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Retaining Volunteers - Rues: Are They Really Needed? 


Why do volunteer organizations need rules? Aren’t they really a hinderance to retaining volunteers? If we carefully select volunteer members and treat them well, it should not be necessary to police them. And doesn’t this take away from volunteers and managers developing a positive working relationship? Besides, volunteers are not employees who receive compensation.

So, my question: is there a good reason to have rules for volunteers?


This question, about having rules and regulations, does come up every once in a while. I will address this question in four major points (1. Definition of Rules, 2. Purpose, 3. Benefits and 4. Major Issues relating to Rules). But the bottom line is Yes, volunteer organizations do need to have rules. And there are good reasons to have rules for your volunteer organization. Rules that are clearly written and consistently administered in a fair and impartial manner are important and effectively contribute to the retention of volunteer members.

Life without rules would be world of chaos and unfairness. Rules provide structure and boundaries. There are written and unwritten rules for groups, organizations and societies depending on a variety of factors and circumstance.

Rules set boundaries for all. What members, both paid and volunteer, are to do and what not to do are defined by the rules and procedures of the organization.

Yes, there are benefits of having rules. To look at the rule as negative or avenue of punishment is a limited view. And, yes, there can be abuses of rules.

Rules have different names. These include General Orders, Code of Conduct, Standard Operating Procedure, Standards, Practices, Regulations, etc. And there can have variation of meaning. Rules are a wide spectrum of discussion. The purpose of this article is not to oversimplify, but to provide a basic understanding in response to the question asked.

Definition of a rule

All rules relate to " a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere of persons." Regulation implies prescription by authority in order to direct and control an organization or system.

Purpose of rules

The purpose of rules is to provide structure so volunteers will know what to do and what not to do in their personal conduct and interactions with others both within the organization, with clients or members of the community to whom they are providing services. Without rules, a country or society will not be able to function in any way. As time goes by, new rules are needed, or old ones changed in order to fit the present state of the society. The fair and consistent treatment for all members should be essential to the administration of any rule.

The Benefits of rules.

There are clear benefits to having rules. What rules provide and why they are important include:

  • Protection the safety and well-being of all members
    • Rules designed to provide for the safety and wellbeing of all individuals.
  • Clear expectations of what is expected of volunteer members.
    • Following rules and regulations help volunteers understand what is expected of them and what will happen if they violate the rules.
  • A stable work environment
    • They make for a stable work environment where people feel safe to come and volunteer their services, to be themselves and to go about their business.
  • Assurance that your volunteer program is of the highest quality
    • Rules help to maintain the image and reputation of your organization in the community of how your organization operates and provide service to the community.
  • Risk Management
    • Rules and regulations help to protect the organization from any legal claims which may arise. The proper administration of rules is worth it to do your due diligence in order to understand your rights and obligations under the law. That way you can ensure full rights and protections for volunteers and those they serve. 

Major issues relating to rules

A rule is not simply a written statement. How they written, observed and applied can get into a lengthy discussion and debate. And yes, there can be abuses relating to rules. This is true of historical abuses of power.

How effective the rules are, depends in part on how they are written, applied and enforced.

Major aspects of rules include:

  • The language or the rules.
    • The language should be clearly stated and easily understood. The language should not be vague or confusing. The intent of the language should be understood. The rule needs to be timely and relevant.
  • The application of the rule.
    • The application includes to whom the rule applies to and the situation or conditions.
  • The interpretation of the rule.
    • This includes how the rules have been interpreted in the past.
  • The prescribed action.
    • What action is used to reinforce the rule or correct the unacceptable behavior or violation of the rule? Is it consistent with past offenses. Is it impartial in its administration?
    • The purpose of any action should be to correct the behavior depending on the severity and/or repetition of violating the rule.


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Rules provide structure and boundaries to an organization. They should be considered in the light of their purpose and the benefits they provide for a volunteer organization to effectively provide service to the community and provide for the safety and wellbeing of its volunteer members. Rules need to be professionally written and clear. They need to be administered in a consistent, fair, and impartial manner.