of the agency. This will help your volunteers to take ownership of your mission and goals. It is also necessary to explain your expectations for your volunteers and what they can expect from their involvement with the organization. This is a great space to provide a list of the rights and responsibilities of a volunteer so that they are clear on what their involvement with your organization will entail.

No handbook would be complete without a section for policies and procedures. It can include everything from legal concerns to best practices. However, make certain that only those regulations and processes that have been approved and implemented by your organization are included. This area may contain different things for different agencies, but it is essential to utilize this section to explain things like eligibility requirements, background checks, confidentiality policy, codes of conduct, and any other policy that your organization has in place. Additional areas that you may want to cover in this section include safety and emergency procedures, media relation procedures, grievance or dispute procedures, attendance, dress code, conflicts of interest, photo release, and social media policies. A complete policy and procedures section allows your organization to lay out the expectations for your volunteers, as well as, manage your risk by having your volunteers sign an acknowledgement of receipt of these policies.

Volunteer handbooks relay all the information that your helpers will need to be successful. So if you have additional information such as a glossary of terms, commonly used acronyms, contact information, maps, calendar of events, and answers to frequently asked question consider adding these as well. Make the handbook your own by including whatever information is important to your organization and your volunteers. As long as you have covered the information that was mentioned above, you will have a functional guide for how to successfully volunteer in your organization.

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