Human Resources

Developing and Managing Volunteer Programs

Best practices for developing volunteer programs in this article include: mission statement, vision statement, needs assessment, goals and objectives, budgets, and position description. Grantees challenged to meet their required in-kind may find this information useful.

Best Practices for Developing a Volunteer Program

Planning for your volunteer program gives you the opportunity to work out the purpose of the program, the role of volunteers in the organization, the program's contribution to the organization's mission, and how the volunteer program fits into the structure of the organization. Planning is best done with input from those who will be affected by the volunteer program, particularly the leaders, the paid staff, and the clients of the organization. A thorough planning process will include the following elements:

Mission Statement: Why does the volunteer program exist?

A mission statement is a sentence or short paragraph that states the purpose of the volunteer program and the needs the program addresses. A volunteer program's mission statement should impart a sense of purpose among paid and volunteer staff, helping each to understand the importance of the work they do, and how each complements the other.

Vision Statement: What will the future be like because of the volunteer program?

A vision statement provides a description of what the world will look like when the mission is accomplished. It should address everything the program strives to change, for example, the larger community, the environment of the organization, and the well-being of the clients.

Needs Assessment: What needs will the volunteer program address?

Formal and informal input from community members, paid staff, and clients will help focus the talents of volunteers where they can be of most assistance. Input from paid staff will also help allay any concerns they may have about effectively working with the volunteer program to meet unmet needs. Obtaining input from the people being served at this initial stage helps to build investment and support for your volunteer program.

Goals and Objectives: What will be the impact of the volunteer program?

Defining measurable goals and objectives gives your volunteers a clear picture of what needs to be accomplished and provides the agency with a way to evaluate the program. Measurable goals incorporate what will be accomplished, by whom, how often, and to what extent.

Budget: What is the budget for the volunteer program?

"Volunteer" does not mean "free." Be sure to determine the financial, in-kind, and human resource support necessary to develop and sustain the volunteer program. A good starting point for a volunteer program budget would be a line item for each of the sections of this publication. For example, include in the budget expenses for developing policies and procedures, producing and disseminating recruitment materials, conducting background checks, obtaining training supplies, and hosting recognition events.

Building Investment Among Staff: How will you prepare paid staff to work with and manage volunteers?

After obtaining input from paid staff on the design of the volunteer program, keep them informed as the program develops. Report successes. Ask for help in resolving problems. Provide training for staff on the workings of the volunteer program. If they buy in to the volunteer program, paid staff will create a welcoming environment for volunteers. If not, they may give volunteers the impression that they aren't valued. Make clear to paid staff that volunteers are brought in to support and enhance their work, not to replace them.

Position Descriptions: What will volunteers do?

Position descriptions are critical to the success of your volunteer program. Your agency is most likely to be able to recruit and retain volunteers if you offer clearly defined positions that take into account a volunteer's needs as well as yours. Every volunteer should receive a written position description that includes: his/her title, the purpose of the assignment, the results to be achieved, suggested activities, evaluation criteria, qualifications, time frame, the site where the volunteer will work, supervision, and benefits.