How to write volunteer role descriptions

  • Nearly 12 million people formally volunteered at least once a month in 2016/17, according to the NCVO Almanac
  • Recruiting and holding on to volunteers can be time consuming for charities
  • It’s worth spending time crafting your volunteer role descriptions to attract the type of applicants who would work best with your charity

The starting point for good volunteer recruitment and management is being clear about what you need volunteers to do.

In order to develop a culture of happy and productive volunteers, your charity needs to explain what you want volunteers to achieve, and be clear about the skills involved.

How you make the roles appealing and of interest to different types of people will affect who and how you recruit.

It is important that descriptions should reflect expectations for the role, rather than simply mirror the approach common in paid staff job descriptions.

Here we look at what you should do, and provide some examples of best practice and useful resources, to help you get your charity’s volunteer role descriptions right.

1. Think about your roles

What is it you want your volunteers to do? If you need them to fill roles where you can’t find paid staff, or roles that require a high skill level, or are repetitive, then you may find it hard to recruit candidates.

Voluntary Action Leicestershire explains: “Volunteering roles that are boring are unlikely to attract or retain volunteers. You are more likely to attract volunteers if the roles you create are built on what might motivate, challenge and reward your volunteers.”

Clearly there are jobs that can be boring if done all day, every day. Do they all need to be done by one person full-time, or can you break them up into smaller roles? Think about how to best package up tasks.

Some work that may seem dull – such as filing, stuffing envelopes, making tea etc – may appeal to those who are happy to carry out mundane tasks, especially if they can see their purpose, and if the roles enable them to interact with like-minded people.

Write clear descriptions that bring these jobs to life. Also, think about how long you might expect someone to do these tasks, and be flexible in how you fill these roles. Structuring tasks so that volunteers can work closely as part of a team, and for shorter amounts of time, might make all the difference.

2. Get the basics right

Include the following in your volunteer role description:

  • Role title
  • What you want volunteers to achieve, their responsibilities, and how these fit in with the work of your organisation
  • Hours and location
  • Skills and abilities needed
  • Benefits to the volunteer
  • A bit about your organisation
  • What support/training will be offered
  • How to apply

Take a look at these useful articles to find out more:

3. Think about the language you use

Rob Jackson, a consultant and trainer specialising in volunteer engagement, argues that “role descriptions for volunteers are typically controlling documents, instructing volunteers what to do and not do, giving little scope for the volunteer to bring their own skills, talents, experience and ideas to the work.”

He suggests that descriptions should instead build trust, recognise the value that the volunteer brings to the role, and empower them to be creative, autonomous and successful.

To do this, role descriptions should:

  • Be meaningful and motivating, rather than controlling
  • Focus on the results volunteers are expected to achieve
  • Suggest, rather than specify, things that volunteers could do to achieve those results

Rob says these approaches are important if you want to “retain volunteers, want them to achieve more, generate new ideas, be more motivated and work well with others.”

Read more in Three thoughts on how the language we use in volunteer role descriptions really matters (Rob Jackson Consulting).

Charity role description examples

Below are links to examples of different volunteer role descriptions, which you may be able to adapt to suit your organisation, or use to provide some ideas of best practice:

With thanks to Rob Jackson Consulting who assisted with this article.