The benefits of doing your volunteer training online with Intuto are clear, so let’s begin with creating your volunteer handbook – essentially the master document of your training program – to include in your course. It should be the first thing volunteers read as they embark on your online training program, and they will refer back to it for the duration of their volunteer period.
Obviously, this template is just a recommendation and you will need to adapt it to your specific organisation with relevant information and sections. But following this format will give you a solid foundation for a strong volunteer handbook.
It’s also important to remember that you can use and reuse your online volunteer handbook with minor adaptations for subsequent events or training in different locations.
A warm letter of welcome from a CEO, executive director or even volunteer manager will remind people of the reasons they are volunteering for your organisation – whether it’s to make a difference in the world or share in a love of sport – and show your appreciation for their help. This kind of personal touch is especially important for larger organisations, where volunteers can feel like just numbers, and helps to reduce attrition further down the line. It’s a good idea here to also offer avenues they can take to seek assistance.
Important information about your organisation
It’s likely your volunteer already has a good idea about what your organisation is and does, but this is a good place to cement this information. In the unlikely instance that your volunteer has the wrong idea about your organisation you can clear it up here, and give them a chance to withdraw themselves before they get too far into the training. In this section, you should include:
- Your organisation’s mission statement. This is the most important thing for your volunteer to be clear on – after all, it’s what inspired them to join your organisation.
- Your organisation’s objectives. This includes a more specific breakdown of the organisation’s aims and goals, and defines the activities and actions it will undertake with the help of your volunteers.
- Impact statement. This section gives your organisation context. Why is it important? How does it affect your community? What good are you doing, or aiming to do? This section is important for creating a connection between your organisation and your volunteers, giving them an understanding and a sense of pride in the work they are helping you to do. In this section you can have testimonials from both people who have benefited from your organisation and volunteers who can attest to the personal enrichment they’ve gained from the program.
- Organisational chart. A chart that clearly lays out your staff and volunteer hierarchy, or chain of communication, is extremely useful to new volunteers (and paid staff, for that matter). A clear chart will also save time as volunteers know exactly who they report to directly, who to speak to in various situations and where to direct members of the public for their queries. If your organisation is affiliated with other organisations or businesses, also include a chart to clarify external relationships. It helps to list essential phone numbers and email addresses in this section.
This is the kind of nitty gritty information that volunteers need to know in order to smoothly transition into your organisation. Having it clearly marked in the handbook will make it easy to find when they need it – and one of the benefits of having an online handbook is that they will always have access to it.
- Site map. Maps of venues and areas may be useful to new volunteers, and if possible should be backed up by a physical tour. Make sure they know where to check in, eat lunch, find supervisors etc. Take advantage of online functionality and include a link to Google Maps so volunteers can plan routes, etc.
- Emergency procedures. Who are your emergency supervisors? Where are the fire exits and first aid kits? What’s your policy on various emergency situations?
- Parking. Let volunteers know where parking is available, how much it costs and where to apply for permits or register a vehicle.
- Communications. Give volunteers a way to stay in touch with each other and the organisation by including links to Facebook groups, Twitter handles, Instagram pages and EDMs, and by sharing information about regular meet ups and social gatherings.
- Media policy. Volunteers must be aware of how to respond if approached by the media. The simplest way is to give them contact details for the person designated to deal with that, and a party line they can use in any situation to ensure consistency in communications and prevent misinformation.
You may require volunteers to read and sign a confidentiality agreement to protect the organisation and its clients. You should lay out volunteer confidentiality obligations clearly and have volunteers electronically sign.
Now that your volunteer clearly understands the organisation, you can move on to their role within the organisation.
Start with why volunteers are so important to your organisation, including all the different contributions volunteers make. Clarify the relationship between and differences between volunteers and paid staff.
Ask your volunteers why they have chosen to share their time and why they chose your organisation. It might be that they need it as an academic requirement, or they wanted to get out of the house, or that they wanted to learn more about the industry, or have a personal connection to the charity. Establishing why they are volunteering may help you match them with roles that suit them and that they enjoy, making it more likely they’ll keep coming back. You can include a list of options for them to tick, to make processing this information easy.
Rights and responsibilities
Here is a good place to let your volunteers know their rights and responsibilities – think of it like a contract between you and them. Just as much as paid staff, volunteers need to know that they will be respected, protected and treated fairly. Give them clear avenues to explore if they have complaints or concerns and reassure them that you value their time, while also emphasising the commitment they’ve made and the standards you expect them to uphold. Some policies you may want to cover include:
- Screening policies
- Training requirements
- Recognition and remuneration
- Code of conduct
- Dress code
- Working hours
- Grievance process
- Sexual harassment
- Exit protocol
You’re likely to have all these policies in greater depth elsewhere in your training course, but it might be worth adding a checkbox to each policy so your volunteer can confirm they’ve read each one.
Just as with a paid worker, a clearly defined position description will go a long way to ensuring the volunteer has a fulfilling experience and your organisation gets the most help from a volunteer. As the handbook is a standard document that applies to every volunteer and position descriptions are more specialised, you may want to separate out position descriptions into individual courses that volunteers unlock as part of their online training. This section should include:
- Position title
- Supervisor name
- Responsibilities – you can break this up into day-to-day and overarching goals
- Skills, past experience or qualifications required
- Specific training required
- Hours/ days expected to work
- Reporting requirements: time sheets, daily meetings etc.
Remember to update your online training manual regularly so your volunteers are referring back to up-to-date information at all times.
Want some more inspiration and to see how this works in practice? Take a look at our volunteer handbook course template.