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Creating Nonprofit Volunteer Policies

This is part of a special series, brought to you by the Standards for Excellence Institute, to provide nonprofit leaders with a brief nonprofit governance and management tip weekly over the course of 2020. We hope these short tips will be helpful to you and the nonprofits you serve. If you have suggestions for future topics, please forward these to

So many of us volunteer for nonprofits. My best volunteer experiences leave me with feelings of hope and accomplishment that the mission of the organization was being well served.  It is easy to feel pride and respect for a nonprofit organization that you volunteer with when you know you were part of a stellar effort and you can see real, tangible results. 

These days, I feel grateful for the chance to volunteer as a religious education teacher once per week with a terrific group of five and six-year old children.  I feel supported in my efforts by receiving curricula and tools to carry out my work and I am thankful to be able to learn from the other teachers during school wide, bi-monthly teacher meetings. I am lucky to work with a kind, capable director who ensures all of the volunteer teachers possess everything they need for success.

Volunteers are an essential part of just about any nonprofit organization. As such, it is crucial that volunteers are treated with respect and that they are managed effectively – after all, they are giving you their time. The investment an organization makes to carefully recruit, train, and supervise volunteers means that volunteers are not free, making effective management all the more crucial. Organizations should spend the time and effort in having written, board-approved policies and procedures to govern the work, actions, and safety of both employees and volunteers regardless of how frequently or in what capacity volunteers are used. These policies should guide, direct, and clarify your organization’s relationship with its volunteers. 

The Standards for Excellence educational packet on Volunteer Policies outlines what should be incorporated into excellent volunteer policy.  A few of the topics that may be found in a volunteer policy include: volunteer standard of conduct, absenteeism, grievance procedure, media conduct, alcohol/drugs, harassment, dress code, confidentiality, conflicts of interest, partisanship, proselytizing, change of placement, reporting misconduct, safety/liability, and discontinuation of volunteer service. It also comes with customizable companion documents such as Model Volunteer Program Policies and Procedures, a sample volunteer job description and a sample volunteer and intern agreement.

This educational resource packet and the full series of all packets  - including sample policies, tools and model procedures to help nonprofits achieve best practices in their governance and management - can be accessed by contacting a licensed Standards for Excellence replication partner, one of the over 150 Standards for Excellence Licensed Consultants, or by becoming a member of the Standards for Excellence Institute.

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About the Author: Amy Coates Madsen

Amy Coates Madsen is the Director of the Standards for Excellence Institute, a national initiative to promote the highest standards of ethics and accountability in nonprofit governance, management, and operations, and to facilitate adherence to standards by all organizations. The Standards for Excellence Institute is a program of the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations where Amy has served for more than twenty-two years. Amy is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the association’s comprehensive ethics and accountability program and efforts to replicate the program nationally. She serves as a frequent trainer and writer in the areas of board conduct, program evaluation, program replication, fundraising ethics, and nonprofit management. She has taught courses on nonprofit ethics and accountability at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies Certificate Program on Nonprofit Management. She has held positions at the Trenton lobbying firm of the Princeton Public Affairs Group, and the Public Policy Liaison Unit at the world headquarters of Catholic Relief Services. Amy received her Master of Arts in Policy Studies degree from the Johns Hopkins University – Institute for Policy Studies in Baltimore, Maryland; and her Bachelors degree from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. Amy is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Amy serves on the Internal Revenue Service Advisory Committee on Tax Exempt and Government Entities (ACT). Amy is a former member of the Disaster Action Team of the Central Maryland Chapter of the American Red Cross and is qualified to provide disaster preparedness training to children and adults. She has also served as the former President of Central Maryland CAN TOO and was a member of the Board of Trustees of the largest United Methodist Church in Baltimore City. She serves on the board of her children’s preschool PTA and is a volunteer with the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. Amy is currently leading an effort to establish an endowment for the Virginia Tech University Honors Program.