What to expect when you volunteer

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Our guide to volunteering

Download Our Volunteer Guide

Volunteering means:

  • unpaid work in a community organisation or for the good of the community
  • something you do of your own free will
  • something benefits you as well as the community.

Volunteering doesn’t mean working for free in a private business or company – in many circumstances that can be illegal.

Your rights

Volunteers have certain rights under the law: for example, the right to a safe working environment, free from harassment.

When you volunteer it is also reasonable to expect a decent and caring attitude that is reflected in how the organisation operates.  This is based on what the community believes is the right way to treat people who give their time.

You should expect:

  • Not to be asked to do or support any illegal activity
  • Training and policies and procedures to make volunteering fair, rewarding and safe
  • Proper equipment and a process you can follow if there’s an accident
  • To be covered by the organisation’s public liability insurance – in case you cause harm to another person or property
  • To be covered by volunteer insurance
  • Proper supervision – someone you can ask for help
  • A reasonable workload
  • Reasonable tasks – not just things none of the paid staff want to do


Rights work both ways – volunteers also have responsibilities to their organisation and to the community.

  • Follow the rules – especially where they relate to legal requirements or safety
  • Undertake training when asked and follow instructions
  • Do your best in whatever you’ve signed up for
  • Try to represent the organisation well in any dealings with people outside
  • Don’t waste their time – do what you’ve committed to do

Applying to volunteer

Many community organisations have a set process for recruiting volunteers that is coordinated by a volunteer manager.

You may start by sending a letter and your resume or filling in an application form, then be asked to attend an informal interview.  Some community organisations run information sessions at set times during the year as first step for new volunteers.

Many organisations will also check the backgrounds of their volunteers by conducting a reference check and police checks.  A Working With Children Check may also be required.  Read more about record checks.

The process for applying will depend on the type of role and the organisation.

Signing on/induction

You may be asked to sign a volunteer agreement when you start.  This is a written understanding between you and the organisation about what you both can expect from your time as a volunteer.

Your volunteering should start with induction and training appropriate to what you’re doing.

If you don’t feel you’ve had adequate training to do the tasks you’ve been set, speak to your volunteer manager.