Why are Policies and Procedures Key to a Successful Volunteer Program?

The task of developing a full, comprehensive set of policies and procedures to govern and guide volunteer involvement in a nonprofit organization is both challenging and worthwhile. The task begins with a statement of the organization’s recognition of the role volunteers play in their ability to achieve their goals and deliver on their mission. This statement is then buoyed by the organization’s commitment to provide the structure, resources and supervision volunteers require to be successful. This sets the stage for increasingly specific policies and procedures governing the environment in which volunteers conduct their work including risk management, code(s) of conduct, professional standards; harassment and discrimination free work places; confidentiality, financial reimbursement,   supervision and support, discipline and dismissal, retention and recognition.  

Policies and procedures reflect the management philosophy of an organization and provide guidelines to help it function with the highest standards possible legally, morally and ethically. Where necessary, rules (sanctioned and enforceable under the authority of the Board of Directors) are clearly stated to protect the organization, and the people impacted by it. At their best Policies and Procedures, act as tools to clarify and communicate, facilitate fairness and equity of treatment, and provide consistency across an organization over time.

Policies and procedures often begin with the “writing down” of how things have always been done. They need not be narrow to a point of being restrictive, but can be useful in casting a wider but definitive set of boundaries ensuring the health of the organization, the “business” it conducts, and the relationships it stewards. Policies and procedures should be stamped with a “best before” date and see the light of scrutiny and revision on a regular basis. Lessons are learned. Legislation often changes. Organizations grow. Many organizations begin the foundation of their volunteer involvement policies and procedures by adopting the Canadian Code of Volunteer Involvement, or the Provincial Association of Volunteer Resources Ontario Standards of Practice. Both sets of standards are excellent in covering the fundamental basis of volunteer involvement.

From this foundation consideration needs to be given to a wide variety of activities and areas within the organization.  Policies and procedures are best if they cascade down from the fundamental policies and procedures at the organizational level and then are reiterated and reinforced within specific areas of the organization. For example, if the organization adopts a policy of non-discrimination, what are the specific policies and procedures within volunteer involvement that create practices that ensure equal access and support to anyone wanting to apply and participate as a volunteer with the organization.

Volunteer involvement policies and procedures do not require any special formats or templates. The same language guidelines that apply to sound policy and procedure development apply to volunteer involvement policies and procedures – clear and definitive. The degree of detail varies from organization to organization. Striking a balance between overly detailed (largely ignored) policies and procedures, and those characterized by brevity and “discretion” (inviting inconsistently) is the important work of the Board of Directors in consultation with staff and leadership volunteers.

Policy and Procedures to consider for your organization:

Policy Area

Why and how do you involve volunteers?

Role Descriptions


Interviewing, selection and placement


Risk Management - Health and Safety training and provisions; Criminal Records Check; Vulnerable Sector Check; First Aid; WHIMIS; Crisis Management

Orientation and Training – agency wide, department,  role specific, record keeping

Access and use of information technology

Access and use of equipment

Intellectual property

Relationships between staff and volunteers

Relationships between volunteers and client group(s)

Conflict Resolution

Conflict of Interest



Code of Conduct

Human Rights Code and Discrimination

Harassment Free Work Place

Accessibility and Inclusiveness



Supervision and Support


Discipline and Dismissal