Volunteer Etiquette Guidelines

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Get the family involved in volunteering. Spencer Platt / Getty Images

One of the best things you can do for your community is volunteer, but it's essential to understand that it comes with the same type of responsibility and etiquette guidelines you would have with a paid job. When you commit to something, you need to follow through because people are counting on you, and you should give your time graciously.

Tips for the Volunteer

Whether you're just starting out or you've been volunteering for years, take stock of what you're doing. Here are some things you need to do if you want to do the best job:

  1. Volunteer with a good attitude. You've committed yourself to something that you're passionate about, so put a smile on your face and show that you want to be there. You and everyone around you will be happier if you have a positive attitude.
  2. Be on time. If you have agreed to be somewhere at a designated time, show up on or before that time. Being late shows a lack of respect for others and can cause unnecessary stress on those who count on you.
  3. Dress appropriately. The place where you volunteer probably has some sort of dress code. Whether you are doing physical work or performing office tasks, wear something that suits the occasion. If the organization you’re volunteering for has a T-shirt or name tag, wear it.
  4. Follow the rules. Chances are, someone has given you a list of rules, either in writing or verbally. Do your very best to follow them because they've been established for a reason. Periodically go over your job description. If you don't have a written one, ask your supervisor how you're doing and whether or not you're meeting expectations. 
  1. Do the best job you can. What you do as a volunteer reflects your character and how much you care about the cause. If you find that you have lost your passion, let your supervisor know so she can remind you why you were there in the first place or find someone to replace you.
  2. Get along with others. You don't have to agree with other volunteers or the staff, but you can find a way to get along with everyone. After all, it's a team that's supposed to be committed to something worthwhile.
  3. Acknowledge others. As you would with a paid job, pat others on the back for a job well done and never take credit for someone else's ideas or hard work.
  4. Communicate. If you see something that the volunteer coordinator needs to know about, let her know as soon as possible. Or if you have a better idea for a way to get the work done more efficiently, it will benefit the cause to share your thoughts.
  5. Be discreet. While volunteering, you may see or hear private information that no one else needs to know. Keep it to yourself. Never trash talk or gossip about anyone you come into contact with at the organization.
  1. Be flexible. You may be actively doing your assigned job when you notice something else that needs to be done. Don't hesitate to do whatever it is, unless it's against the policy of your organization.

Tips for the Volunteer Coordinator

Those who coordinate and manage volunteers have a tricky task if they don't have everything spelled out. It's wise to create a job description that can be given to prospective volunteers so they know what they're getting themselves into. Here are some tips for volunteer managers to make their jobs run more smoothly:

  1. Be clear in the job description. If you spell everything out from the get-go, your volunteers will know what is expected, and you'll have a better outcome. Include the hours expected, times to be there, dress code, and specific tasks.
  2. Provide training. It's frustrating and confusing to be given a job without any direction or training from the beginning. Offer ongoing training to volunteers who want to learn additional skills.
  3. Be prepared to make corrections in a positive way. As with any job, people need training and corrections when they make mistakes. If you handle each situation with a smile and a helpful attitude, your volunteers will be happier than if you are harsh and say mean or hurtful things.
  4. Pay attention. Always listen to what your volunteers have to say. You'll learn new things everyday because they each come to you from a different angle and unique skill set.
  5. Allow for creativity. Your volunteers will enjoy having room to be creative while doing their jobs, and they'll add more value to your cause.
  1. Be grateful. As the volunteers work and accomplish tasks, give praise and thanks to them for offering their time and knowledge to the cause. Remember that they are there because they believe in the organization and have the desire to give back to the community.
  2. Offer some additional benefits. You might have access to free tickets to plays or coupons for free meals at restaurants that your volunteers can enjoy. Have holiday or end-of-project celebrations and recognize these people for what they do for your organization. Most of them will appreciate anything you give them.
  3. Offer advancement opportunities. Promotions may include volunteer or paid career positions.

Benefits of Volunteering

Besides the obvious feeling you get when you give your time and efforts to a cause, there are other benefits you might enjoy. Here are a few:

  • Better community. You'll have a hand in making your community a better place by giving even just a few hours of your time.
  • New friends. While volunteering, you'll meet other people who share the same passion and are willing to give up their time for the cause.
  • New skills. Whether you are part of a team building a home for a needy family or cooking for the homeless, you'll learn new skills that will help you in other areas of your life.
  • Stronger resume. Don't forget to add your volunteer work to your resume. Most prospective employers appreciate people who are willing to commit personal time to something that is worthwhile. It also fills in the times when you might have been between jobs and shows that you didn't sit around watching soap operas and game shows on TV all day.
  • Sense of wellbeing. As you give your time to others, you'll feel better about yourself, those you serve, and your community overall.
  • Broadened mind. Volunteering enables people to see the community from a different angle. You'll get to know people who appear less fortunate than you, and they'll provide insight into how they cope.
  • Different perspective. If you've ever been depressed about your station in life, volunteering will provide a different perspective to remind you that your life isn't so bad. In fact, helping others will make you more appreciative of what you do have rather than focusing on what you don't have.