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Ten tips to recruit and retain volunteers

12 Feb 2015 Voices

Following the launch of his organisation's new link-up with LinkedIn to help charities recruit volunteers, Jamie Ward-Smith of Do-it offers a guide on how to find and keep them.

Following the launch of his organisation's new link-up with LinkedIn to help charities recruit volunteers, Jamie Ward-Smith of Do-it offers a guide on how to find and keep the best.

I’ve often said that involving volunteers isn’t rocket science but if you don’t get the basics right it can end up being harder. Here are my top ten tips for recruitment and retention.

1)    Aim high: volunteers can potentially do anything, so why do charities tend towards recruiting them for low-skilled roles? Whilst stuffing envelopes or answering the phone may be what your organisation genuinely needs, consider also that volunteers with more professional skills can help you too. Indeed they already do by governing your charity as trustees.  

2)    Consider the ‘me’ factor: a few years ago NFP Synergy predicted the rise of the ‘selfish volunteer’. They were right. Whilst still primarily driven by a genuine desire to do good, thanks to the Olympic boost volunteers are also looking for something tangible from their experience. Whether it’s CV development or meeting new people, consider how volunteers will benefit and don’t be shy to make this clear.

3)    It doesn’t necessarily pay to advertise: word of mouth is still the best way to get people involved, so consider your social media and other networks and encourage colleagues and other volunteers to do the same. Although that’s not to say you should ignore other channels. Your local Volunteer Centre, and LinkedIn’s new volunteer marketplace are worth a look, along with a myriad of other free channels. But be sure to get the message right. It’s very important to be extremely clear about the role, what skills you’re looking for and what you can offer in return.

4)    Don’t delay: imagine if you contacted a charity to make a donation and they didn’t bother getting back to you – it’s the same when someone offers to donate their time. In today’s digital world people expect a quick response – slow or no responses create the worst first impression of your charity, so either make the time to recruit well or don’t do it until you can.

5)    Induction, induction, induction: I’ve lost count of the number of volunteers who’ve told me that no one was expecting them when they turned up on their first day. Welcomed and busy volunteers are happy volunteers – nuff said.

6)    Support, don’t manage: you’re not paying volunteers so you can’t manage them as paid staff. For me it’s a balancing act, negotiating what I need against what a volunteer wants to do and gain from the experience. Get this balance right and things usually work well, but if the balance shifts in either direction then it can start to go wrong. Like any relationship regular communication is key but remember that it’s your project and if things are not working out it’s ok to call time.

7)    Avoid counting beans: knowing how many volunteers you have and how much time they give is useful but don’t obsess about stats and focus more on impact. Quality, not quantity, is where it’s at. Plus it’s a great buzz for volunteers to know how they have managed to change things for the better, no matter how modest their contribution. NCVO’s Impact toolkit provides some great tips on getting this right.

8)    Say thank you: it’s obvious but so important. Whilst most volunteers don’t expect a big fuss, making sure they know they are appreciated will make the difference to their coming back and recommending you to their friends. 

9)    Get out more: there is a huge wealth of free information and advice available for anyone that wants to involve volunteers, from your nearest Volunteer Centre to NCVO’s excellent Good Practice Bank. For me the best learning is peer networking and support, and online networks like UKVPMs, and the Association of Volunteer Managers offer great ways to connect and share.

10)    Smile: working with volunteers can be the most rewarding experience you’ll ever have, so enjoy it!  

Jamie Ward-Smith is founder and chief executive of the Do-it Trust, the UK’s largest digital volunteering service

Some helpful links:



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