The Best Volunteer Job Description:  A checklist

We have been conducting volunteer recruitment, retention and recognition workshops for the past dozen years for downtown organizations, and we always get asked about how to you get more volunteers into the organization. We have read countless articles and seen examples on the ground in local Main Street organizations around the country. But we still think a short, clear job description can make the difference when actively recruiting for candidates.

Job descriptions create certainty for both the organization and the potential volunteer. The organization must be clear enough about the scope of the assignment, what they really need done, and how the volunteer job fits within the context of the work plan project. For the volunteer, a job description shows that you know how important the volunteers' time is, and limits their involvement to just those tasks.  No one takes on a job that is never ending.
Here is a checklist of 15 essential components of a volunteer job description, and then a sample job description using these components to show that you don't have to spend countless hours preparing these. For most simple jobs, you will need only about ten minutes to create a quality job description.

  1. Mission of the organization—Tell the potential volunteer what the organization does.
  2. Job tile –make it real and specific—“Volunteer Web Designer” or “Downtown Fall Clean Up—10 people needed.”
  3. What you want the volunteer to do, in detail—tell them if this is a task that has a limited time commitment or a long term assignment (you will have more luck filling short term assignments). Break down large tasks (like an auction) into small bits—distribute 100 posters, rather than manage the whole PR effort. This should be a general description, not how to do the task (the volunteer will do it “their way” regardless).
  4. Benefits to the volunteer to do the task—help the organization, meet new people, learn a new skill, use their skills for community betterment, meet school requirements, etc.
  5. How many hours will it take—your best estimate for the specific task. If the assignment is long term like a committee chair, tell them how many times a month the committee meets, for how long, how many times a month, also include any time for preparing for the meetings. If tending to the flower garden is a weekly task, make sure you include this.
  6. Can this project be done with others or as a group? Family projects that can be done in a day might be worth considering. Also groups of friends or clubs could also be a potential source of volunteers (think wholesale recruitment). Be open to non-traditional options to getting work done such as co-chairs or small groups of friends who take responsibility for projects. Can this work be done by a student (specify ages that are appropriate) or an unpaid intern?
  7. How the volunteer will get reimbursed for any money they spend on this task—be specific if you need receipts and how soon they must be submitted—“within two weeks of submission.”
  8. Location constraints—say if the task must be done in the office during office work hours, or any other location. Be specific if there are constraints or if the task “can be done on your schedule.”
  9. Any equipment that is needed and if the organization will provide. Also note if the task requires specific software programs or access to internet, or specific platforms (MAC vs. PC).
  10. Supervisor—list the Supervisor’s name, title, phone (work and home), cell phone number, email address. Include a note if this person is staff or another volunteer.
  11. How the volunteer should track their time—what forms to use, how often to submit the form and to whom the time sheet should go.
  12. Any training your organization will provide for the volunteer to do this task. Will you send them to training and pay for it? Will someone coach them to do the job? Do they have to attend any orientation before doing the job? Is there any training needed? If not, say so.
  13. How the volunteer will be recognized for their service (remember 3 times, 3 ways!)— Describe how their service will be noted, such as in the newsletter, at an event, by the supervisor, annual volunteer appreciation dinner, with a tee shirt, etc.
  14. Deadline for completion of task or how often the person must speak to the supervisor to check on progress.
  15. Date the job description was posted.

Please tell us what you would add to this checklist.

Sample volunteer job description for a fictional organization

Title: Membership committee chairperson

Mission statement: The Brown Main Street program works to improve the downtown district of Brown using the Main Street Four Point Approach™ pioneered by the National Trust Main Street Center.

Description: We need a volunteer to serve as our membership committee chairperson for the coming year. Brown Main Street now has 150 members, and these members need to be renewed and we need to expand our membership base. The membership chairperson will be responsible for organizing and implementing the renewal effort in the fall and the new member drive in the spring. Brown Main Street will provide all the brochures, labels, envelopes and postage. The chair will write and copy the letter, and follow up monthly by letter and phone with those that do not renew. The membership committee chairperson will make suggestions to the Brown Main Street Board about how to organize the new member drive at the January meeting, and then implement that activity during March and April. We are open to having co-chairs if you have a partner and provide a written list of who would be responsible for what tasks. The Committee now has three members. This work is done at your location; there are a few trips need to the Brown Main Street office to get supplies and make copies of the letters to go out.

Time commitment: We estimate that this work will take about 10 hours a month during the months of the renewal and new member campaign.

Skills needed: There are no specific skills required for this job, just the ability to write and passion for telling others about the opportunities to be involved with our Main Street program.

Reimbursement: We will reimburse you for any expenses within two weeks of receiving your receipts.

Deadlines: We will give you the labels for renewals on October 15. Please share your draft letter to go in the renewal letter to Bill Green your supervisor by November 1.

Supervision: Your supervisor for this project is the Board chair Bill Green. His email is Bill at green architects.com . Cell Phone number is 383-299-0009. Please contact him via email o or phone.

Completion of Assignment: Please keep Bill Green up to date each month so he can report on your progress at the monthly board meeting. Please submit your time log when you submit your project. Please attend our annual volunteer picnic held each year the last Saturday in May.

Please check our web site for more volunteer assignments. The list of opportunities is updated every week!

Thank you for agreeing to volunteer for Brown Main Street. We hope you have a good experience.