Writing position descriptions

A position description is a written outline of the purpose of a volunteer's role and how it fits into the bigger picture of your organisation. It helps volunteers know what they need to do, what help they'll get to do it and how they fit into the bigger picture of your organisation.

A position description also describes the volunteer's responsibilities and the broad capabilities they need to do their job. It should also outline the benefits of the role such as reimbursement of expenses, training opportunities, social opportunities or any allowances.

If you've already gone through the process of Creating volunteer roles to support your volunteer programs, then you'll have all the information you need to write clear, concise and informative position descriptions.

While a good position description guides a volunteer in their role and responsibilities it doesn't bog them down with details of every task they need to do.

Why have position descriptions?

Many community organisations do not have position descriptions for volunteers. However, volunteers report that they feel more supported and motivated if they have a position description that clarifies their role, what's expected of them (and what they can expect) and how they fit into the organisation.

In a nutshell, a position description speaks volumes about your organisation. It shows that you are organised and professional. It tells prospective volunteers that you are serious about what you do and that you respect and appreciate their contribution. And it shows that you have thought about how you want to involve volunteers in your organisation and its programs.

A position description is also a useful tool for managing a volunteer's expectations in regard to things like training and skill development, how the role may change or grow in the future and how they will be recognised for their contribution.

Used in this way, a position description travels with a volunteer through their lifecycle in an organisation and is periodically updated to reflect changes in things like the scope of the role or the volunteer's responsibilities, skills, time commitment etc.

How is a position description structured?

While you can structure your position descriptions in whatever way suits the style of your organisation, you would typically want to include the following sections.

Title of the role

As funny as it seems, people like to know that their role has a specific name. A title gives meaning and purpose to the role. It should accurately describe the role.

About your organisation

Explaining a bit about the goals, culture or history of your organisation (and even the types of volunteers who are involved) helps give prospective volunteers a feel for they type of organisation they would be joining. If volunteers are considering a number of volunteer opportunities, they are more likely to choose the organisation that most appeals to their needs and values.

Example: The Southern Society for Cats and Dogs

The Southern Society for Cats and Dogs manages a refuge for 35 abandoned dogs, and 90 abandoned cats. We aim to ensure that these animals are healthy and are matched to responsible owners that can provide a loving and secure home. We do not receive government funding for our work and rely on donations and other fundraising activities to maintain our refuge.

Key skills/abilities

Like any job description, a volunteer position description should list the key skills or abilities that you are looking for. Note that this relates to capabilities, not qualifications or personal attributes.

Example: Volunteer retail assistant

Our volunteer retail assistant role consists of:

  • Verbal communication
  • Money handling
  • Customer focus
  • Time management
  • Complaints handling and continuous improvement
  • Commitment
  • Teamwork

Tasks and responsibilities

Try not to get bogged down on detailed descriptions of duties and tasks. There can be many ways to perform a role and still achieve its objectives. If you focus on the responsibilities of the role then volunteers can choose the best way do the job.

Example: Volunteer retail assistant

Our volunteer retail assistant will be responsible for:

  • Sorting donated goods (clothing, household goods)
  • Cleaning and washing
  • Preparing stock for sale and pricing goods
  • Displaying stock and maintaining an inviting environment for customers
  • Customer service
  • Handling money

Mandatory skills or requirements

List any requirements that are essential to do the role. For example:

  • Certifications or qualifications, such as a current driver's licence, food handling certificate, animal handling certificate, police check or working with children check
  • Having strong computer skills
  • Speaking more than one language
  • Must be over 18 (for insurance purposes)

Think carefully about whether your requirements are actually essential to perform the role. Could someone without these requirements still do the job? Or could a volunteer develop these requirements on the job? If you can be flexible about your mandatory requirements then you are more likely to recruit a diverse range of volunteers to the role.

Experience and knowledge

Rather than setting mandatory requirements, you might be looking for someone who has experience in a type of work or knowledge in a specialist area. Make this clear in your job description as well. For examples, volunteer roles in health, advocacy or legal matters might need appropriate knowledge.

Personal attributes

Including things like personal attributes, interests, broad capabilities (like creativity, flexibility and honesty) and skills can help to open up your volunteer program to a much wider range of prospective volunteers. It also gives volunteers the flexibility to do a job in their own particular way.

For example:

  • Positive attitude
  • Client/member focused
  • Culturally aware
  • Honest
  • Collaborative

Supervision

Describe whether the volunteer has someone who supervises or assists them or, alternatively, people that they must supervise or assist as part of the role. Volunteers like to know who they need to report to, and in what capacity.

Location and availability

List where the role would be performed and the days/times volunteers need to be available. Some volunteers will be looking specifically for roles that offer flexibility in where and when they can get involved, so be clear about how flexible you can be.

Commitment

If you have a minimum time period that you would like a volunteer to commit to then include this in the position description. The minimum time commitment you set often reflects how much your organisation (and the volunteer) needs to invest in the role.

If you are investing a lot of time and energy into a volunteer position then consider a minimum time commitment of at least one year.

Benefits

Describe the benefits of the role. These are often specific to the role and your organisation and could include meals, drinks, uniform, reimbursement of expenses, networking, social activities, discounts, reciprocal roles with other organisations.

If you offer a training program of development opportunities these should be listed, as many volunteers are keen to develop their skills through volunteering.

Creation and revision dates

Providing these dates lets a prospective volunteer know how long the role has been in existence and how often it is reviewed and revised. It also helps your organisation keep track of when a role needs to be reviewed or revised.

Tools and resources