Get all your volunteers on the same page with a volunteer handbook!
Any organization with a volunteer program can benefit from using a volunteer handbook or manual. This resource not only acquaints volunteers with your organization and its initiatives, but it also helps you make the most of your volunteers’ time.
Ready to write a volunteer handbook that empowers? Follow along from the start or click a section below for quick navigation:
What Is a Volunteer Handbook?
A volunteer handbook is a resource designed to help prepare volunteers for their roles. A volunteer handbook may serve several functions, but it most often documents information volunteers need to know to understand your organization, its purpose, what you expect from them when working with you, and more.
A volunteer handbook, or volunteer manual, often supplements an organization’s volunteer orientation and training programs.
Empower your supporters by providing key information about volunteering with your organization at their fingertips.
Does My Volunteer Program Need a Handbook?
Most of us need important information in writing to best absorb it. Your volunteers are no different.
Any volunteer program can benefit from creating a volunteer handbook. The handbook is your volunteers’ guidepost which they can reference throughout onboarding and beyond.
A handbook will benefit volunteer leaders like you, as well. It will save you time by anticipating and addressing frequently asked questions. Plus, writing down key information your volunteers need to know to do their jobs well can even improve volunteer retention.
What Should I Include In a Volunteer Handbook?
Every organization is unique, meaning each volunteer handbook will look slightly different. First and foremost, include the information you feel is important for volunteers to know. Don’t worry, we’ve included a suggested volunteer handbook outline for guidance.
Whichever materials you choose to include in your handbook, we recommend using clear, concise language. That’s not to say you can’t have a little fun with it! After all, your handbook sets the precedent for your organization-volunteer relationship.
Volunteer Handbook Outline
Great volunteer handbooks record organization highlights and volunteering guidelines. Start with these sections:
- Table of Contents
- Welcome Letter
- About the Organization
- Programs and Initiatives
- How to Get Involved
- Volunteer Policies and Code of Conduct
- Training Materials
- Staff Directory
Table of Contents
A table of contents is necessary for any lengthy document. Create jump links (as we did in this post) to help volunteers click through sections easily.
Welcome volunteers with a personal letter from a staff leader, community engagement director, or even a fellow volunteer.
This letter sets the tone and establishes an initial connection between staff and volunteers. Think about how you want your volunteers to perceive your organization. Do you want to sound friendly and inspirational? What language can you use to come across this way?
Next, your letter should discuss how important volunteers are to your organization and your community. Finally, thank them for their interest and support.
About the Organization
This section should acquaint volunteers with your organization by presenting these points:
- Mission Statement - The mission statement is your organization’s guiding star. All staff and volunteers should be aware of the mission statement that drives their work.
- Background - Place volunteer positions in context by providing background about your organization and the community you serve.
- Community Impact - Inspire volunteers by demonstrating the impact that your program and its participants are already making in your community.
- Goals for the Future - Finally, discuss your intended outcomes for the future. How are volunteers critical to helping meet these goals?
Programs and Initiatives
Get volunteers excited about all the ways they can participate! List your volunteer projects and programs. Provide brief descriptions of each, including examples of volunteer jobs.
If you’ll keep your volunteer handbook online, including web links to the projects’ page. If you’re planning to print the manual, why not include a QR code that leads volunteers directly to your online volunteer opportunities listings?
How to Get Involved
What’s the easiest way to get volunteers up to speed on accessing key areas and functions of your volunteer site?
A video tour of your volunteer website or online portal is especially helpful (if you choose to store your handbook online). Using a video screen capture tool, show volunteers how to:
- Navigate the Volunteer Portal
- Sign Up for an Opportunity
- Bring a Friend
- Log Hours
- Cancel a Shift
If you are printing the handbook, provide step-by-step instructions and accompanying images instead.
Volunteer Policies and Code of Conduct
Whether participating on-premises or virtually, your volunteers are representatives of your organization. So, it’s fair to expect certain behavior when volunteering. The goal of this section is to communicate these expectations and state the consequences of breaking your code of ethics.
Workplace Violence, Discrimination & Harassment Prevention and Reporting Procedure
A volunteer handbook clearly defines expectations and codes of conduct. Volunteers understand reporting procedures and consequences for violating your organization’s rules.
Include the following information in this section:
- A clear statement prohibiting workplace violence, discrimination, harassment, and sexual harassment.
- Define the terms “violence,” “discrimination,” and “harassment.”
- Describe the procedure for reporting any incidents, including a person of contact. Assure the confidentiality of any volunteer or staff member who reports an incident.
- Describe the grounds for dismissal and consequences of unacceptable behavior.
Social Media Policy
Some of your volunteers will want to share their experiences online. Provide a brief statement that addresses these common questions about social media:
- Will you encourage volunteers to share their experiences on social media?
- What tags, hashtags, and accounts should volunteers reference?
- How do you want volunteers to represent your organization online? What content do you not want to include online?
Confidentiality and Privacy Statement
Your volunteers may work directly with clients or deal with sensitive cases and information. That’s why the privacy of your clients is critical. Drive home the point in writing so that volunteers maintain and respect the confidentiality of clients and community members.
Outline procedures for keeping client details secure and best practices for discussing clients.
You can also discuss the confidentiality and safe storage of your volunteers’ information. How are volunteer contact details, background checks, and other data stored? How can you ensure the security and confidentiality of their data? A robust volunteer management software keeps volunteer information secure, so you can rest assured.
Safety and Liability
Provide COVID protocols, emergency evacuation procedures, and site maps. List possible risks involved in volunteering and safety considerations, as well as tips for avoiding these risks. You may want to include copies of your volunteer waiver and release forms.
You can also use this section to summarize key points from your volunteer training program.
List staff members, their roles, and contact information. Provide volunteers with procedures for communicating feedback, including point(s) of contact.
Formatting Your Volunteer Handbook
You’ve written the handbook content. But what’s the most effective way to deliver it?
Volunteer handbooks are typically presented either digitally or printed (or both!). Your handbook should be simply designed and well-organized so that volunteers can reference specific sections easily.
Some programs (like this one) will choose to create a web page on their volunteer website or portal to house the handbook. This is a great idea if your volunteers are generally comfortable using the web.
If you’re aiming for a print-only handbook, compose it in a Word document or Google Doc for easy editing and printing.
Opting for both online and print versions? Trying creating a PDF. Note: You can turn any Google Doc into a PDF by simply selecting the “Download” button in the “File” menu. You’ll be able to upload this PDF to your website, attach it to an email, or store it in a shared drive.
Volunteer Handbook Examples
Need some inspiration? Check out these effective volunteer handbook examples:
- Community Action House Volunteer Handbook
- Five Rivers MetroParks Volunteer Resources
- Council of Nonprofits Model Volunteer Handbook
- United Way Volunteer Handbook
It’s time to prepare your volunteers for great work, and let the handbook writing begin!