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Managing the Trust Relationship between Volunteers and the Nonprofit

The following is a guest post by Shawn Kendrick, a researcher and blogger for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based volunteer management software application that offers online event registration, email and SMS (text) messaging, report generation, and much more. This is the first in our VolunteerCorner series – focusing on what you need to know about volunteering for nonprofits.

Whether it’s between family, friends, mates, coworkers, or business partners, the best relationships are those built on trust. The relationship between volunteer and nonprofit is no different. It can take some work, but building trust can be very beneficial to all involved. Although there are many specific suggestions we will offer below, the most important thing to remember is that the trust relationship is a two-way street that requires effort by both parties.

What You Can Do for Volunteers

Because volunteers are the ones coming forward and donating their time, it’s probably best if the agency be the first to “give” in the trust-building relationship. Otherwise, it can be awkward asking for more effort from volunteers right after they agree to help out. So, start by explaining how you are going to be a trustworthy partner. For instance, if you keep volunteers’ information locked in a special file, highlight that fact. Remind them that their information will never be loaned, sold, or given out. Make sure any electronic files also have appropriate levels of security. If you use volunteer scheduling software, make sure the provider gives excellent security as well. Assure volunteers that you’ll never give out their schedule to anyone they haven’t authorized in writing.

You’ll also want to take the time to ask if it’s OK to recognize them as a volunteer in agency-generated media. Ask this same question about third-party media sources. For various reasons, some people may cringe upon seeing their picture or name in the paper, even if it’s in connection with a good cause.

Shawn Kendrick

What to Ask of Your Volunteers

As we alluded to earlier, asking volunteers to jump through hoops just to give their time can be difficult. However, if you remind them of the fact that these measures also help ensure that they work only beside people who are appropriate for the agency, staff, and clientele, most will understand.

A good place to start is a basic criminal background check. These can be done fairly inexpensively. Explain that you aren’t looking for traffic tickets (unless they are driving an agency vehicle), credit checks, or financial records. You concern is to avoid putting someone with a serious criminal record in touch with clients, staff, and other volunteers. Although some may be put off by this, others may even welcome it, appreciating the fact that you put forth the extra effort to insure everyone’s safety.

You may also want them to sign off on the same policy and procedural manuals you give to paid staff. Just because you aren’t paying volunteers doesn’t mean there aren’t performance expectations. Also, for liability sake, this may be a good idea. If a volunteer were to be involved in an accident or some other incident, you may need to show that the volunteer was aware of agency policy and procedures.

These simple suggestions can establish the ground floor for building a trusting relationship between the organization and volunteers. With a little thought, there are likely numerous other ideas specific to your situation. Trust building does take some time and effort, but your organization will be glad you made the investment.


Shawn Kendrick holds an MBA from Ohio Dominican University and has over a decade of experience in the nonprofit and business sectors.


  • Bruce Cline

January 19, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Thanks for your article. Character Determines Success and Trust is certainly one of the outcomes from leaders, employees and volunteers acting with Character. I think you can build on this topic for future articles. Building and breaking trust, how to build trust within the organization.

Thanks again

Bruce Cline
City Attorney, Folsom
Adjunct Professor, Folsom Lake College

January 22, 2012 at 9:17 am

Managing the Trade Relationship is need of the hour.

Topics: Nonprofit Programs