Could your charity do without its volunteers?

  • For many small charities and community groups, volunteers are at the heart of the organisation
  • Well structured recruitment, clear policies and recognising effort can help build a strong team of volunteers
  • We share some of the free or low-cost resources available to help you develop and support your volunteers

The UK has a large and enthusiastic band of volunteers who regularly give up their time to help others.

Nearly half of UK adults (42%) have volunteered at least once a year, according to NVCO data – providing unpaid help through a group, club or organisation. These volunteers contribute a whopping £23.9bn to the UK economy!

The organisation’s UK Civil Society Almanac for 2014-15, shows that an estimated 4.2 million people in this country volunteer at least once a month – and typically for around 11.6 hours per month.

Among those who had formally volunteered at least once during the year, the most frequent reasons given for volunteering were to improve things / help people (60%) and because the cause was personally important (36%).

This is a huge amount of people who are doing their bit on a regular basis to improve the world around them.

Providing an essential service

The charity sector’s 800,000-strong paid workforce is heavily supported by those who offer their skills and time in a voluntary capacity. The sector relies on the work they carry out, and small charities in particular regularly call on an army of volunteers.

But, attracting, keeping and motivating volunteers takes time and effort – there are lots of other organisations out there doing good work who could attract your helpers.

We look at some useful resources to help your volunteer management.

Volunteer recruitment

How does your charity recruit volunteers? Best practice includes following a similar process to recruiting a paid member of staff.

Advertisements, role descriptions and an interview process are key to making sure the process is transparent and that both you and your volunteers are clear on expectations from the start.

The KnowHow NonProfit section on recruiting volunteers comprehensively covers the recruitment process and links to sites such as Do-it where you can advertise your roles.

In addition, this 20-minute online course gives top tips on recruiting the perfect volunteer.

NCVO’s Almanac identified common trends and barriers to volunteering. This blog post for Volunteer Managers uses the data to make recommendations about how organisations can design roles that fit with the way people want to volunteer.

Retaining your volunteer workforce

Policies and procedures help organisations provide clarity about how volunteers fit in. How does your organisation support, train or involve volunteers? Do you give your volunteers an induction? Do you pay expenses?

A volunteering policy can help define the role of volunteers within your organisation and describes your commitment to how you will treat and include them.

The practical Tools for Success series includes a guide on managing people, including volunteers. It has been especially written for small voluntary and community organisations. You can buy (and download) the pack for £20. There is also a free online self-assessment toolkit to help identify areas where you are doing well or need to do more work.

Amongst all the policies and paperwork, it can be easy to forget the basics of good people management. This post shares the three simple rules for supporting volunteers.

Giving volunteers credit for their work

Thanking volunteers is a key part of helping them feel valued and their efforts recognised. Events such as Volunteers’ Week  – which this year was extended to 12 days – are a useful way to say a public thank you, providing a chance to share the stories of your volunteers or simply an excuse to buy a cake and invite them for tea.

For example, Raleigh International produced a simple photostory to celebrate their volunteers.

This guide on thanking volunteers shares ideas about how to say thank you all year round.