Voluntary Sector - Good Practice Guide
The following guidelines are a brief guide to some issues you might wish to consider when involving volunteers in your organisation.
Why Volunteers Recruiting Volunteers Screening Volunteers Interviews Turning a Volunteer Down Induction Volunteers and Paid Staff Supporting Volunteers Expenses Drivers Health and Safety Insurance Equal Opportunities Supporting Ourselves
For quick access to the website for "Supported Volunteering" please click on the following link: www.Chances4Volunteering.org.uk
Please note that the information presented here is not intended to be a full account of the law or of the duties and responsibilities that organisations have - seek professional advice about your own specific case.
What are the reasons why you want volunteers to get involved with your organisation or carry out a particular task - think of positive reasons, rather than 'we can't afford to pay someone'. However tempting, don't see volunteers as a way of substituting for paid staff or as people who will do the jobs no-one else wants to do. More than anyone else volunteers have to enjoy and feel motivated by their contribution--if they don't, there is no obligation for them to stay and plenty of other organisations are looking for help. Involving volunteers also requires time and resources. What procedures will you have in place to screen volunteers and who will do this? Do you have the resources to refund volunteers out-of-pocket expenses? Who will take on the role of training, supervising and supporting volunteers? Have any paid staff in your organisation been consulted about the involvement of volunteers?
If you have any criteria for selecting volunteers for a particular task, prospective volunteers should be made aware of these. It is useful to have a written task description, which will help everyone in the organisation understand what is expected of volunteers and where they fit into the organisation. It will also help prospective volunteers decide if the role is right for them. It is easier to attract volunteers from all sectors of the community if volunteer roles do not require specialist experience unless this is absolutely essential but rather 'an interest in...';'a willingness to learn...'.
Once you have heard from a potential volunteer or their details have been passed on to you, try to get them on board as soon as you can--before someone else does. Although the procedure for screening volunteers can take a little time you could maintain their interest by sending an information pack or by inviting them to visit and find out about your organisation. An application form can help you get the information you need from a volunteer but try not to make it too daunting or too like a job application.
If the role of the volunteer involves working with vulnerable people and/or working unsupervised it might bewise to have procedures for screening potential volunteers. It is important to apply these consistently to all volunteers--most people will understand that such procedures are necessary to safeguard the organisation and the people who use its services.
You may wish to take up references for volunteers, particularly if they will be working unsupervised or will have direct access to people who are vulnerable. Try to work out what it is you want to find out from a reference. Asking specific questions of the referee makes it easier for them to provide you with relevant information. Be sensitive to the fact that not everyone will find it easy to think of someone who can give them a reference (e.g. not everyone will have a current or recent employer they can ask to do this). For more information on this subject we have written guidelines on this topic--ask for a copy.
Where the volunteer opportunity involves unsupervised access to children orother vulnerable people you might also wish to ask if volunteers have any criminal convictions or cautions. Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 people working in this field as staff or volunteers are required to declare even spent convictions. You need to have clear guidelines in advance what types of offence would prevent someone from being accepted as a volunteer, and whether or not you will make any exceptions (e.g. length of timesince the offence, one-off offences).
The Criminal Records Bureau has been set up to enable organisations to access criminal record checks for roles that involve unsupervised access with children or vulnerable adults. You need to bear in mind that criminal record checks are fallible and are cannot substitute for good practice procedures by your organisation which minimise the risks. For example if the volunteer's name has changed then any criminal record will not be found; and many offenders do not have any previous criminal record. For more information see the National Centre for Volunteering's handout 'Screening Volunteers'; you can also purchase from them a publication called 'Safe and Alert: good practice advice on volunteers working with vulnerable clients' (see 'Links to Useful Sites').
Meeting with a volunteer can helpyou clarify what their interests and skills are and what your organisation isoffering as a volunteer role. You might want to make clear what timecommitment you are hoping for, the duration, and how long it is likely to bebefore they can start.
If they are really not suitable for a particular task, try not to turn down an offer of help--can you find them another role within the organisation? If you are going to turn a volunteer down, let them know as soon as possible, thank them for their offer and be as honest as you can about the reasons. It can be very demoralising not to hear anything, or to be told that help is no longer needed when the organisations is still advertising for volunteers. If it is not possible for you to involve a potential volunteer who approaches you please refer them back to WMVA so that we can help them to find something else.
A volunteer's first few visits can be crucial in deciding whether or not they stay, so it is important to make them feel welcome and to introduce them to the layout of the building, other members of the organisation or team and any procedures they will be expected to follow. Induction or training (formal or informal) at the beginning of volunteering, and the opportunity for ongoing training, can help make sure volunteers are clear about their role and have an understanding of the aims and structure ofthe organisation. It may be useful to have a simple volunteer information sheet or handbook with a guide to what the organisation does, who's who in the organisation, do's and don'ts for volunteers, health and safety information, essential telephone numbers, etc.
It is good practice to maintain a clear distinction between the roles of paid staff and volunteers. This can help to avoid tension between the two, so that volunteers do not resent being used to substitute for a role that is normally (or used to be) a paid one, and so that employees do not feel that their jobs are at risk from volunteer replacements. If staff and volunteers are clear about their role then conflict is less likely to occur.
You also need to be aware that confusion between the two roles can result in certain circumstances in volunteers being regarded as employees and there foresubject to employment law, including minimum wage legislation. For example, the existence of a contract (verbal or written) that resembles a contract of employment; or if a volunteer is being paid in return for their volunteering anything other than the actual cost of out-of-pocket expenses (including non-monetary payments or perks). This is a complex area of the law; if you are unclear about the status of volunteers in your organisation please discuss it with us at WMVA or call the National Centre for Volunteering's information line (see 'Links to UsefulSites').
Volunteers need to have a named person in the organisation who acts as their point of contact. For some types of volunteering regular supervision may be appropriate; for others it may just be a case of knowing who they should contact if they need help or support or if they wish to develop or change their role. Some organisations support volunteers in additional ways, such as social events to recognise the volunteers' contribution; or support meetings for volunteers to attend. You may find it helpful to have some organised way of allowing volunteers to have an input into the running or development of the organisation--such as a volunteer representative at meetings or on committees, or an annual questionnaire for volunteer feedback.
As volunteers donate their time and energy to your organisation free of charge, it is important that they are not also financially out of pocket because of their volunteering. This is particularly important if volunteers are on a low income. Expenses should be reimbursed at the actual cost incurred with receipts (bus tickets, till receipts etc.) kept to show that they were genuinely paid for. In the case of mileage, this should be repaid at the Inland Revenue approved rates per mile and a mileage record should be kept of each journey. Never pay a flat rate to volunteers as this will be seen by the Inland Revenue as taxable income and can also result in volunteer being seen as paid employees and therefore subject to employment law (including the minimum wage). It can also jeopardise a volunteer's state benefits. Acceptable out-of-pocket expenses you can reimburse to volunteers include:
- Travel to and from the place volunteering;
- Necessary travel carried out in the course of volunteering;
- Meals required while volunteering;
- The cost of child or dependant care while volunteering;
- Any special equipment or phone calls, postage etc. necessary for the volunteering task.
The National Centre for Volunteering has a freefactsheet covering this issue in more details (see 'Linksto Useful Sites').
Make sure that volunteer drivers are insured and have told their insurance company that they are using their car for volunteering. Many insurance companies will not charge any extra for this, but if they arenot told then the insurance cover may not be valid. Ask for a copy of the volunteer's insurance document and MOT certificate if required ; keep these on file and remember to renew them each year.
The Inland Revenue publishes each year the mileage rates at which it will allow volunteer drivers to be reimbursed. Cyclists can also be reimbursed on a per-mile basis. Ask us for a copy or for morein formation the leaflet IR122 Volunteer Drivers is available from any Inland Revenue PAYE enquiry office.
Volunteers should keep proper mileage records of the journeys they make in the course of volunteering. It is good practice for these to be confirmed by the volunteer co-ordinator, treasurer or other appropriate person. The National Centre for Volunteering offers a free fact sheet on volunteer drivers and tax (see 'Links to Useful Sites').
Under the Health and Safety at Work 1974 imposes a legal obligation on employers to carry out certain procedures to ensure the safety of their employees. While this is not legally binding on organisations without any employees it is good practice for them to operate in a similar way. Regardless of whether or not you have any paid employees an organisations also has a legal duty of care to avoid carelessly causing injury to persons. This is a complex issue and there is not space to go into detail here. The National Centre for Volunteering has a factsheet 'Health and Safety' which summarises the issue (see 'Linksto Useful Sites').
Every organisation should check its insurance cover once a year and ensure that it has sufficient insurance to cover its activities. Volunteers are not automatically covered by insurance; check with your insurer that volunteers are explicitly included in the cover you have. The two main types of insurance are:
Employers Liability Insurance:
Organisations who employ staff arerequired by law to take out this insurance to cover employees in the event ofaccident, disease or injury. It can be extended to include volunteers.
Public Liability Insurance:
This covers the organisation in the event ofinjury, death and the loss or damage of property of non-employees. It isimportant to confirm with your insurers that this insurance extends to the actsof volunteers.
This is not a comprehensive guide to insurance and you should always get professional advice. The National Centre for Volunteering has a free information helpline for organisations which involve volunteers; you could also contact WMVA (see 'Links to Useful Sites').
Most voluntary organisations now have a written equal opportunities statement or policy, which sets out their commitment to equal opportunities within the organisation, and in their treatment of staff, volunteers and the public. Many funders will expect an organisation to have such a policy. For help with writing a general Equal Opportunities Policy contact WMVA.
As busy Volunteer Co-ordinators offering support to volunteers it is important to remember that we also need to receive support ourselves. Staff at the Volunteer Centre are always happy to talk through any concerns or questions you might have. We also host regular Voluntary Sector Forum, which take the form of a networking lunch to enable you to meet and share ideas. We also offer regular training courses on volunteer supervision and support, and we have a resource library of books which you can borrow to look for advice or ideas.