Last updated: 08.02.18

Considerations for managing volunteers in your charity

It’s important we define exactly what a volunteer is before we look into how to effectively manage them within your organisation.

According to Volunteering England:

"Volunteering is the commitment of time and energy, for the benefit of society, local communities, individuals outside the immediate family, the environment or other causes. Voluntary activities are undertaken of a person’s own free will, without payment, except for the reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses."

From a management perspective, it is important to recognise that there are many ways in which a volunteer is different to a permanent employee and it is important to understand these facts before implementing any management policies and procedures. For example, there is no contractual obligation for a volunteer, therefore, no grievance procedure or termination of their arrangement can be made. That said, policies and procedures do apply to protect volunteers whilst they are helping. So compliance courses (such as health and safety in the workplace) will need to be taken by the volunteer in order to protect them. However, a first aid training course for a volunteer with no first aid responsibilities is not something your organisation should offer to that volunteer.

Differences between volunteers and permanent staff

An employee has a defined set of obligations to perform services for money, whereas a volunteer is about giving something to a charity for free. So this is not about fairness from a manager perspective, but about two completely different ways of management style. For example, if you treat volunteers in the same way as employees then you run the risk they will be viewed by employment tribunals as employees. So, in the event of any dispute, one of the legal implications could be paying them the minimum wage.


Considering a permanent member of staff has a contract, is on the payroll and has a whole range of benefits, these are some of the ways in which volunteers differ with their motivations to work. It is important to recognise the other factors that motivate the volunteer, for example, why have they chosen to volunteer with your charity and what would they like to see change or what are they hoping to improve or achieve in their placement?


Volunteers can bring a whole new set of skills into your organisation and they should be offered the opportunity to use and grow these skills as per any permanent employee – but not in a contractual way. This will need to be managed in line with their availability – what days they are available to volunteer and how this can align with the availability of other staff members and their commitments. It is important that this is considered and organised to help benefit the volunteer.


A volunteer is not legally bound to help or offer their services – they can walk away at any point. It is important to instil respect and help ensure a balance of expected tasks to complete given that they have no commitment to the organisation. As such, it can be difficult for managers to have volunteers and permanent members of staff work side-by-side – particularly if the permanent member of staff fails to realise the volunteer is not being paid. It is important to ensure effective communication in any team.

However, it is important to recognise in all forms of voluntary organisations that they have rights just like any other workforce member and here are six key rights that should be honoured:

  1. To be valued – for the time effort and commitment that they serve.
  2. To be respected – and listened to.
  3. To receive clear information – about their role as a volunteer.
  4. To have an induction – into their projects and its policies and procedures.
  5. To receive ongoing support – supervision and training to support their work.
  6. To have their development invested in – learning from and enjoying their volunteering.


The approach taken to volunteer training varies across the third sector, with some charities recruiting for specific roles and having a clear training needs analysis in place prior to recruitment through to volunteers only receiving a very basic induction. Understandably, resource constraints are a factor in how volunteer training is delivered. However, for some time it has been recognised that, apart from being beneficial for the organisation as a whole, training volunteers can pay financial dividends too. Back in 2005, the Home Office commissioned research into the impact of its grants. This research highlighted the work of Victim Support, showing that for every £1 the charity spent on training, volunteers at Victim Support produce £5 worth of work.

If you have any questions or would like a discussion about how Virtual College can support your volunteer training strategy, or how leadership and management courses could apply to your charity, please contact Helen McKay at

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