When you need them, how to write them
Job descriptions are powerful tools for recruiting and supervising volunteers. Your volunteer coordinator can use these documents to carefully screen candidates and schedule their work. And besides clarifying what volunteers are expected to do, job descriptions send the message that your nonprofit is well-organized.
This isn't to say that job descriptions are always necessary. Don't bother if you're recruiting people to do a simple task—such as handing out flyers—for a one-time special event. But do create job descriptions for more complex, long-term assignments.
What to include
As you write your own job descriptions, put yourself in the place of a volunteer and ask what you'd like to know. Below are common items to include:
- Mission. Volunteers want to know your mandate. State the basic idea of your work in one memorable sentence.
- Project or position. Describe the goal of the volunteer project or role and explain how it contributes to your mission.
- Tasks. Describe exactly what you want the volunteer to do. List specific, observable behaviors.
- Skills. Include both "hard" skills, such as writing or website development, and "soft" skills, such as communication. Distinguish between skills that are required for the job and those that are simply "nice to have."
- Setting. Describe where the volunteer will work — outdoors, your main office, an off-site location, door-to-door in the community. If the setting calls for a uniform or special equipment, mention these as well.
- Schedule and commitment. Answer common questions: How long will this job last? How many hours per week? Can I determine my own hours? Is the job more time-intensive during certain months of the year? Are date-specific events or project deadlines part of the job?
- Training and supervision. Describe the extent of on-the-job instruction, either formal or informal. Also explain how volunteers get feedback on their performance.
- Screening. Describe up front any required background checks or screening tests for volunteers.
To get started, feel free to use the sample template attached below. Simply open the attachment and adapt the wording as needed for your organization.
Then, revise the job description based on feedback from your staff. Also ask your lawyer or legal adviser to review the document to ensure that it legally describes a volunteer position rather than paid employment.
Keeping job descriptions alive
Review your volunteer descriptions at least once a year. Also update individual descriptions before you post them. Get feedback from your volunteer coordinator—and volunteers themselves. Their job descriptions are living documents, meant to keep pace with your organization's changing capacity.
Idealist: Screening, selecting and matching volunteers (2016)
Free Management Library: Developing and managing volunteer programs by Carter McNamara
The New York Times: Matching volunteers to the right missions by Phyllis Korkki (2011)
Volunteer Canada: A matter of design: Job design theory and application to the private sector (2001)
VolunteerHub: How to attract volunteers to your organization by Rob Cardosi (2015)
Community Tool Box: Section 1. Developing a plan for involving volunteers