Volunteer Handbook 101

Setting expectations is the main function of an employee handbook—it’s also important to do the same in your volunteer handbook.

“If you don’t have expectations that apply to everyone serving, then you haven’t communicated your standards,” said Steve Case, assistant vice president, senior corporate counsel for Brotherhood Mutual. “And inconsistency can lead to problems.” He notes that many religious organizations have procedural manuals for child care policies or an emergency plan, but it’s not the same as a volunteer handbook. 

“Processes and systems generally are rules that apply only to certain groups of volunteers,” Case said. “But a volunteer handbook has guidelines that are applicable to all of your volunteers.” 

A volunteer handbook can address the following:

  • History and beliefs. Includes your mission and/or purpose statement. May also include supporting Scripture.
  • How policies are applied. A statement that affirms all policies contained in your handbook are applicable to all volunteers. Your ministry may have different handbooks with additional policies for these ministries: children’s, youth, counseling, small groups, worship team, and security team. These exceptions should be noted in your general volunteer handbook.
  • Attendance and dress code. General guidelines that address expectations of a neat appearance or punctuality. Since some volunteer groups may have different dress requirements or a unique scheduling structure, specifics should be spelled out in that group’s procedures manual.
  • Drug and alcohol policies. This section would define terms and outline what your ministry is willing to tolerate. Since laws vary by state, be sure to consult with a locally licensed attorney.
  • Conflict of interest disclosure. States a volunteer must refrain from any personal dealings or transactions that would conflict with the interests of the ministry and a process for disclosing a potential conflict.
  • Incident response and report. General instructions on the proper response to an incident and how to complete a report. 
  • A “see something, say something” policy. Focuses on safety within the ministry. May apply to a broken handrail, child abuse, a suspicious person, or awareness of criminal activity. 
  • Communication. Details for volunteers how to direct questions from others related to beliefs and social issues, or who the point person is for media inquiries. 

Organize a Volun“tiers” Hierarchy

It also may help to organize volunteers into a tiered system based on level of training and responsibility. Start by identifying and grouping certain classes of volunteers. All levels share the same volunteer handbook, but each level would have their own procedural manual specific to accomplishing the job. Those jobs may need a set of instructions for supervising children, how to report suspected abuse, offertory collection and counting, injury reporting, evacuation practices, and more.

Volunteer Pyramid