Volunteer Scotland logo

Volunteer Charter

The Volunteer Charter sets out the ten key principles which help to underpin good relations within a volunteering environment. It is open to any individual, group or organisation from any sector who either involve volunteers, or influence decisions on how volunteering is resourced or reflected in policy.

We believe that this charter supports the foundations for a good volunteer experience and gives individuals, groups and organisations the opportunity to express their support for the spirit of volunteering while upholding the principles of good volunteer practice.

The 10 key principles

This Charter sets out the 10 key principles for assuring legitimacy and preventing exploitation of workers and volunteers. 

Any volunteer activity is a freely made choice of the individual. If there is any compulsion, threat of sanctions or force, then any such activity is not volunteering.

Volunteers should receive no financial reward for their time however out of pocket expenses should be covered. No one should be prevented from volunteering due to their income. Read more here.

Effective structures should be put in place to support, train and develop volunteers and their collaboration with paid workers.

Volunteers and paid workers should be able to carry out their duties in safe, secure and healthy environments that are free from harassment, intimidation, bullying, violence and discrimination

Volunteers should not carry out duties formerly carried out by paid workers, nor should they be used to disguise the effects of non-filled vacancies or cuts in services.

Volunteers should not be used instead of paid workers or undercut their pay and conditions of service nor undertake the work of paid workers during industrial disputes.

Volunteers should not be used to reduce contract costs nor be a replacement for paid workers in competitive tenders or procurement processes.

Volunteers should not be used to bypass minimum wage legislation nor generate profit for owners.

Volunteers and paid workers should be given the opportunity to contribute to the development and monitoring of volunteering policies and procedures, including the need for policies that resolve any issues or conflicts that may arise.

Volunteer roles should be designed and negotiated around the needs and interests of volunteers, involving organisations and wider stakeholders. Finding legitimacy and avoiding exploitation through consensus depends on mutual trust and respect.

Additional information on the Charter

Whilst volunteers should normally be reimbursed for any out-of-pocket expenses incurred whilst volunteering, we understand that there may be legitimate or underlying reasons why this is not possible. For example, small volunteer-led organisations may operate with very limited financial resource, and likely recruit volunteers primarily from the local community. There are also certain roles where expenses are inappropriate due to the more informal nature of the role. Finally, we recognise the challenges many organisations face in accessing financial resource for their volunteering programmes, particularly in the current financial climate.  

If you do not reimburse expenses for a legitimate reason, this does not necessarily mean you are undermining the principles of the Charter. However, we would invite you to consider if reimbursing expenses might make your volunteering opportunities more inclusive. You can find more information about this here.

The values that underpin this charter are:

  • recognising people as assets – not a commodity
  • building on people’s skills and experience
  • promoting reciprocity, mutual respect and trust
  • building and supporting strong social networks

The characteristics of volunteering based on the United Nations definition are:

  1. Mutual support/self-organising – where we meet our shared needs together in associational life.
  2. Formal service – normally through 3rd parties with agreed roles and responsibilities and management arrangements (the charter principles are especially relevant here).
  3. Civic participation and campaigning – such as youth forums, political movements, and public service decision-making.

The principles of volunteering are that volunteer activity of any kind is undertaken with free will, is not for payment and seeks community benefits.

There are a wide number of stakeholders interested in ensuring good relations between paid workers and volunteers, including;

  • Volunteer involving organisations from all sectors
  • Trades Unions and workers representatives
  • Funding and procurement agents
  • Government
  • Development Agencies and networks
  • Workers and Volunteers
  • Beneficiaries and communities of interest

We envisage that this Charter will be relevant in formal volunteering contexts, particularly when volunteers are engaged alongside paid staff. It will help volunteer involving organisations to ensure legitimacy when making decisions about volunteer recruitment, management, induction, written obligations and agreed responsibilities.  

It will also be useful for policy makers, elected representatives and funders when making decisions about how volunteering will be represented in legislation and policy, or in how volunteering is resourced.  

  • A principles checklist for volunteer involving organisations
  • An agenda for negotiations about legitimacy, motivations, and non-discrimination
  • An aid for the co-design of volunteer roles
  • A tool for conflict resolution and addressing media interest
  • A test for other volunteer promotion such as on-line volunteer opportunities
  • An aid for making decisions about how services will be delivered 
  • A tool for making decisions about how much resource is allocated to volunteering activity 

For support or guidance in how to apply the Volunteer Charter, please email charter@volunteerscotland.org.uk

Related learning opportunities