Establishing a Volunteer Programme

An established volunteer programme is the foundation on which your force's involvement of volunteers should be based.

Establishing a programme board

Establishing a programme board or steering group to oversee the development of the programme is advisable. They will have responsibility for developing the vision and strategic direction, discussing legal implications, funding, policy development, monitoring and evaluation, and the appointment of a programme manager.

The programme board should comprise representatives from key internal business groups:

  • Senior management representation, e.g. assistant chief constable with responsibility for the police support volunteer portfolio
  • Health and Safety Department
  • Legal Department
  • Unions/Police Federation
  • Finance Department
  • Human Resources
  • Diversity Unit
  • Training Department
  • Marketing and PR Department
  • Vetting Department

It is recommended that a representative from the voluntary sector is also invited onto the board to advise on general volunteer management good practice. Support may also be required from other specialist groups to provide expert advice on particular issues.

Funding the volunteer programme

It should be recognised at an early stage that volunteers are not cost-free. Although volunteers bring added value to the force and are a cost-effective way of delivering services, there are significant costs associated with volunteering and include:

  • Staff salaries
  • Marketing and recruitment
  • Selection and placement
  • Training and equipment
  • Out-of-pocket expenses for volunteers
  • Insurance
  • Administration
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Management and support
  • Volunteer events

Principles of volunteering

Clarify the role of volunteers with a set of principles that include:

  • The purpose of the volunteer programme
  • The role of volunteers
  • How volunteers fit into the force
  • Clarification of the relationship between the police and volunteers
  • Issues relating to diversity

Volunteer policy

While volunteering is based on informality, flexibility and innovation, it is important to provide guidance to ensure quality and consistency. A written policy should be agreed by the programme board in consultation with stakeholders. It will:

  • Demonstrate the commitment of the force
  • Show where and how police support volunteers fit into the organisation
  • Provide guidance on practical matters such as recruitment, management and support
  • Ensure all members of the force know why police support volunteers are involved and the boundaries of the relationship, to allay fears of job substitution.

The policy should clarify what both parties can expect from the relationship. It is recommended that the policy is supported by a set of management guidelines, to show:

  • Recruitment and selection procedures
  • Diversity
  • Induction and training
  • Management and support
  • Problem solving 
  • Retention and recognition
  • Volunteer expenses
  • Confidentiality
  • Insurance
  • Health and safety, risk assessments.

Legal status of volunteers

Concern has been expressed about the legal status of volunteers and the implications this may have. It is commonly accepted that volunteers should not enter into any form of legally binding agreement or contract, either in writing or verbally, that would suggest the presence of an employment relationship.

A contract of employment is created when an individual agrees to undertake a task in return for something, usually of economic value, legally referred to as 'consideration'. If this rule is applied to volunteers, then a contract could be argued to have been created where the volunteer receives anything of economic value, for example training unrelated to their role, 'expenses' that are not related to actual documented expenditure, gift vouchers, membership of police sports and social clubs, etc.

Volunteers who receive such consideration may well be regarded as working under a contract of employment. This means they may be entitled to relevant workers' and employees' rights, which could have significant implications for the force.

Recent volunteer-related employment tribunal rulings have highlighted the confusion surrounding this issue but, following an appeal decision (which set a precedent) on 17 November 2003, the situation does appear to be gaining some clarity.

Based on the decision of the employment appeal tribunal, it would appear that police support volunteers are unlikely to be seen as working under a contract provided they:

  • Receive only reimbursement of actual out-of-pocket expenses and training, etc related to their role
  • Do not receive perks or anything else that could be interpreted as consideration
  • Are not seen to be benefiting economically from their relationship with the force
  • Are not subject to 'sanctions' if they decide not to volunteer.

It is therefore important that these principles are adhered to when developing the programme. Terms that are indicative of an employment relationship should be avoided where possible in relation to volunteers, e.g. terms such as 'employer', 'employee', 'employment', 'contract', 'staff', 'workers', etc. Advice and guidance should be sought from the force legal department and from local and national voluntary sector networks who are experienced in these matters.

It is therefore essential that careful consideration is given to the development of any volunteer management systems to ensure they do not suggest an employment relationship.

Appointment of a programme manager

Forces may wish to consider the appointment of a programme manager with responsibility for the strategic direction, development and management of the programme. This individual will act as a champion for volunteers and advocate on their behalf. They will also participate in programme board meetings and act as a link between the members.

As the programme develops and expands, it may be necessary to consider the appointment of additional posts. The potential for growth should be clearly identified in budget forecasts to enable required funds to be made available at appropriate times. This requires a clear understanding of the vision of the volunteer programme and careful forward planning.

Establishing a project board

A project board will oversee development of the operational processes and procedures needed to run the programme effectively. This should have a close link with the programme board to ensure strategy and policy are effectively translated into practice. The programme manager should attend both the programme and project board meetings to ensure this close link is maintained. The project board should include:

  • Programme manager
  • BCU volunteer manager (where appointed)
  • Volunteer representatives
  • Health and safety representation
  • Human Resources representation
  • Union representatives.

Specific support may also be required from other departments to provide advice on particular issues, e.g. data protection, literature development.

National Occupational Standards

National Occupational Standards for Volunteer Managers, available here

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