Volunteers may play an exceptionally important role in your organisation. Make sure you know how to look after them and ensure that their volunteering is well managed and effective for everyone involved.

Volunteer policy

As well as being responsible for paid staff, your management committee will be responsible for deploying your volunteers effectively. So it is essential that your written policies should include volunteers. A volunteer policy is a written statement of the aims and values of an organisation, and the role that volunteers have in it. Volunteers should know what they can expect from their volunteering, and what  you expect from them.

Many voluntary organisations tend to assume that their volunteers have no legal rights, but this is a dangerous assumption to make. Depending on the degree of formality in the way in which volunteering is organised, volunteers can qualify for legal protection under employment law. Increasingly, volunteers are recruited under volunteering agreements that cover grievance and disciplinary procedures and equal opportunities. Whilst it is good practice to respect the contribution of volunteers in a formal way, you should be aware that the greater the degree of formality in the arrangement, the greater the chance of legal relations being created.

Nonetheless, it is still important to outline clearly, in writing:

  • the time commitment needed from the volunteer. This should include the actual volunteering tasks and time for attending supervision and training
  • a role description that gives a realistic picture of the tasks they will be expected to do
  • the personal qualities and behaviour required
  • your policy on expenses
  • their investment in the organisation, scope for representation etc.

Recruitment

When recruiting volunteers, it is important to have an interview process and to take up references. This is because volunteers may be in positions of responsibility, working with vulnerable people and dealing with the organisation’s assets. Where volunteers have substantial access to children or vulnerable adults they may also need to be disclosure checked.

A good formal volunteer recruitment process can help impress upon a volunteer the importance of their role, and help them decide themselves whether they are suitable for the post.

Some organisations experience difficulties in recruiting enough volunteers. But this should not lead to a lowering of standards, particularly when placing volunteers with vulnerable clients. For assistance with recruitment of volunteers contact your local Volunteer Centre who can advertise your opportunities online and work with you to recruit from the people who contact them. Find your local Volunteer Centre.

Volunteer Development Scotland also have a wealth of information about all aspects of volunteering.

Training & support

Once recruited, it is vital to ensure that all volunteers are properly trained, supported and insured. Remember that it is a two way contract and volunteers want something in return for their efforts. Providing support is not always straightforward. Sometimes volunteers will be working alone and dispersed. The times that they are available may not automatically coincide with the hours staff work. Arranging support and supervision requires forethought and flexibility. Peer support can be important and useful to volunteers. Many people volunteer as a form of socialising. This can be helped by organising events that bring volunteers together.

Payment of volunteers

Volunteering is an opportunity for people to give their time, energy and skills. No volunteers should be out-of-pocket as a result of their volunteering. Where someone incurs expenses as a direct result of their volunteering activities they should be reimbursed. This ensures that individuals are not excluded from volunteering on the basis of income. Out of pocket expenses for volunteers may include:

  • travelling expenses
  • other subsistence costs – food and drink
  • any special clothing or tools
  • training
  • childcare.

Organisations should ensure that they do not pay volunteers expenses at a flat rate, regardless of the actual expenses incurred, as this greatly increases the chance that the relationship will fall within the scope of employment and discrimination law. Payment of out-of-pocket expenses to a reasonable level is legitimate and should not give rise to any tax liability, problems with benefits, or charity law.

Organisations should:

  • produce detailed guidance on expenses
  • provide all volunteers with information about claiming out-of-pocket expenses
  • establish a system for reimbursing expenses which reflects the organisation’s commitment to paying expenses as part of equal opportunities and enables volunteers to claim expenses without embarrassment
  • budget for volunteers’ expenses.

Third Sector Mediation

Find out about our mediation service, run in partnership with Scottish Mediation.