National Council for Voluntary Organisations acknowledged for the Majority of this information ....
1. Background work before you recruit
Before recruiting volunteers, an organisation may want to consult with its trustees and relevant committees, in addition to its employees and existing volunteers. It may also want to consider the following questions.
- What is the function of volunteers and what tasks are volunteers suited to?
- What skills and experience would the organisation like volunteers to bring to its work?
- How will the organisation go about finding volunteers?
- What will the selection process involve?
- If volunteers are successfully recruited, how will the organisation ensure they remain with the organisation?
- Does the organisation have good volunteer management and policies?
If an organisation is recruiting for a role that involves working with people in vulnerable situations, a more comprehensive recruitment process should be carried out. See our safeguarding resources for what additional measures you should consider before, during and after the recruitment process.
Get your house in order before you recruit volunteers
Traditional routes to volunteering are changing and organisations are competing for volunteers. Those who donate time want to know it is well spent, that work is well organised and their contribution is valued.
Volunteers are any age. They may be school children, young people, parents or family members, or retired. Different groups may have varying approaches to volunteering. It is important volunteers are clear about their roles and the support they can expect from an organisation.
Organisations need to have systems and procedures in place to ensure their volunteers have a great experience.
Giving volunteers a quality experience
In January 2019 NCVO found there are eight key features that make up a quality experience for volunteers:
- Inclusive: welcome and accessible to all
- Flexible: takes into account people’s individual life circumstances
- Impactful: makes a positive difference
- Connected: gives a sense of connection to others, to the cause and/or an organisation
- Balanced: does not overburden with unnecessary processes
- Enjoyable: provides enjoyment, people feel good about what they are doing
- Voluntary: the volunteer has freely chosen to do it
- Meaningful: resonates with volunteers’ lives, interests and priorities
Volunteering may be regarded as a way to learn new skills, meet new friends, or make a valuable contribution to a cause. It may lead to employment and new careers.
2. Get the word out
Advertising for new volunteers requires an organisation to:
- prepare a case for support – its message to potential volunteers
- choose channels for recruitment
- be persistent and patient.
Case for support - your message to potential volunteers
The case for support should explain in reader-friendly language:
- what the organisation does and what cause or group of people it benefits
- the range of volunteer opportunities that exist
- the difference a volunteer can make to the cause or the people who are supported
- what the volunteer can gain from working with the organisation
- how prospective volunteers can find out more.
Methods of volunteer recruitment
There are a lot of ways to advertise for volunteers. These include:
- word of mouth referrals
- leaflets and other printed media
- using Volunteer Centre databases
- organising or speaking at events during Volunteers' Week
- press and radio ads
- online - on your own website and via volunteer recruitment websites.
Include a phone number and email address so potential volunteers can get in touch easily.
Persistence and patience when recruiting volunteers
Don’t panic if you are just starting out and recruitment of volunteers appears to be taking a lot of time and effort. It will be worth it.
Passionate advocacy may not always attract the volunteers that are so badly needed – but persistence and creativity will eventually pay off. Volunteering is deeply engrained in the British psyche - one in seven of the population is already a volunteer so it is not a new idea. It's worth bearing in mind that asking a busy person may be more likely to result in a new volunteer than finding someone who has not previously volunteered.
Online methods of recruitment can be especially attractive to younger people.
3. Volunteer applications
Designing a simple form for applicants will help make sure the recruitment of volunteers is taking account of equal opportunities and diversity policy. Where appropriate ensure different languages or inclusive images are used. You also need to be conscious about accessibility for people with disabilities.
Asylum seekers, volunteers from overseas and ex-offenders are allowed to volunteer. If necessary, appropriate legal guidance should be sought from one of the national centres.
Be ready to have an informal chat on the phone.
4. Volunteer interviews
Interviews should not be overly formal – people are offering a gift of time, not seeking paid employment. The great temptation in interviewing is for the interviewer to talk too much about the organisation and not leave time for the potential volunteer to talk about themselves.
A simple ‘person specification’ can be a useful template for the interview. A second is an exploration of why the applicant wants to volunteer. Motivations might include:
- a belief in the organisation’s cause
- wanting to use skills and give something back
- trying out or learning new skills
- (if the person is older or unemployed) to keep active
- gaining experience in a field of activity they hope to enter
- social contact and meeting people.
Exploring these points in an interview and keeping a record of the answers is a demonstration of good interview practice.
Make sure the volunteer role or roles are understood and give time for the applicant to raise any questions or concerns. Doing this will help to bring the interview to an end. It's also important that you're ready to explain any requirements that need to be met before appointment and the support that will be available.
5. Volunteer appointment
Once you have decided that the applicant has the necessary attributes and actual or potential skills for the volunteer role, the next step is to contact them and fix a provisional start date and induction time.
The firm start date depends on a number of factors;
References for volunteers
References can be sought. In the first instance, a simple letter from referees (two is usually the right number) will be enough. But talking to the referees by phone may also be useful to probe a little deeper and ask about the applicant’s capacity to work in a team, their flexibility and their ability to best represent the organisation’s cause as a new volunteer.
Health checks for volunteers
Health checks are advisable if the role demands physical activity. But it is worth deciding a policy on whether you will ask about health conditions from all volunteers, no matter what the volunteer role may be. Health checks should not be used to discriminate against people who are frail due to age or dealing with mental health problems. Considerable sensitivity is required as with disability (remember equal opportunities and diversity).
DBS checks on volunteers
A DBS check is a process for gathering information about an applicant’s criminal history and is an important part in safeguarding. It helps organisations make safer recruitment decisions and prevents unsuitable people from working with vulnerable groups.
Disclosure Services provides Basic, Standard and Enhanced DBS criminal records checks on applicants and the system is reliable, easy to use, fast, accurate and fully secure. It includes a fully electronic application process with dedicated relationship manager and significant cost and administrative savings.
Having completed all the stages of recruitment, the organisation may decide that the applicant is not suitable for the volunteer role available. In this case, it is important to tell the applicant the reasons that you are not accepting them as a volunteer. Suggesting that the nearest Volunteer Centre may have more suitable volunteer roles may ease the blow of rejection.
The applicant may decide that they do not want to volunteer for your organisation after all. In this case, you might want to ask the applicant for their reasons. This insight may prove helpful for future recruitment activity.
6. Supervising and supporting volunteers
The importance of supporting and gaining feedback from volunteers, to assess their satisfaction with their roles.
Get to know your volunteers
It is important to really get to know your volunteers. This means taking time to understand what they find satisfying about volunteering and any concerns they may have about the role or the organisation. Volunteers do get bored; they have other things going on in their lives. A manager of volunteers may be coordinating several hundred volunteers so finding the time to talk to each individual or group may be difficult. However, ensuring volunteers are given opportunities for giving and receiving feedback on their work is essential. Exit interviews are particularly helpful in this respect.
Understanding your volunteers will help you to:
- revise roles to ensure they are still relevant and valuable
- provide new opportunities for keeping volunteers involved and motivated
- enable you to continually improve how volunteers are organised.
Getting feedback from volunteers
There are different ways of getting feedback from your volunteers. Traditional methods include questionnaires, interviews and focus groups.
Volunteers Week is the UK's annual celebration of the work volunteers do and an opportunity for individual organisations to say thank you.
New opportunities for volunteers
You might also want to create volunteer roles to help you coordinate and support other volunteers. Many managers of volunteers are themselves volunteers. Volunteers often bring management skills and experience so use them. Giving volunteers more responsibility can be very rewarding for all.
7. Volunteer policies
Why you need a volunteer policy and links to resources to help you develop one.
What is a volunteering policy?
A volunteering policy is a framework for a volunteer programme. It helps define the role of volunteers within the organisation, and how they can expect to be treated.
Advantages of having a policy
It can help to:
- demonstrate your organisation's commitment to its volunteer programme and its individual volunteers. By having such a document in place you are showing that care and thought have gone into the volunteer programme.
- ensure consistency and that all volunteers are treated equally and fairly. Being able to refer to a written policy ensures that decisions do not have to be made on an ad hoc basis.
- allow volunteers to know where they stand; it offers some security, in that they know how they can expect to be treated, and where they can turn to if they feel that things are going wrong.
- it helps ensure that paid staff, senior management and trustees fully understand why volunteers are involved, and what role they have within the organisation.
If your organisation has not yet started to work with volunteers it is the ideal starting point to consider exactly how you will involve them in your work, as it encompasses everything from recruitment to supervision and dealing with any problems that may arise. You should consult as widely as possible with volunteers and staff at all levels of the organisation in developing your policy.
Things to cover in your policy
- Recruitment of volunteers, including equality and diversity
- Induction and training
- Supervision and support
- Health and safety
- Confidentiality and data protection
- Problem solving and complaint procedures for volunteers.
Some organisations will have a short policy that refers to other documents for more details. For example, a separate document might have more information on health and safety.
You should ensure that your policy reflects the size and nature of your organisation. It is important to have a proportionate level of formality so as not to put potential volunteers off volunteering for the organisation.
Once your policy is complete it should be communicated to staff and volunteers throughout the organisation. The policy should also be reviewed regularly, at least annually, to ensure it remains fit for purpose and current.
8. Keeping volunteers
The secrets to ensuring your volunteers stay with your organisation.
How do you keep volunteers enthusiastic? How do you communicate with them to make them feel part of your organisation? What are the things that cause volunteer relationships to go wrong?
Recognition of volunteer contribution
Informally, telling volunteers they are doing a great job, asking their opinions on internal developments, getting them to feel comfortable with being a part of the organisation’s social life – all are important.
More formally, volunteer events (part of Volunteers' Week maybe), where group recognition takes place, the awarding of certificates, helping volunteers gain accreditation, including volunteers in staff meetings and inviting them to be members of working groups offer possibilities. These will demonstrate a recognition both to all volunteers, staff and committee members of the importance of volunteers.
In January 2019, NCVO published a report on the volunteer experience Time Well Spent showing that the most popular form of volunteer recognition (42%) was verbal or written thanks from the organisation. There is a section on respondents’ perceptions of volunteer recognition in the report.
Solving volunteer problems and handling complaints
Problems can arise because different priorities come to the fore, volunteers don’t get the resources they think they need and money goes to a part of the organisation, other than the one they are serving. Where good support and supervision procedures are in place, problems may get solved without prolonging the difficulty.
On the other hand, a volunteer may bring a complaint about a member of staff, or vice-versa, or a client may complain about a volunteer. Volunteers need to feel complaints are handled with sensitivity and they receive a fair hearing and that the complaints/grievance procedure of the organisation will be rigorously followed. This procedure should be in writing and available to volunteers, and will ensure a consistency of response.
9. Letting go of volunteers
An organisation should be prepared to ‘let go’ of volunteers as well as retain them. For one or a combination of reasons some may be ‘let go’ as they have volunteered in one role for a very long time and run out of steam; for some their personal circumstances have changed to the detriment of their volunteering; others may, after all, show themselves to be unsuitable in spite of good recruitment procedures. Knowing when to let go is as important as knowing how to retain.
Unless there has been serious misconduct, a departing volunteer should receive thanks and be offered an Exit Interview opportunity. At this the totality of their volunteer experience, short or long, can be evaluated and views sought from the departing volunteer about possible improvements that might be introduced for future volunteers. Be as positive as possible so the departing volunteer will retain positive views about the organisation and not seek to lower its reputation. Try to agree the benefits the volunteer has gained whilst with the organisation and offer them appropriate support in seeking new opportunities.
10. Thanking volunteers
How, how often, and to whom you demonstrate gratitude should be as integral to your volunteer management strategy as recruitment, training and retention.
On the surface, saying ‘thanks’ is easy – we all do it every day without thought. But saying thanks in an organisation context can be a very different prospect. Here are some practical ideas and considerations on that all important ‘thank you’.
It's not always easy
Firstly, saying thank you can often simply be forgotten. If, like many charities, your trustees and leadership team have an ambitious vision, then the pressure is on to always look forward, at the expense of reflection.
Or, your charity may be characterised by a rigid hierarchy that doesn’t always encourage positive feedback to be filtered down or across to volunteers in different sites and locations. Because volunteers don’t get paid, you might think that we should naturally be more inclined to thank them. But it might be just as easy to take their generosity for granted, especially if they have been with you for some time.
Perhaps worst of all, though, is the ill-judged thank you – too fleeting, insincere, or undeserved. At best it may fall flat; at worst it can anger and linger.
When to say thank you
You shouldn’t need an excuse to say thanks to your volunteers. Indeed, it is often the thanks that come out of the blue that have the most impact. Conversely, there are certain occasions when a thank you might be expected, and therefore its absence creates an issue. Here are just a few examples, which should be easy for most charities to incorporate:
- If your charity published an annual report or promotional material, either in print or online, your volunteers might expect to be namechecked in that.
- Where a project involving volunteers has generated positive media coverage, they may feel aggrieved if their contribution isn’t recognised. These pieces are usually the remit of your charity’s communications team or PR agency, so it’s a good idea to always keep them in the loop with good news stories from your volunteer ranks. To facilitate that, encourage your volunteers to provide you with those stories.
- A personal thanks to each volunteer on the anniversary of their start date with you cannot only serve to express your gratitude, but also reinforce key messages, such as goals and development opportunities. If you have a large volunteer network, then email is a perfect format to create individually-tailored communications and automatically schedule these to send throughout the year.
- You may choose to thank your volunteers on a day that has relevance to your charity’s mission. For example, if family welfare is important to you, occasions such as Mother’s/Father’s Day might be a good opportunity. Or, if your charity works with migrants, refugees or asylum seekers from a country, then their national holiday or patron’s day may work well. You can find a list of national holidays and days of observance on Wikipedia.
- Making someone a ‘star volunteer’ at regular points throughout the year can provide an extra goal to sharpen motivation and incentive.
- Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June) and International Volunteer Day (5 December) also provide a perfect occasion every year.
Make sure you think carefully before deciding to single out an individual volunteer, or volunteer team, for special appreciation of a specific job well done. You should bear in mind that such an action may create an atmosphere of ‘winners and losers’, with all the emotions associated with that.
How to say thank you
How you decide to thank your volunteers can be as important as the decision to thank them at all. It will be informed by many factors:
- If your charity published an annual report or promotional material, either in print or online, your volunteers might expect to be namechecked in that.
- More specifically, you should always tailor your thanks to the individual volunteers.
A very public expression of thanks, be it in a report or at an event, may help to carry weight. Though, for people who are uncomfortable in the limelight, a quiet pat on the back, a private email or a telephone call may be better.
Acknowledgement through words, either delivered in public or private, should be the first port of call. On occasion, though, such as the departure of a long-serving volunteer or a significant accomplishment, you may feel the need to make a larger gesture in the form of a gift. As a general rule, the act of giving should always outshine the gift itself. Inexpensive merchandise, such as certificates, mugs, t-shirts and other fundraising items, often do the job. Volunteers committed to your cause are quite likely to be upset if they feel rewards were too generous or lavish. They want to see the resources put into the cause you’re all working for.
Charities should always be cautious that, in rewarding volunteers, they do nothing to compromise the legal and financial relationship they have with them. It is good practice to avoid anything of significant monetary value, and not to offer gifts on a regular basis. Doing so may lead to a culture where gifts are viewed as a ‘perk’, which can then suggest the creation of a contract with the volunteers, giving them employment status with the associated rights. For more information on the legal clarification of volunteering and employment, take a look at our Volunteers and the law section (for NCVO members only). Also, it is important not to give gifts that the volunteer can benefit from financially, such as money, vouchers, tokens and gifts of appreciable or sell-on value, as this can affect benefit claims, and may be regarded as income and therefore taxable.
Be careful not to set precedents or exaggerate the notion of reward, at the expense of undermining your charity’s mission. It should be this mission that continues to drive your existing volunteers, and those you wish to recruit.
11. Volunteer expenses
Although volunteering is unpaid, it should not cost a volunteer anything either. That’s why it’s good practice to reimburse a volunteer for out-of-pocket expenses incurred in the course of their volunteering.
Why reimburse expenses?
Expecting volunteers to cover their own expenses could be a barrier to people with low incomes or little spare cash. Not reimbursing expenses could also deter people who feel they are already contributing a significant amount of time.
Which expenses should be reimbursed?
Any reasonable expenses incurred while volunteering should be reimbursed. This includes but is not limited to:
- travel, including to and from the place of volunteering
- meals and refreshments
- care of dependants, including children
- equipment such as protective clothing
- administration costs, e.g. postage, phone calls, stationery.
For expenses such as meals and refreshments, it may be useful to set a limit. Many organisations do this so it’s worth checking to see what others in your area do and to ensure that they reflect what local costs are in your area.
You should ensure your volunteers are aware of the rules about expenses, to ensure they don’t incur unnecessary costs. This can be outlined in a volunteer expenses policy which should be shared with volunteers when they are recruited, and could be part of induction or a volunteer handbook if you have one.
12. Volunteer websites who can assist with promotion include;
Basingstoke Voluntary Action - Volunteer Centre
Basingstoke Volunteer Centre is part of Basingstoke Voluntary Action (BVA) a council of voluntary service. The VC is a department within BVA and supports, shares and participates in the work of BVA and all its projects.
If you are looking to advertise for Volunteers, contact the Volunteer Centre
Ensure you have create a clear role description and if intending to have a few volunteers at your organisation, consider creating a Volunteer Co-Ordinator role.
Basingstoke VC provides the core functions of a volunteer centre by:
- promoting volunteering
- brokering placements and participation in volunteering
- providing information, training and research
- campaigning and commenting on volunteering and related issues
- developing volunteering opportunities
Call the VC Coordinator via Tel: 01256 423850 or E-mail: email@example.com and maybe drop in to discuss requirements at The Orchard, White Hart Lane, Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG21 4AF
13. Additional promotion of Volunteer Roles
Consider adding a Volunteer section on the club website detailing some of the tasks or roles required and who to contact if anyone interested. Ensure that volunteer activities are also added to newsletters and mentioned at Annual General meetings.