I have over 18 years of experience engaging volunteers nationally, provincially and locally, and during that time I have seen some sweeping changes in the voluntary sector. One key change is the move towards a more risk aware approach to volunteer management. The voluntary sector now recognizes – and heeds the fact – that anything involving negligence on the part of a volunteer can implicate an organization.  With this and other factors in mind, managing volunteer risk has become an essential part of running voluntary organizations. Among other things, risk management helps to assure the highest quality services, and the mitigation of any undue harm to the organization, and their stakeholders.  Also, with voluntary organizations stepping in to address most of the multifaceted issues ailing our society, volunteer management has become a more complex practice. The former has played a role in moving risk management from being an organizational afterthought , to something that is purposely infused in every aspect of the running of an organization, and in the management of volunteers.

It is worth noting that a tension will always exist between the urge to simply place an available volunteer/s to ensure that agency programs are operational, and with the practicing of due diligence to mitigate risk. Now more than ever, it has become vital for organizations to fight the urge to not set a proper or consistent standard for involving volunteers. The resulting challenges that might arise from not doing this can often prove detrimental to the organization (financially and in other ways).


The work involved in managing risk – related to volunteer involvement – is paramount to preserving an organizations reputation and the quality of the services that they provide. Setting and following standard practices for volunteer involvement are now key elements in preserving the integrity of any volunteer program, and hopefully meeting the goals of an organization. To that end, the Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement (CCVI) Standards can provide a road map to safely and strategically integrate volunteers into the work and mission of an organization.

The CCVI (developed by Volunteer Canada and the Volunteer Management Professionals of Canada) outlines fourteen standards that are recognized as the Canadian national standards for how the voluntary sector engages/involves volunteers. If you are a volunteer manager, who engages volunteers in any way shape or form, these standards should inform how you involve volunteers. These fourteen standards are listed below (Source: Volunteer Toronto, 2018). According to Volunteer Toronto, the adoption of these standards demonstrates a commitment to engaging and supporting volunteers in a responsible and meaningful way. NOTE: *Click on the icon for more detailed information on each Standard


  • Volunteer involvement helps the organization achieve its mission and objectives. Volunteer involvement must be aligned with the organization’s goals and resource allocations. The board and senior management understand, support, and approve the direction of the volunteer engagement strategy.


  • A healthy organization empowers volunteers and strengthens volunteer engagement. Volunteers are supported and encouraged to become involved and contribute in new ways beyond their initial roles. Volunteers are included as equal members of the team. The definition of ‘team’ should not be limited to those within the organization who are paid. Involved and informed volunteers who feel part of the organization are far more likely to continue contributing their valuable time and skills.
  • Volunteers are welcomed and treated as valued and integral members of the organization’s human resources team, regardless of whether their assignments are performed on site or remotely, as is the case for virtual volunteering opportunities. The organization has a planned approach for volunteer involvement that includes linking volunteer roles to the achievement of the mission, providing the appropriate human and financial resources to support volunteer involvement, and establishing policies for effective management.


  • Policies and procedures help clarify responsibilities and ensure consistency. They should be developed and documented on a broad spectrum, from volunteer roles and screening, to grounds for dismissal. The organization’s board of directors needs to ensure volunteer policies are congruent with other policies within the organization. The manager of volunteer resources is responsible for identifying any specific policies and procedures required. These policies should be reviewed regularly to ensure they align with current trends in volunteer involvement, such as virtual volunteering, social media, recruitment strategies, etc.


  • The job of managing volunteers is highly complex and demands a wide range of skills. Regardless of whether they are paid staff members or volunteers, managers of volunteer resources should have the necessary skills, experience, and support to do the job well.


  • Volunteer involvement requires that organizational staff identify, assess, and appropriately manage potential risks to the organization and its clients, members, participants, and volunteers that may result from delivery of a volunteer-led program or service.
  • A risk management audit for all volunteer roles is integral. Audits are based on the role, not the individual volunteer. Staff will determine appropriate procedures and processes to assure quality program standards are achieved. In some organizations, the risk management and quality assurance program is formalized to achieve accreditation.


  • Roles should be developed to address the needs of the organization and the volunteer. Volunteer roles should be linked to the organization’s mission. Individual needs vary considerably; therefore, successful volunteer engagement adapts volunteer roles to fit these motivating factors when possible. It is necessary to periodically review volunteer roles to ensure their relevance and value to the organization’s mission and to the volunteer’s needs and motivations.


  • Effective recruitment messages are realistic and clear. They convey an accurate impression of the organization, its needs, and available opportunities. Genuine effort should be made to recruit and select volunteers with a broad range of backgrounds and experience, using a range of approaches. A healthy organization reaches out to diverse sources of volunteers, reflecting the diversity of the community.


  • Screening procedures apply to all volunteer roles with no exceptions and are based on the risk of the activities involved with each role; individuals do not determine screening. Screening should be viewed as evidence that the organization cares about its programs and its people.


  • An orientation clarifies the relationships between volunteers and the organization. It familiarizes volunteers with the organization by providing information on the policies and procedures that influence their work and their involvement with others. Volunteers need adequate training to perform their roles without putting themselves or others at risk. Training prepares volunteers to do the work required by the role and to meet the expectations of their volunteer roles.


  • Prior to the placement of volunteers in their roles, the level of support or supervision required should be determined based on the complexity and risk of the role. Where applicable, each volunteer should know their supervisor. Supervision increases the motivation of volunteers, helps ensure the organization’s mandate is met, and gives volunteers a sense of belonging within the organization.


  • Records should be maintained on every volunteer involved with the organization using a confidential, secure system. Records should include application forms, records of interviews, role descriptions, letters of reference, performance appraisals, and current contact information. Records are also useful in evaluating the impact of volunteer involvement.


  • Technology facilitates access to organizational and program information and provides new opportunities for recruitment, orientation, training, and both internal and external communication.


  • Effective volunteer resource management acknowledges the contributions of volunteers using ongoing formal and informal methods of recognition that are appropriate and meaningful to the individual volunteer. In addition, it is essential that those responsible acknowledge internally and publicly (where appropriate) the importance and impact of volunteer involvement to the organization.


  • An evaluation framework is in place to assess the performance of volunteers and gauge volunteer satisfaction. The effectiveness of the volunteer engagement strategy in meeting the organization’s mandate is also evaluated. An evaluation framework is in place to assess the performance of volunteers and gauge volunteer satisfaction. The volunteer engagement strategy should be evaluated regularly to ensure the involvement of volunteers contributes to the organization’s mandate. An evaluation of the volunteer engagement strategy should include: reviewing goals and objectives, identifying results achieved, obtaining feedback from current volunteers and clients, and collecting and reviewing both quantitative and qualitative date about volunteer involvement.

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