Top tips for recruiting and supporting volunteers

The world of volunteers and volunteering has changed a lot in the last 10 years. Perhaps the most interesting change for me has been the move away from the collective contribution of thousands of individual volunteers to the language of mass participation. Volunteers and volunteering has morphed from informal activity at a local level into 'community engagement' or 'active citizenship' and even the 'big society', with an emphasis on how volunteers can contribute to public service delivery.

However, one constant has been the struggle faced by some volunteer-involving organisations to recruit and retain volunteers.

Nearly 10 years ago l was lead author for the now lost Volunteering Compact Code of Good Practice. The Volunteering Code was part of a national agreement between the Government and the voluntary and community sector and set out how volunteers and volunteering should be described, supported and encouraged. It contained undertakings and commitments for the Government, public bodies, and volunteer-involving organisations. As a document it had its shortcomings, but looking back I was surprised by how relevant some of those undertakings and commitments still are … and depressed at how often volunteer-involving organisations fail to meet those undertakings yet still question why they are so unsuccessful at recruiting volunteers.

So drawing from the Compact, these are my top 10 tips for volunteer-involving organisations recruiting and supporting volunteers:

  1. Challenge yourself to examine your overall purpose, values and objectives – and focus on how involving volunteers might relate to them.
  2. Ensure you have both the time and resources to support and train volunteers, and that you can provide something that will make their volunteering a valuable experience – for example increasing skills and confidence as well as supporting finding ways back to work.
  3. Identify a named person or groups to be responsible for volunteer involvement, and for monitoring and reporting on it (ideally appoint a paid Volunteer Manager).
  4. …also identify a trustee board champion for volunteering.
  5. Encourage the involvement of volunteers in on-going decision-making and include them in internal communications, so that your volunteers are acknowledged as important partners and stakeholders in your organisation.
  6. Volunteers, while not paid staff, should have many of the same entitlements as employees – clarity about their roles and responsibilities, induction, managerial supervision and support, and relevant training and development opportunities.
  7. Adopt clear policies regarding the payment of expenses. Volunteers should not be out of pocket because of their voluntary activity. Volunteers are entitled to reimbursement of all reasonable expenses. Many volunteers are reluctant to claim, so make sure you encourage them to claim.
  8. When preparing funding proposals and submitting bids, recognise that while volunteering is freely given it is not cost free. The full costs of involving volunteers should be included as legitimate overheads in full cost recovery.
  9. Look at your current volunteers – do they reflect the community of interest/location/beneficiaries in which you work? Tackle barriers to ensure that volunteering is open to all.
  10. Challenge yourself to offer opportunities that match potential volunteers’ motivation and abilities and that are diverse and inclusive – don’t just dress up the jobs that no one else wants to do as a volunteering opportunity!