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Recruiting Volunteers – Recruitment Ideas and Tips

1 April 2021

Volunteers are the backbone of the third sector. But if you’ve never had to recruit volunteers before, you might be wondering just where to begin. How can you find people you can trust to commit to your mission? What sort of checks do you need to make to keep people safe? And perhaps most important of all, when you can’t pay your volunteers, how can you keep them motivated to ensure they stick around?

This is your essential guide to recruiting volunteers. We’ll outline a few things you need to think about, tell you where to go to find volunteers, and offer tips on keeping volunteers for the long-term.

Recruiting Volunteers – The Fundamentals

The first thing to think about is – what do you need volunteers for?

For certain tasks, you might need a large number of volunteers for a short amount of time. You might need a team of volunteers to help you run an event, for example, or to distribute pamphlets, posters, or collection tins across town. For these sort of tasks, you’re probably not looking for any specialist skills beyond communication and interpersonal skills. And once the task’s complete, you might part ways with your volunteers forever.

On the other hand, you might need volunteers to fulfil a more specific role for a longer period of time. You might need admin support, for example, or more specialised event management assistance. In this case, you’ll need to be a lot more selective in your recruitment. You’ll have to find someone with a specific skillset, and you might have to think about how you’ll meet their needs in the long-term.

So before you think about recruiting volunteers, think about the sort of help you need, and the sort of person who might be able to help you.

How to Advertise for Volunteers: The Role Description

Once you know what sort of help you need, it’s time to put it in writing. For every volunteer role you offer, you’ll have to put together a role description. The better your volunteer role description, the easier you’ll find it to attract the help you need.

Be clear about tasks, responsibilities, hours, and the length of the placement. Provide information about your organisation and your mission, and make it clear how the volunteers’ support will help you achieve this mission.

The thought of doing good can be motivation in itself. But it’s also a good idea to highlight the sort of benefits volunteers can expect to gain from your placement. This could be the ability to make new friends and contacts or learn new skills, or something more tangible, like a free lunch.

How to Recruit Volunteers

So you know what sort of help you need, and you’ve put your volunteer role description together. Now your search to recruit volunteers can begin. Find out how you can recruit volunteers by talking to people you know, using volunteer matching sites, job sites and social media:

  • Talk to people. Talk to your friends and family. Ask your family and friends to talk to their friends and family. If you’ve got staff, ask them to spread the word too. Let people know that you’re looking for volunteers, and you might find a small army of willing help in your immediate circle!
  • Volunteer Matching Sites. There are many specialist volunteer matching sites out there where you can post your volunteer role description and find the help you need. You can register with Do It, the government’s official volunteering portal. For a more local focus, try Volunteering England, Volunteer Scotland, Volunteering Wales, Jersey Charities, Guernsey Charities or Volunteering Matters.
  • Online Job Sites. Most of the standard recruiting sites let you list voluntary positions, including Indeed, Joblist, Reed, and TotalJobs. Some of these job listing sites even allow third sector companies to post voluntary positions free of charge.
  • Social Media. Talk about your volunteering opportunities on all of your social media channels. The benefit here is that you might be able to engage in conversations with potential candidates, answering their questions about their role while highlighting what they can expect to achieve.

The Volunteer Recruitment Process

The volunteering recruitment process is slightly different to the standard recruitment process. For one thing, it’s less competitive – you might be looking for a lot of help at once, rather than one person for one highly specific role.

Also, remember that volunteers are basically offering to do a lot of work for you, for free. So while the standard recruitment process is mostly about finding the right person for a role, the volunteer process is almost the opposite – for the volunteers to decide if the role’s right for them!

It’s important to create an excellent first impression. Respond promptly to any applications or queries you get, and aim to be as polite, friendly and transparent as possible about your organisation, the role, and the recruitment process.

Volunteer Screening and Selection

It’s wonderful that anyone would willingly volunteer their time to help support a cause they believe in. But at the same time, you need to take care in screening and selecting your volunteers. It’s not just a case of ensuring that both you and the volunteers will benefit from the arrangement. It’s also about ensuring that nobody’s placed in any danger, and nobody’s put at risk of abuse.

Record Keeping for Volunteers

For every volunteer you recruit, you’ll need to keep certain records. Even if you’re just looking for someone to help distribute flyers for a couple of hours, you’ll still need to know who they are and how to reach them, just in case.

For every volunteer on your workforce, you’ll need the following data:

  • Name and address – with proof of their identity.
  • Contact details, and next-of-kin contact details in case of emergency.
  • Medical conditions, allergy information, and other things that staff, service users, and other volunteers might need to know.
  • You’ll also need to list the screening and selection tools you used for each volunteer. We’ll explain this in more detail below.

You can collect this information by asking each volunteer to complete an application form. On this same form, you can also ask volunteers to tell you a bit about themselves, and to explain why they’re interested in volunteering with you. You can even ask them to list any special skills that they feel they can bring to the role. If you’ve got a lot of applications, this might make it easier for you to narrow down your choice! It also gives you a database of skillsets that you may be able to turn to in the future as your requirements change.

Volunteer Interviews and References

It’s important to meet with volunteers before you start working with them. With a short, informal interview, you can better explain the role, and assess whether the volunteer will be a suitable match. You can also answer any questions the volunteer might have.

You might also ask for references, either in writing or via telephone or email. These don’t have to be employment references. You can specify that the potential volunteer can provide teachers, social workers, probation officers, or neighbours’ references instead. It’s just another method to help you screen for the role, and to enable you to address any potential issues before the placement begins.

Volunteer Background Checks

Depending on the nature of the role, you might also want to run certain background checks. Indeed, for roles involving children or other at-risk individuals, you will be required by law to run background checks.

You can ask potential volunteers to disclose details of any criminal conditions as part of their application. You can also request a DBS check.

There are a few things to bear in mind here:

  • No background check will give you the full story of a person’s past. For instance, a DBS check will only tell you about a person’s “unspent” convictions. It won’t tell you about convictions that are no longer on their record.
  • An individual’s past behaviour doesn’t necessarily forecast their future behaviour. A person with a history of conviction’s won’t necessarily offend again.
  • You should only really disqualify applicants based on past offences if the offences are relevant to the volunteering role. If you instantly dismiss anyone with any conviction, no matter how small or distant, then you could narrow your choices.

So a background check in itself won’t guarantee that a potential volunteer’s “safe”. It’s just one of a few screening processes you should put in place as part of your wider safeguarding policy.

How to Attract Volunteers for the Long-Term

Recruiting volunteers can be almost as time-consuming as recruiting full-time members of staff! It’s therefore best for everyone if your volunteers stick around. There are a few things you can do to encourage your volunteers to stay with you for the long-term:

  • Offer a formal induction process when they begin. Talk about your organisation, your mission and their role. Give a guided tour of your premises and let them meet as many people as possible.
  • Have regular routine catch-ups with your volunteers. Talk to them about what’s going well, and what’s perhaps not going so well.
  • Vary your volunteers’ tasks. This can help keep them motivated, while allowing them to try new things and learn new skills.

And finally, consider putting some specialist insurance in place. Our fully-tailored exclusive Community in Action insurance policy lets you access all the cover you’ll need to safeguard your organisation and your volunteers in the long-term. We even have a special professional indemnity extension for any necessary counselling, training and mentoring you or your volunteers might need. Head here for more information.