Skills for the Job: Managing volunteers

Effective management is vital to get the best out of volunteers. Volunteering England's Dan Sumners describes what is involved

Do you need a strategy for volunteers?

Absolutely. The reasons for having a good strategy for volunteer involvement are the same as for any plan. If you don’t know why you want to involve volunteers, what roles you want them to do, how you’re going to recruit them and what support you’ll offer, it’s likely you’ll invest a lot of time and energy but have little to show for it.

In recent years managing volunteers has become increasingly professionalised and organisations are becoming more creative about how they engage volunteers.

The implication for all organisations, whatever their size, is that their volunteer programme needs to be well organised so volunteers feel valued and appreciated. With thousands of opportunities out there, volunteers are able to pick and choose, so those organisations that don’t create rewarding and interesting volunteer roles may miss out on a large pool of talent.

How do you go about recruiting volunteers?

The best way to attract volunteers is to develop attractive and engaging volunteer roles. You should think about how you can cater for people with different interests, skills and availability.

Your first port of call should be your local volunteer centre. They can help you with recruitment and also offer advice on creating attractive and effective roles. Other ways of finding volunteers include the Do-it online database; your local council for voluntary service; advertising in local press and on community websites; holding or attending a recruitment fair; and websites catering for specific groups such as young people or professionals.

However, one of the main ways people find out about volunteering is by word of mouth. Therefore, encourage your colleagues to talk about the organisation and its work to friends and family.

How do you manage and retain volunteers?

For any arranged activity there are legal issues to think about, such as health, safety and insurance. These may seem a burden, but they can be vital. Not only do they protect the health of volunteers and the public, but they may help protect your organisation should anything go wrong.

It is also vital to ensure your volunteers feel valued and supported. If people feel appreciated they are more likely to continue volunteering. Specifically, you should:

  • Ensure volunteers have a named point of contact and ask them regularly if they require additional support or training. Development opportunities will help keep volunteers’ skills fresh.
  • Give volunteers extra responsibilities as they develop, such as buddying up with new recruits to help them learn the ropes.
  • Involve volunteers in the life of your organisation. Not only can they bring a fresh perspective, but the more they feel part of what you do the more they’ll be willing to take on.
  • Identify ways to say "thank you" to volunteers, such as presenting them with a certificate, a card or a small gift. You could even organise a small event during Volunteers’ Week, which runs in June.

What issues do you need to bear in mind when managing volunteers?

Even though volunteers are not paid for their time, they’re not cost-free. It’s important you know what resources you have available before you start recruiting so you can be honest with yourself and potential volunteers about what’s possible.

When you reimburse expenses incurred as a result of volunteering – and it’s good practice to do so – you should only reimburse actual out-of-pocket expenses. This ensures there’s no risk of it being seen as payment, which could have implications for tax and any state benefits a volunteer might receive.

You need to consider whether or not your volunteers need a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check. Only certain roles are eligible, so you shouldn’t simply check everyone in the organisation because it seems easier, but CRB checks are free for volunteers.


For information about volunteering in your area, you should speak to your local volunteer centre. They provide general advice about volunteering, help people find appropriate opportunities and offer support in contacting organisations. There’s also lots of information available online via the Volunteering England Information Service

  • Dan Sumners, senior policy and information officer, Volunteering England

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