Some Golden Rules of Volunteer Management

Logo: Association of Volunteer Manager

Well not exactly but below are some of the key things to be thinking about if you are really going to ensure your

volunteer management delivers results for your organisation and of course your volunteers as well.

  • Organise the Work to Succeed

  • Get the Right Person for the Role

  • Supervise for Success

  • Capture the Other Benefits

1. Organise the Work to Succeed

  • Break the role down into manageable pieces. Can a volunteer do this role successfully? If not, break the role down into smaller pieces, then task a volunteer with getting apiece accomplished.
  • Projects versus programs. Projects are short-term, with a clearly defined deliverable, a start date and an end date. Programs are ongoing, with no end date. Most volunteers these days cannot commit to a program, but can find time to commit to a project.  
  • Identify the role - clearly identify the deliverables. What exactly do you want the volunteer to produce/do?
  • Write a role description setting out the details of what the volunteering role entails.  Answer the following questions for the volunteer:
    • Where is it

    • When is it

    • Commitment required – say what you need

    • Why We Want You?

    • What’s In It For You?

    • The Skills/Talents You’ll Need

    • Who Do I Contact to Find Out More

2. Get the Right Person for the Role

Look at the role you want to recruit a volunteer for, and create a profile of the ideal volunteer for your role. Consider:

  • What knowledge, skills, abilities does the volunteer need to have on the day they start
  • Interest and Desire
  • Availability
  • Temperament

Once you have the profile, you can begin to recruit.


Using the profile, answer these questions:

  • Where might I find this person?
  • How can I make this role attractive? Consider the demographics and lifestyle of people in your profile - what do these people read, watch, listen to, where do they get their information?
  • Get in the volunteer's skin - pretend to be the volunteer to image where and how to recruit them.
  • WIIFM - answer this question from the volunteer's perspective - What's In It For Me?
  • Have a selection process and don’t be afraid to say ‘No’ to any prospective volunteer who is not suitable.

Remember the golden rule – Having no volunteer is always better than having the wrong volunteer!

3. Supervise for success

The Elements of effective supervision are:

  • Establish clear, mutually agreed expectations – that’s your role description
  • Give good feedback - specific, early, frequent
  • Be an advocate - take an individual interest in the volunteer
  • Demonstrate passion for the project - create and communicate a vision of what the completed project will look and feel like.

Preventing and Dealing with Problem Situations

  • First rule - You have to deal with the problem. Just as you would deal with a staff member to help them succeed, so you must deal with the volunteer.
  • Second rule - Prevention is preferable. If you organise the volunteering role well, engage the right person and provide support, many performance problems will never appear. Pay attention to early warning signs and deal with them as they appear.  Don’t be fooled into thinking no one else has noticed if you have so has everyone else and they are expecting you to sort it!
  • Third rule - Separate behaviour from performance. Behaviour is something the volunteer is doing. Performance relates to results of their work. If the behaviour is unacceptable (inappropriate language or clothing), deal with the behaviour. If the problem is in performance (not doing the work or not doing it to the required standards) then find out why the work is not acceptable.
  • Use the 4 W's. Ask:
    • Does the volunteer know WHAT to do? If not, clarify their role description or reorganise the work. If yes...

    • Does the volunteer know HOW to do the work? If no, perhaps training is the answer, or maybe giving the volunteer a different role. If yes...

    • Does the volunteer know WHY he or she is doing this work? Does the work have a context, make sense, and clearly fit into the larger picture for the volunteer? If not explain the eventual outcomes and how the work fits into the bigger picture. If yes...

    • Does the volunteer WANT to do the role? If not are there conflicting incentives or disincentives? Is the social setting wrong for the volunteer? Are the rewards missing? Have you asked the volunteer to do something unpalatable?

4. Capture the Other Benefits

  • Charitable giving - many volunteers are generous with donations of cash, materials and equipment. If they are giving their time, they may also want to contribute in other ways
  • Reputation and image - volunteers speak about and represent your organisation. They have great credibility, far more so than employees who are paid to say how wonderful your organisation is
  • Recruiting - volunteers are great recruiters of other volunteers so make use of them when you need more volunteers
  • Publicity - the media loves volunteer stories, so tell them
  • Managerial capacity - managers of volunteers must be very good managers of people. If volunteers are unhappy, it is easy for them to resign, much easier than paid staff who have to like it or lump it. People who learn to manage volunteers well make very good managers overall.


  • It is important to evaluate your volunteering activities periodically to learn and improve. The key elements of evaluation are:
    • Is the program proceeding according to the plan?

    • Are intended results materialising?

    • What are the unintended outcomes, both positive and negative?

  • Always ask yourself, and indeed your volunteer ‘In what ways can we improve?’


What Is the Association of Volunteer Managers

The Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) is an independent body that aims to support, represent and champion everyone who manages volunteers. It has been set up by and for people who manage volunteers whether you are paid or unpaid.  It’s entirely run by a small team of members who feel passionately about volunteer management and want to see the unique skills, abilities needed to lead volunteers effectively recognised and valued.

The aims of AVM is to:

  • facilitate and support effective peer-to-peer networking of those involved in volunteer management locally, regionally and nationally
  • campaign and speak out on issues that are key to people who manage volunteers
  • develop information and good practice resources on volunteer management

If you manage, co-ordinate or administer volunteers or volunteer programmes, directly or indirectly, then this is the Association for you. Packages are available for individuals or organisations and you can find out more here.

The AVM website is a great source of information on all elements of volunteer management, the latest volunteer management jobs, current issues affecting volunteer management and details of events and learning opportunities etc.  The site also features blog posts from a variety of volunteer managers on issues around all elements of volunteer management.

If this has wetted your appetite below are details of how you can find out more about the Association of Volunteer Managers.  We’d love to have you onboard as member as only together can we be an effective voice for volunteer management.


Contact Email:           

Address:                             Association of Volunteer Managers, nfpSynergy: 2-6 Tenter Ground, London, E1 7NH

Follow us on Twitter:            @AVMtweets

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Updated information: October 2021

If you really want to know more about volunteer management and good practice then the following are some useful web based sources of advice and support.

England - NCVO – Involving Volunteers

Wales – WCVA – Working with Volunteers

Scotland – SCVO- Managing Volunteers

Volunteer Now

Volunteer Voice

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in association with The Scottish Countryside Rangers Association, the Countryside Management Association and NATUR on 20 February 2012

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Posted On: 20/02/2012

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