The Fundraiser - Practical advice and insight for the charity sector

Posted in How To Guides Volunteers

6 practical tips for running a great volunteering program

Carly Whyborn delivers her top tips on how to recruit and make the most of volunteers for your charity


Implementing a volunteer programme can bring huge benefits to your charity. Volunteers are vital in the day-to-day work at Battersea Cats and Dogs Home; from socialising the animals and gardening, to working in our offices or doing the laundry. They have extended the services we offer and volunteer positions give individuals the chance to make a difference in their community. Follow our six-step guide below to get started.


1. Identify the skills gap

Your volunteer strategy and policy should be need-driven. Start by asking your staff where they need assistance and how they think volunteers might benefit the organisation. If your paid employees feel involved with volunteers from the outset, you will see a close working relationship develop once you have them on board. Plus, knowing that volunteers are there to enhance what they do and not replace them is reassuring to those on the payroll.

Itís also important from a volunteer perspective to be clear why you are recruiting to ensure that those who are donating their time are carrying out roles they will enjoy and find beneficial. 


2. Be prepared

Make sure you have adequate insurance coverage in place for volunteers; think about whether they will be on your site or elsewhere, and whether they will be handling cash (or in our case, animals!). Often your public liability insurance will mention volunteers, but ask your insurance provider too. Carry out risk assessments, thinking about the activities volunteers will carry out, and reduce risks as much as you can. 

If you work with children or vulnerable adults, consider whether you need to vet your volunteers; DBS (disclosure and barring service) checks are now free for volunteers. If your volunteer will be left solely responsible for anyone who falls within these groups, you may be asked to provide proof that you have carried out a DBS check.


3. Spread the word

Promote volunteer roles on your own website and ask your supporters to help you spread the word that you are recruiting volunteers. Supporters and local communities will already be aware of and committed to your aims. Speak to your local volunteer centre, use websites such as do-it, or contact local or even national press. 


4. Make the right choice

Think about your application process Ė will you use an application form, carry out group assessments or individual interviews? The volunteer role you are recruiting for will determine some of these answers. Many people volunteer to meet new friends Ė give them this opportunity from the outset.

Donít be scared to say no. If someone isnít a good fit for a volunteer role, donít be tempted to take them on just because they want to help, as this may cause problems later on. Provide feedback on why they are not a suitable candidate and, if you can, suggest other ways they can get involved.   


4. Manage expectations

Without creating a contract, itís important to manage the expectations of potential volunteers; be clear what the role covers and what activities this includes. Clarify how many hours you need a volunteer for, and if this will take place on a specific day. Have a training plan for each role and be clear on who will manage the volunteer and how they will be able to do this. Managing volunteers does take time, but investing in your volunteer programme will ensure you get the very best out of it. 

You should place no contractual obligation on a volunteer (for example, promising them training for a specific number of hours volunteered). However, you can create a written policy for volunteers. Knowhow NonProfit has lots of advice on writing a volunteer agreement (


6. Value your volunteers

Ensuring your volunteers feel valued, as well as retaining their skills, knowledge and enthusiasm is vital. Think about creating regular volunteer forums to gather feedback, introduce photo-boards so staff can recognise volunteers, hold volunteer parties (consider using Volunteersí Week in the first week of June every year as a time to get everyone together) and communicate with your volunteers to recognise their contribution.

You could even consider creating a volunteer handbook setting out the way in which you hope a volunteer will conduct themselves. This could include your equal opportunities policy, instructions for using your systems, data protection and social media policy. Have a clear behaviour policy, setting out what is likely to happen should volunteers not behave appropriately.

It is also good practice to reimburse volunteers for out of pocket expenses, such as travel or postage against a receipt. 


Carly Whyborn is volunteer manager at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home


This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 28


Leave a comment