Training and Supervising Volunteers

by the Nonprofit Risk Management Center

Nonprofits often have limited staff with limited resources with long lists of goals to accomplish. Volunteers can help complete certain tasks. Volunteers need to understand that their duties need to be carried out in a manner that is consistent with the organization’s mission and operational standards.

Providing Initial Training

A volunteer orientation slideshow can be created, saved on a computer and shown to volunteers as needed. The slideshow should cover general safety and emergency preparedness procedures as well as special procedures for various volunteer positions. With a few simple substitutions, the basic slideshow can be customized for certain types of volunteers. The slideshow should highlight the nonprofit’s mission, giving examples of how the mission is fulfilled on a day-to-day basis. It should also feature the nonprofit’s expectations for expected volunteer conduct. The history of the nonprofit can be documented, along with photos and biographical sketches of staff, accompanied by a description of their key responsibilities.

Ongoing Supervision

Volunteers need to know what they can expect in the way of guidance and supervision. Lack of clear directions and/or difficulty in contacting a supervisor can result in frustration and lead to mistakes.

Clients can misinterpret uneven supervision of volunteers. They might perceive that other clients are being treated differently (better or worse), if volunteers don’t provide services in a similar manner.

If your nonprofit supervises volunteers’ contributions to its mission, the organization is getting full value. However, you might want to double-check that you have all the bases covered.

Checklist for Volunteer Supervision

  • Does your nonprofit have a volunteer handbook or similar handout that contains all of the policies that apply to volunteers?
  • Does your nonprofit have a grievance policy or other strategy for addressing complaints received from volunteers?
  • Does your nonprofit require that each volunteer sign an acknowledgment stating that they have read and agree to abide by the policies?
  • Are volunteers subject to discipline, up to and including removal, for failing to follow your nonprofit’s policies?
  • Are the nonprofit’s disciplinary procedures concerning volunteers applied consistently?
  • Are supervisors of volunteers trained in performance counseling so they can help a volunteer address performance weakness?
  • Are volunteer records (applications, reference and background check reports) kept in locked or password-protected files, accessible only by those with administrative rights?


This article was written by the Nonprofit Risk Management Center (NRMC). NRMC is a MCN partner and provides training, technical assistance and informational resources for controlling risks that threaten a nonprofit’s ability to accomplish its mission. For more information about all of MCN’s partners and discount programs for members, visit Cost Saving Programs for MCN Members.

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