How to supervise volunteers

A good volunteer coordinator knows that supervision fosters volunteer satisfaction and improves retention rates. By providing the necessary training, support and followup, the organization equips volunteers to accomplish their tasks more effectively and independently.

A good volunteer coordinator knows that supervision promotes volunteer satisfaction and improves retention rates. By providing the necessary training, support and followup, the organization equips volunteers to accomplish their tasks more effectively and independently. In addition to meeting volunteers' needs and encouraging their sense of belonging to the group and the organization, good supervision is a way to share the organization's values and mission.

Here are 8 keys steps to effective supervision.

1. Planning

It's essential to involve your team at the various stages of volunteer supervision.

  • Encourage your team to help you recruit, support and recognize volunteers.
  • Consult your team when drawing up job descriptions.
  • Involve your team in integrating new volunteers and developing training content.
  • Invite your team to attend the training sessions as participants, workshop leaders and experts.
  • Provide training on supervising and working with volunteers.
  • Explain the contribution volunteers make to the organization's services, cause and mission.
  • Invite your team to meetings and events for the volunteers.
  • Explain the Canadian Code for Volunteer Involvement.
  • Explain to your team that they need to help you supervise the volunteers.

2. Welcoming and integrating volunteers


  • Plan the best time to receive new volunteers and make sure you are available and psychologically prepared.
  • Inform your staff and team of volunteers of the new volunteers' arrival.
  • Introduce the new volunteers to the team, show them around, indicate where they can put their belongings, where they will work, etc.


Integration is a two-way process that introduces the organization to the new volunteers and integrates them into the staff and volunteer teams with whom they will work. The aim of the integration process is to put the volunteers at ease, give them a chance to become familiar with their new environment, and explain the organization's mission and their role in fulfilling that mission. Inform them about the organization's day-to-day operations and culture. You can give them copies of brochures, newsletters and annual reports, for example.

3. Volunteer orientation

This step allows you to:

  • manage risk by familiarizing new volunteers with any workplace safety principles that may apply
  • explain the organization's volunteering policies
  • introduce new volunteers to staff and other volunteers
  • answer new volunteers' questions
  • set the tone for their future involvement

Here are a few tips on volunteer orientation:

  • Give your new volunteers their job descriptions.
  • Give them a guide for volunteers.
  • Match up new and experienced volunteers.
  • Organize a group information session on your organization and volunteering in general.
  • Provide basic training related to the volunteers' tasks and clientele.
  • Give them a trial period.

It's important to use vocabulary that everyone can understand and explain any jargon or acronyms specific to the organization.

4. Training volunteers

Training serves to provide volunteers with the knowledge, skills and attitudes required for the position.

Training volunteers:

  • Equips them to do their job
  • Answers their questions
  • Motivates them and drives them to excel
  • Helps them to understand the importance of their contribution and the seriousness of their actions
  • Clarifies their role, tasks and expectations

Training enables the organization to:

  • Fulfill its due diligence obligations
  • Ensure the quality of the services it provides
  • Assess whether the volunteers are right for the organization and the position
  • Strengthen the volunteers' sense of belonging
  • Provide volunteers with an opportunity for personal and professional development

Here are some important questions to help you develop your training program:

  • For whom is the training intended?
  • What will be taught?
  • What will the training format be (meeting, workshop, group project, film, role playing, discussion, overhead presentation, flip chart presentation, etc.)?
  • When and where will the training session be given?
  • Who will lead it?
  • What additional resources are needed?
  • Any obstacles?

Types of training

  • Training that you must provide (mandatory) (e.g., safety standards, health and safety regulations, confidentiality, etc.)
  • Training you should provide (important) (e.g., information on a specific clientele, public speaking, etc.)
  • Training you may provide (optional) (e.g., how to run a meeting, how to say no, teamwork, etc.)

It's important to evaluate your training sessions. Volunteer training should be ongoing and adapted to their needs.

5. Supervising volunteers

Supervision is a way to keep in contact with your volunteers, provide them structure and support and ensure their satisfaction. It's not about monitoring, controlling or criticizing. It's more a matter of educating, motivating, supporting, guiding and correcting.

A few suggestions for effective supervision

  • Support volunteers in carrying out their tasks. Volunteers will feel that you are helping them rather than checking up on them. Providing support will strengthen your relationship with your volunteers.
  • Be a resource person: Listen, interact, congratulate volunteers when appropriate, and correct their behaviour when necessary.
  • Provide volunteers with copies of the organization's code of conduct and policy on work relationships.
  • Avoid favouring some volunteers over others.
  • Provide volunteers with regular feedback. Effective feedback is descriptive rather than interpretative or evaluative. It refers to a specific situation or action. It's given immediately and concerns a behaviour that can be changed. It gives the volunteer the choice as to whether to change the behaviour.

6. Following up with volunteers

Organizations should follow up with their volunteers to:

  • help them fulfill their potential
  • integrate them more effectively
  • recognize their involvement
  • ensure the quality of the services provided

You should follow up with volunteers on their work on their first day, throughout their involvement and at the end of the project, specific activity or year.


  • highlights volunteers' contribution to the cause
  • integrates volunteers as members of the team
  • reinforces the organization's mission
  • takes into account comments from volunteers

7. Recognizing volunteers' work

  • Introduce the volunteers to your team and clientele.
  • Prepare the volunteers for carrying out their tasks.
  • Follow up with the volunteers.

8. Providing positive supervision

  • Make sure that volunteers understand their tasks and why they are important.
  • Regularly provide positive and constructive feedback.
  • Involve volunteers in decisions related to their tasks and take their suggestions seriously.
  • Appreciate and recognize their involvement.
  • Create a spirit of cooperation among volunteers, staff and your clientele.
  • Be available or make sure volunteers have a resource person they can contact if necessary.
  • Anticipate problem situations and have potential solutions ready.
  • Make sure that volunteers feel useful because their time is valuable.

Supervision is the first step toward establishing your managerial relationship with your team of volunteers. Good supervision gives your new volunteers a positive image of your organization, clarifies their roles and responsibilities and optimizes the organization's operations.