Idea 7: Outline the relationship between staff and volunteers.

Clear divisions of labour, reporting structures and role definitions help create mutually respectful relationships between employees and volunteers. When possible, staff should be involved in developing a volunteer program and have input into their degree of involvement with volunteers. This will help build commitment and support for volunteer involvement. A general caution: Volunteers and employees should not perform the same functions.

Voices from the field:

  • Expectations have to be aligned right from the beginning in order to ensure there is no discrepancy. Everyone needs to know what is expected of them, else they do not know their terms of reference. We like to do this by doing volunteer/tutor training (an online module) as well as outlining expectations in initial interviews, reinforced by written agreements.
  • It just seems to happen. I am the only program staff person, so the distinction is easy.
  • When we did not clarify this relationship we ran into a few difficulties where volunteers felt compelled to change answer keys, teach new material, etc. We tried to stress the positive by letting our volunteers know that their greatest asset was the one to one tutoring that they could provide. I think putting a positive spin on their role really has helped.

To learn more:

Fader, S. (2010). 365 ideas for recruiting, retaining, motivating and rewarding your volunteers: a complete guide for nonprofit organizations. Ocala, Fla.: Atlantic Publishing Group.
»This resource includes a chapter on volunteer and staff relations, with tips to create and maintain good relationships. Includes advice on handling staff-volunteer conflict.

HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector. (n.d.). Workplaces that work: staff-volunteer relations. Retrieved from
»This part of an HR toolkit provides practical information on concerns that staff may have about volunteers, how to promote positive relationships, and a section on the board/executive director relationship.

Macduff, N. (2012). Volunteer and staff relations. In T. Connors (Ed.), The volunteer management handbook: leadership strategies for success. (2nd ed.) (pp. 255-271). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
»Presents characteristics of effective volunteer-staff teams, symptoms and causes of poor volunteer-staff relationships, a process for building staff-volunteer teams, and tips for enhancing volunteer-staff relations.

McCurley, S. & Lynch, R. (1989). Essential volunteer management. Washington, DC: VMSystems.
» A concise, basic text on operating a volunteer program; includes a chapter on volunteer-staff relations.

McCurley, S. & Lynch, R. (2012). How to generate conflict between paid staff and volunteers. Retrieved from
» A list of what not to do.

Last updated: November 12, 2015