Creating a Volunteer Role Description

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Whether it's an employee or a member of the board (trustee), everyone should know what they are expected to do in their role. This applies just as much to volunteers. Getting the right people in place and knowing what is expected of them can prevent future problems. It makes sense to devote time and resources to creating a clear volunteer role description. It’s also critical in attracting volunteers to your organisation and providing a role that continues to enthuse and motivate your volunteers to stay!

It's not a 'Job Description'

It’s important to remember that a role description for volunteers has to reflect a balance between how the organisation wants to involve the volunteer and creating an interesting and fulfilling opportunity for that volunteer. Paid staff have a person specification and job description. A volunteer role description is a combination of these two documents. It’s not a good idea to base your volunteer role description on your paid employee job descriptions. The language and the format can be too formal, too prescriptive and it does not tend to result in a good volunteer role description.

It is important that you involve volunteers in a positive way. Before you embark on developing your volunteer role description read Defining Volunteering and Internships.

What do you want the volunteer to do?

When involving volunteers, it’s important to consult with staff and any existing volunteers to help identify roles and tasks that need doing. You could ask them the following questions:

  • What activities and projects have you wanted to do but have not had the capacity for?
  • What would you like to see done that no one has the skills for?
  • What could be done to enhance the service you are offering?
  • Are there specific tasks or projects that volunteers could take on that would help support the staff or service users?

It is also worth looking at any of your future strategies - is there scope for involving volunteers in this work? Finally, when identifying roles, remember not to make assumptions about the task. Stuffing envelopes may be terribly dull for some individuals, whilst others may find the role therapeutic and relaxing and something different from the stresses and pressures of life and previous jobs.

Getting the Role Description right

When designing your role description, it should remain fairly flexible and not too formal but it should clearly outline the tasks that are involved and crucially explain why doing that task will make a difference to the wider organisation and its service users. For example, it might be easy to see why working on the marketing strategy may make a difference but it might be less obvious (but just as impactful) why a role that involves organising the publicity material in the display racks makes a difference.

The where, when and what-nots

Once a role description has defined the purpose and goals, it is then important to look at how and when the role will take shape and what considerations and support can be given to the volunteer. Consider the following when making up your Role Description:

  • How many hours per week do you expect the role to require?
  • Is there a minimum commitment required from volunteers, e.g. four months?
  • Does it take place during normal office hours or at weekends or evenings?
  • What kinds of skills and attributes would you like the volunteer to have?
  • Are there development opportunities and/or training available to support the role?
  • What can a volunteer hope to gain from their volunteering with you?
  • Any unique details about the role; for example, do the volunteers need their own transport or equipment?

Reviewing and building in flexibility

Once you have the role description in place, look at the final draft or better yet, get someone else to look at it for you. Is the role realistic, is it too simplistic or more commonly, have you accidentally created something that is more akin to a paid role? Are the skills you are looking for meeting the needs of the task? Consider where there might be scope for flexibility. For example, if a volunteer can only make a certain time of day, are you able to change it? If they don't have all the required skills, can their development in that area be accommodated? Also consider where the role can split between two or more volunteers if you able to support more than one volunteer. If you are able to be flexible, it is worth stating where this flexibility can be built in, after all it would be shame to put potential volunteers off, just because they couldn’t make a certain day! Equally where you are unable to be flexible it is important to explain why. And finally, when your volunteer has been with you for a while, review the role with them at appropriate intervals, for example every three months. This will provide you with the best feedback on the success of the volunteer role.


See Volunteer Edinburgh's role description example.

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