People volunteer for an endless variety of reasons. Many people want to gain experience, acquire new skills, meet new people, or expand their network of contacts as a way to get a new job or start a career. Others just want to give back to their community, help a friend, or promote a worthwhile activity. They do it because it makes them feel good. It gives them what some describe as a "private smile."

Even though volunteers are willing to give a great deal of their talents and free time, they are an asset that is largely underutilized. If your organization is thinking about developing a volunteer program but don't know how to create a volunteer handbook, look no further. Here are six important sections to make sure you include in your handbook:

Section One: <Your Organization Name> and our Volunteers

Here you set the stage by describing the value your organization places on its volunteers. You can describe the history of volunteerism in your organization, what your volunteers have experienced (testimonials are great), what is expected from volunteers, and current issues of concern to your membership. You may even choose to address the barrier that most organizations face: lack of time. By stating upfront that you invite volunteers to contribute as much or as little time as they can commit to, you create a safe place for volunteers with a limited amount of time to contribute.

Section Two: Planning Responsibilities

In this section you can introduce your strategic plan and budget and explain how each volunteer unit is required to serve the plan's vision, mission and objectives. An important element of this is to familiarize your volunteers with the key strategic objectives of your organization so that they appreciate the context of where they fit into the bigger picture. It is recommended that your strategic plan be available to all volunteers and its location in your CRM system noted in your volunteer handbook

Section Three: Training Volunteers

High performance organizations conduct in-person orientation sessions for new volunteers and new volunteer teams (which typically include experienced volunteers). The information covered at orientations should be summarized in your volunteer handbook.

Section Four: Working as a Team

It is helpful to provide an organization chart in your volunteer handbook that establishes reporting responsibilities and clearly delineates the roles of staff and volunteers so that volunteers understand what to expect from staff and what is appropriate communication with staff. It is helpful to include contact information in your volunteer handbook of people in your organization that volunteers can turn to, for example: volunteer coordinators, staff, tech support, etc.

Section Five: Succession Planning for Volunteers

Many volunteers want to understand their promotion options and the qualifications required for different volunteer positions. By making terms of reference for all volunteer positions/units available in your volunteer handbook, volunteers can plan their own aspirations. It is also practical to provide a reference to how long a volunteer can serve on each unit. If your organization has volunteer recognition and/or service award programs, these should also be explained in the volunteer handbook.

Section Six: Appendices

This is where you should present the templates your organization uses for schedules, timesheets, incident reports, customer feedback, etc. You should also include details about insurance and liability, expense reimbursement forms, and the policies and procedures that volunteers are required to follow (that we discussed earlier). These should also be referenced in the main body of your volunteer handbook.

To learn more on creating your volunteer handbook and how you can develop a top-notch volunteer program, download our free guide today!

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