Managing a Volunteer Programme

The Community Life Survey tells us that 29% of adults in England said that they had formally volunteered at least once a month in the previous year, and 44% said that they had volunteered at least once in that year. If applied across the UK, this equates to 15.2 million people volunteering at least once a month.  Volunteers come from a range of backgrounds and lifestyles; they will bring different benefits to your charity and will have different needs.

Volunteers are amazing people who bring new skill sets, life experience, energy and perspective to an organisation.  Since they give an irreplaceable gift of time, it is only fair to plan a programme of exciting and meaningful projects for them.  Here, Janine Edwards, one of the FSI’s trainers, shares her top tips for managing a volunteer programme.

Getting Started

The key to planning a strong volunteer programme is clearly defining your offer for existing and potential volunteers and knowing your volunteers well.    Remember that retention is important too.   As you develop your volunteer programme you may need to recruit new or different volunteers.  Think about the type of volunteers that you would ideally like to involve and consider what motivations and barriers they might have to volunteering for your organisation.  

Steps for planning the volunteer programme

Look at your organisation’s objectives; your starting point is your strategy and business plan.  What opportunities do you have to involve volunteers within your activities?  This could be anything from service delivery, supporting or planning an event to fundraising.

Define who, why, when and where you will recruit, defining and targeting your recruitment message to tap into your potential volunteer’s motivations.  Have your application pack and procedure ready before you recruit and link with other staff and volunteers internally to ensure that your induction pack and your induction plan are approved and in place before the start of the programme.

Dealing with Difficult Situations

Life isn’t always perfect so there may be occasional difficult situations that you will need to deal. In general, adopting good practice measures from the start can help prevent problems from arising.  Set out clear expectations on both sides and make sure that your volunteers receive appropriate support. For example, regular one to one catch-ups can enable potential difficulties or concerns to be detected and resolved at an early stage, before they become a real problem.

When a volunteering relationship isn’t working, formal action is not the only option.  For example, can you offer a different role, location or group of people to work with that is a better fit for their skills and experience?  Can you provide some 1:1 training or support in their role?  Remember burn out is not unusual in stressful volunteering situations. A break or change to a less demanding role could help with this.

Retaining volunteers – stewardship

Connect your volunteers to the values and passion of your charity, sing their praises internally and externally and demonstrate their impact.  Take them with you on your journey.

Put an appropriate, consistent and timely stewardship plan in place and remember that retaining your volunteer base makes your organisation stronger, increases your social capital and appeals to funders.

Legalities and Best Practice Guidelines

For best practice guidelines check  and remember to consider legal issues and risks around employment law regarding volunteering.

Make sure that you are up to speed with the implications of volunteering on your organisation; check health and safety legislation, your insurance information and that your internal policies and procedures account for volunteer involvement and are communicated to staff and volunteers.


If you are interested in learning more, sign up to the FSI’s Managing Volunteers 1 day training course, available at a range of dates and locations:

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