Hal Davidson

Sep 8, 2021, 1:00 PM

Recruiting volunteers for charities – How to make sure it works for everybody?

Volunteers are amazing. Most charities simply would not function without the support of dedicated volunteers. They can be lifesavers and, when managed appropriately, can be some of the most reliable personnel in your organisation. 

I’ve been a volunteer for several different charities and I’ve been lucky enough to manage many lovely volunteers. More and more charities are opening their doors to volunteers, and so they should, but recruiting volunteers is not a task to take lightly.

Whether you’re a small organisation recruiting your first volunteer or you have struggled in the past to recruit volunteers, the following tips should help you to recruit the volunteers you need.

Do you need volunteers?

Whenever you’re considering recruiting a volunteer or multiple volunteers, it’s worth pausing and thinking about the need and whether you and your organisation are ready to recruit. Do you have the capacity, time and resources to ensure that volunteers will have a positive experience with you and that the task at hand will be completed effectively?
Recruiting a volunteer when you’re not ready will cost you time and effort in the long run and will most likely cause frustration on both sides. Useful questions to consider are:

  • What will the volunteer(s) do?
  • What support will they need to do this? Remember, even the most experienced volunteers need your support when they first start volunteering with you. 
  • Who will provide this support?
  • Realistically, does this person have time and capacity to provide the required support?

If you can’t answer these questions clearly or you have any concerns, it’s worth waiting until you’re ready. 

Find out what support is available

When you have decided that you are ready to recruit, do your research. There are lots of useful resources out there for recruiting volunteers, some of which I’ve listed at the end of this article. Organisations like Reach Volunteering and the National Council for Voluntary Organisation (NCVO) are great places to start. 

Write a volunteer role description

It’s great to see charities getting more creative with their volunteer roles. Here are a couple of my favourite:

  • Speaker Ambassadors – A couple of years ago a charity I currently work for trained 20 of its volunteers to deliver speeches about the work of the organisation at events and fundraisers. They provided the necessary tools, resources and training to ensure each volunteer would be comfortable speaking in a range of contexts and spreading the important message of the charity’s work. As a result, the fundraising team now has a greater presence at events without staff accruing numerous TOIL hours or being stretched too thin. 
  • First time donation calls – I’ve seen this in a few charities and it’s a lovely touch. A volunteer will call first time supporters to say thank you for their first donation to the charity. Nothing more. Just thank you. As you can probably imagine, it’s generally well received.

So what will your volunteer(s) be doing? Where will they be doing it, for how long will they be required, and are there any key dates they need to be aware of? By covering these bases, you avoid wasting time going backwards and forwards answering questions. 

For example, if you’re recruiting volunteers to support your events, make sure you state clearly the dates of the events. You don’t want to go through the process of recruitment only to find out they work on weekends, say, and won’t be available to attend.

Seek approval too if necessary. Have you spoken to your manager or your human resources staff? Recruiting a volunteer is a commitment, so you need to be sure the key people in your organisation are on board and understand the need.

It’s also worth covering what the volunteer will get out of their time with your organisation. For example, volunteering could be a stepping stone into a job in the sector, or it could be a chance to give back and do something meaningful. There are lots of great online articles about writing volunteer role descriptions and a simple Google search will provide some useful templates. 

Shout about the opportunity

Now that your volunteer role description is ready and signed off, it’s time to advertise the opportunity. You could use any or all of the following:

  • Your website and social media channels
  • Internal newsletters (perhaps one of your employees knows someone who might be interested)
  • Local bulletin boards and forums (online and print)
  • Job centres
  • Schools
  • Colleges and youth clubs
  • Local news sites and radio stations

You can also register volunteering roles with the NCVO and Reach Volunteering and local volunteering focussed organisations.

When the applications start rolling in

Great news: you’ve received some interest in the role. Now act quickly. Don’t wait until next week or the week after. Some people might be really interested in volunteering for your organisation and your organisation only, but the reality is that most candidates will be applying to lots of different organisations. 

So respond quickly, answer any questions they have raised in full and offer to speak over the phone to clarify any details about the role. Speaking over the phone or meeting in person will help you build a much stronger initial relationship than is possible over email. Here are a couple of things to find out when you speak with them:

  • What do they want to gain from the experience?
  • Why are they interested in volunteering for your organisation specifically. Perhaps they have a close connection. If you don’t ask, you might not find out, and that information could be important.

Make them feel welcome and valued 

If you’re satisfied after your phone call or meeting and the prospective volunteer is still interested in volunteering with you, you can get started. Perhaps ease them in with a day’s introduction to the organisation. You could arrange for them to come in and meet your colleagues and anyone they will be volunteering with. Or, if they are ready, they can get started on the task at hand. 

After going to the trouble to recruit volunteers, the following will help to make sure you retain them.

  • Check in with them regularly, especially when they are starting. Make sure they feel supported and able to approach you and ask for help if necessary.
  • Small acts go a long way – check in with phone calls and messages (as you would with your fundraisers).
  • Don’t just ask. Give as well. Every so often make sure you communicate with them without making an ask. For example, you could send them a link to an article you think they might be interested in. This way, when you do ask, it will be better received. 
  • Keep them updated and tell them what’s happening (good or bad).
  • And most importantly – SAY THANK YOU. You can’t say it enough. From my experience, volunteers can be lifesavers. But you have to treat them well and acknowledge regularly how important they are to you and your organisation. 

I hope that some of the advice is this article has been useful. I’ve provided some useful resources below. Good luck with your search!

Useful resources

Organisations to check out

Hal Davidson

And remember, Action Planning can help you with any recruitment matters. Contact office@actionplanning.co.uk

Hal Davidson has worked and volunteered for more than 20 charitable organisations in a range of roles and now helps organisations overcome barriers, solve problems and achieve their goals. Outside of work he delivers personal development talks and workshops to young people interested in learning more about the importance of professional purpose and career fulfilment.