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Charity Commission – Volunteers

A volunteer is a person who offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking, willingly without pay.

Many charities could not continue without the support of volunteers; payroll costs are usually a charities largest expense however these are usually the costs that cannot be cut when looking into a charity’s finance as certain roles require such a level of oversight and management it would be unreasonable for this to be done by an unpaid volunteer. The only way a charity can manage its staffing costs is to rely on volunteers.

The Charity Commission has set out some guidance on how to manage your charity’s volunteers; it looks at how to find volunteers, legal status of volunteers and also expenses: Click here to view.

Charities can source volunteers via a number of different means such as word of mouth, personal recommendation and also advertising. Once volunteers have been sourced, depending on who they will be working with, will depend on the level of checks involved. For example if the volunteers will be working with children or vulnerable adults then a Disclosure and Barring Service check (DBS) will need to be performed on them. (See our article on Safeguarding)

Charities could get into legal problems if they do not clearly distinguish between paid staff and volunteers. A written role description is advised by the charity commission to help make it clear what the boundaries and the expectations of the volunteers are.

However, it is important that this role description is not confused with an employment contract and must not make any reference to working hours being mindful that the hours will be voluntary not statutory.

Your volunteers will often be the “public face” of your charity in delivering objectives and it is vital that appropriate systems and procedures are in place to manage your expectation of their conduct.  This will need to include a regular review process (similar to an annual appraisal) and a process for managing conflicts.  Done well this will be a productive and beneficial arrangement for both parties.

Volunteers are not paid for their time but can be paid for any out of pocket expenses. For example:

  • Travel (mileage, parking, additional insurance costs, public transport costs, etc.)
  • Postage and telephone costs
  • Protective clothing and other essential equipment

All volunteers must provide receipts for any expenses they incur and a process for checking and approving these will need to be implemented to ensure there is no abuse of the system.

Before using volunteers the charity also needs to ensure that the charity insurance policy covers volunteers, they need to ensure the following is covered in their policy:

  • Includes volunteers
  • Covers the activities the volunteers will be doing

For any more information please contact Lucy Hatton