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Developing volunteer job descriptions
30 September 2005
by Mary V. Merrill

A written job description is the most important criteria in volunteer programme management. A job description should be prepared for every volunteer position, no matter how big or small. The advantage of written job description is that the duties, expectations and responsibilities of both the volunteer and the organization are outlined clearly. Knowing the requirements of individual volunteer jobs in advance simplifies the selection/recruitment and management of volunteers.

Written job descriptions help an organization think in advance about how to provide volunteers with opportunities to contribute that are both challenging and rewarding. Sometimes individual volunteers fail because the role, relationship and/or duties of the volunteer are never clearly defined. Lack of definition can result in a less than positive experience and confusion for the volunteer.

Volunteer job descriptions are also the first step in a comprehensive risk management system. Defining duties and responsibilities helps the organization assess the risks, to the clients, the volunteers and the organization so that they can be addressed, minimized or eliminated. Many organizations invite volunteers to sign a copy of the volunteer job description for their permanent file as part of the risk management procedure, to ensure that each volunteer has been fully informed of the volunteer job expectation and limitation.

Volunteer job descriptions may vary in format and length but should include certain basic information. The specific volunteer job title should be identified, along with the estimated time required and location (such as where the volunteering will occur). The general purpose of the volunteer position should be stated broadly, followed by specific responsibilities described in greater detail. The qualifications needed by the volunteer should be identified clearly, along with any support to be provided (materials, training, etc.) as part of the volunteer position. Finally, and yet perhaps most importantly, the supervisor to whom the volunteer is responsible should be identified. 

The selection process is based upon a pool of qualified volunteers recruited for specific jobs. McCurley and Vineyard (1986, p.10) suggest several important questions in developing potential volunteer jobs. “Is the work meaningful? Is it useful and significant to the agency, programmes and clients? Can the need for the job be explained to a potential volunteer? Is a support framework for the volunteer programme available? Is staff willing to have the job done by volunteers? Can we identify volunteers with skills to do the job? Will people want to do this volunteer job?”

GUIDELINES FOR DEVELOPING VOLUNTEER JOB DESCRIPTIONS

TITLE
This will be the volunteer’s identification.  Give this as much prestige as possible.

MAJOR OBJECTIVE
A short, concise statement, reflecting the ultimate goals of the service to be performed.

QUALIFICATIONS
Include all things necessary for the effective performance of duties, listing requirements from physical to human qualities desired. Be careful not to over qualify the position – you could lose some excellent volunteers due to stringent educational requirements.  Specifics such as a car, insurance needed, etc., should be noted.

RESPONSIBILITIES
List each duty and responsibility of the job as specifically as possible.

ORIENTATION/TRAINING
This includes the nature, specific content, and the approximate hours for orientation and training. Identify and contact the individuals who will conduct the training.

TIME AND PLACE
This should include the exact duty hours, which days of the week and the place where the volunteer is to perform the services. Be Specific.

COMMITMENT
The minimum number of months you need from the volunteer based on your investment in training and supervision becomes the minimum length of commitment for the volunteer. A maximum time commitment should also be specified for the volunteer (number of hours per week, month, etc.).

ON-THE-JOB SUPERVISION
Name of the supervisor or the position of the supervisor. In most cases this will be the person with direct responsibility for the service.  

BENEFITS
List any available benefits to the volunteer, such as free parking, coffee, mileage reimbursement, training, materials usage, etc. 

References

McCurly, S. and Vineyard, S. (1986). 101 Ideas For Volunteer Programs. Downers Grove, Illinois:  Heritage Arts Publishing.

(Adapted by permission from: The Ohio 4-H Blast! Program:  Building Leadership and Skills Together, Module 2. The Ohio Cooperative Extension Service, The Ohio State University, 10/92.)