Volunteers - The Lifeblood of a Nonprofit Organisation

Vol. 13 No. 5: May 2014


 “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.” 

Elizabeth Andrew

 “Volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the earth who reflect this nation's compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain love for one another.”

Erma Brombeck

 A nonprofit organisation cannot fulfill its mission without volunteers. The process of seeking out and recruiting volunteers as well as keeping them engaged and ensuring their continued participation is ongoing and critical to the success of the organisation.



 The board of directors is responsible for overseeing the organisation’s use of volunteers. This can be achieved by the board as a whole, through a human resources committee or through a separate committee focused on volunteer engagement and management. Importantly, directors should satisfy themselves that appropriate policies and documentation are in place.

 Do we adequately screen volunteers?

An organisation should be very careful about whom it selects or approves to provide volunteer services. Although not employees, these individuals may be able or expected to hold themselves out as representative or agents of the organisation. As a result, the organisation could find itself responsible for wrongful acts done by the volunteer. Depending on the nature of the activity being performed and the population with which the organisation works, background checks, including screening for criminal records, should be performed for volunteers.

 Are there job descriptions for volunteers?

There should be clear descriptions of the roles and responsibilities of volunteers with the organisation. These will vary depending on the role played by the volunteer. Some volunteers participate at a single event, whereas others are involved in a long-term commitment to the organisation. Volunteer job descriptions should make it clear that volunteers receive no compensation and are under no legal obligation to continue volunteering for the organisation.

 Do we have contracts/volunteer agreements?

It is a good practice to require volunteers to sign a document acknowledging that they understand their role within the organisation as being that of a volunteer and not an employee. In some cases, it may be prudent to obtain signed releases and waivers of liability. Many organisations also require volunteers to sign codes of conduct and confidentiality agreements.

 What training, supervision and management do we provide for our volunteers?

Volunteers should receive training, supervision and management to ensure that they are performing their duties in a safe and effective manner to the benefit of the organisation. Appropriate supervision and guidance will also help make the experience more rewarding for volunteers.

 Do we adequately recognise our volunteers?

Recognition of volunteers is an integral part of ensuring they feel valued by a nonprofit.  The motivation to volunteer is different for every individual, so recognition should reflect that. Consider the list of ways to recognise volunteers:

 Free recognition

·       Thank the volunteer in person.

·       Greet the volunteer by name.

·       Send a handwritten thank you note.

·       Post a volunteer of the month spotlight in a prominent place.

·       Highlight your volunteer in your organisation’s newsletter.

·       Include an article about a volunteer on your organisation’s website.

·       Call out your volunteer on your social media sites like Facebook or Twitter if they are particularly engaged in technology.

·       Invite them to help in the recruitment of new volunteers.

·       Invite volunteers to attend your staff or board meeting to share their ideas or experiences.

·       Host a potluck for the board, staff and volunteers. Everyone can bring his or her favorite dish to share while meeting new people.

·       Ask local businesses for coupons, gift cards or discounts that you can share as rewards.

·       Put up a volunteer suggestion box. (Be sure to use some of their suggestions or talk to them about why some may not be feasible.)


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