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Writing volunteer role descriptions

Quick guide to preparing descriptions of voluntary roles.

You should provide written outlines, or descriptions, of volunteer roles. The descriptions should be consistent across your organisation and comply with your volunteer policies. This is crucial to staff and volunteers understanding their roles.

Written descriptions:

  • give more information to the volunteer than is possible to convey at an interview
  • allow you to show where the volunteer’s work fits in with the work of the organisation
  • offer a list of tasks so the volunteer can compare these with their skills and expectations
  • provide a basis for measuring activity levels and performance
  • describe the intended outcome of the work
  • help others understand how the voluntary role applies to their own.

What to include in volunteer role descriptions

A role description should include:

  • title of role
  • objective(s) of role
  • a broad outline of tasks and activities to be undertaken
  • targets or measurements of performance.

You could include:

  • the name of the person who the volunteer reports to
  • location and work hours
  • how the role fits in with the work of the organisation
  • expectations of behaviour and dress (if appropriate)
  • skills and qualifications – essential and desirable
  • required person specifications (if appropriate).

Defining the volunteer's position within the organisation

Try to give volunteers straightforward boundaries and structures with clear lines of reporting. Volunteers benefit from understanding the limits and expectations of their position in the organisation. Staff who supervise volunteers should be aware of any special requirements volunteers have. If you pay attention to these details it will assist your staff as well as the volunteers.

Legal issues with volunteer role descriptions

Volunteer role descriptions can look a lot like job descriptions. They are not. Instead, they describe unpaid roles and should only describe expectations of a role.

You must be careful not to imply a volunteer is under contract to perform specific tasks. If it appears that a volunteer is being employed by your organisation, they may be eligible for full employment rights. You could also find yourself unintentionally in breach of a number of employment regulations.

NCVO members can download the free volunteering information sheet on how to avoid creating an employment contract. 

Useful links:

Page last edited Jun 16, 2015

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