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Volunteer agreements

Guidance on what a volunteer agreement might include – and how to minimise the risk of inadvertently creating an employment contract.

Volunteer agreements can be used to set out both an organisation's commitment to its volunteers and what it hopes for from its volunteers. They act as a reference point for volunteers and a reminder to the organisation that it should meet the standards of good practice that it has set.

Reasonable expectations

Typically in an agreement an organisation might commit:

  • to provide a full induction and any training necessary for the volunteer role
  • to provide regular support to the volunteer in their role and a named contact for the volunteer who will support them in the role
  • to treat volunteers in line with its equal opportunities policy
  • to reimburse out-of-pocket expenses
  • to provide insurance cover for the volunteers
  • to implement good health and safety practice.

A volunteer agreement might expect volunteers to:

  • follow policies and procedures relevant to volunteers and the role the volunteer is undertaking, eg equal opportunities, health and safety, and confidentiality
  • meet mutually agreed expectations around the role, such as the amount of time the role is expected to take.

Reducing risk

Organisations should be aware that there is a risk of inadvertently creating an employment contract with volunteers. However, this risk can be minimised by following good practice as identified below:

  • Care must be taken to set out what the organisation will provide, how it will treat the volunteer and what it expects from the volunteer in such a way as to avoid the creation of mutual obligations, which could be regarded in law as creating a contract.
  • Set out the terms of the relationship based on reasonable expectations rather than obligations. You should also avoid the use of any language that sounds contractual. For example, instead of asking volunteers to agree to volunteer for the next six months it is better to talk of hopes and expectations, with the understanding that volunteers are free to come and go as they wish, and that there are no obligations placed upon them. One idea is to suggest that if the volunteers stay in the role for at least a specified time then both they and the organisation will get the most out of the experience.
  • Reduce perks that could be seen as ‘consideration’ or payment. Even benefits necessary for the volunteer to carry out their work, such as training, can be problematic if they’re couched in such a way that suggests an obligation on the part of the volunteer. For instance, some organisations ask prospective volunteers to commit to a specified amount of time in return for a qualification that could enhance the volunteer’s employability. Instead of placing an obligation on the volunteer, it would be better to emphasise that they would benefit more from actually putting the training into practice, rather than simply completing the training and then leaving.
  • Ensure that expenses can’t be seen as income by ensuring you only reimburse volunteers for out-of-pocket expenses. Read our guidance on volunteer expenses.

NCVO members can download our information sheet Avoiding creating employment contracts.

Page last edited Dec 07, 2015

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