Ally, you are definitely not alone. Whilst it is important to be aware of the legal issues (and thank goodness for people like Sandy and Mark Restall who help us navigate these waters) we should always focus on good volunteer management first as that’s the best way to avoid problems in the first place. I like to draw an analogy with tightrope walking (bear with me).
Good volunteer management makes sure the wire is secure, the walker is well trained and supported etc.. The legal side is about ensuring the safety net works if everything else fails. Focusing on the legal side ain’t going to get the person across the tightrope but it will help protect them (and us) if they fall.
Also, during the Volunteer Rights Inquiry, one person who gave evidence suggested that volunteers were unhappy with the way they are treated because volunteer managers have spent too much time worrying about the legal/risk aspects of what we do and so focus on what we can’t do for volunteers rather than focusing on what we can do and creating a great experience for them.
If that is true then it is a fairly cutting analysis of volunteer management practice and the disconnect with what our volunteers actually want.
A signature is irrelevant in determining whether a relationship is or is not contractual – and therefore whether someone is or is not entitled to employment-related rights. For a detailed explanation of when a contract might (or might not) be created with a volunteer, see The Russell-Cooke Voluntary Sector Legal Handbook (Directory of Social Change, 2009), section 39.4.
Might be on my own with this one… but I feel passionately that if you are practicing good practice in volunteer management, you don’t need signed agreements because at each step of the volunteer experience you have explained the role, managed expectations and boundaries and provided training and support relevant to that volunteer role. personally I think volunteers can be just as effective without agreements and also think that if they are used they should be used consistently. Not sure my thoughts are particularly useful but hopefully it helps, ally.
Hi. New to this great blog!
I just want to clarify whether volunteers should be signing volunteer agreements or not. The Volunteer and the Law Handbook states that some organisations asks their volunteers to do this, and some don’t but to make it explicitly clear on the Agreements that it is not intended to be a legally binding agreement and in honor only.
We ask volunteers to sign and have added the statement as advised by the Law Handbook and Volunteer England. However, looking at the Grayson case (2004), the non-signature of the agreement was noted.
I am also wary of it being deemed as contractual by virtue of asking for a signature on it, when, in reality, volunteers are not expected to sign on anything that may look or implied to look like a contract! The question is should we or should we not ask volunteers to do this?