Case study: Animal charity takes men to task

PDSA's task-focused recruitment drive has increased the charity's proportion of male volunteers by 40 per cent.

The problem
As part of the process of establishing a central office for volunteering in 1997, veterinary charity PDSA set up a database of all volunteers working in its 181 UK shops. “Very early on,” says PDSA’s head of volunteering, Janet Compton, “I was aware we had a high number of female volunteers.”

While recognizing that a high proportion of women is “the norm in retail”, Compton was concerned that PDSA was failing to appeal to a large number of potential volunteers.

“We always need to work hard to maintain our numbers of volunteers,” she explains. “Volunteering is a competitive market these days, with higher turnover than before. People have more options, so volunteers become more transient.”

Many shop managers also expressed a need for more “strong people” to lift heavy items and hang things up. “Sometimes boxes need to be carried up three flights of stairs – it can be quite physically demanding,” says Compton.

So the decision was taken to try actively to recruit more male volunteers to balance the volunteer workforce.

The process
PDSA conducted a survey of both its male and female volunteers to find out what motivated them.

“For women, volunteering is more about making friends, meeting people and keeping busy,” says Compton. “Whereas men are more interested in doing specific tasks which fit in with their interests and skills – or, perhaps even manual tasks to help with keeping fit.”

Compton decided that PDSA’s advertising for volunteers needed to be more task- and interest-orientated. “I was nonplussed by our generic posters and adverts saying ‘we need volunteers’,” she says. “People don’t generally think of themselves as a volunteer. But they do respond to questions like ‘do you like records?’ or ‘are you a book lover?’”

Special press releases were also prepared, with the specific – though not explicitly expressed - intention of attracting men. These focused on the jobs that needed to be done, and featured case histories in which men featured prominently.

“It was all about making men think ‘that could be me’,” says Compton. At that time, PDSA shops were “perceived as a women’s environment. We had to break the mould.” Once the first steps were taken and men began to appear in PDSA shops, further male recruitment became easier.

PDSA also took on more male volunteers from government schemes, although Compton emphasises that such sources only account for eight per cent of the charity’s volunteers.

The result
PDSA’s proportion of male volunteers has risen from 15 per cent in 2000 to 21 per cent at the end of 2006, with overall numbers as high as they ever have been at over 4800. Compton hopes men will eventually make up a quarter of that figure.

For the last two years, PDSA’s young volunteer of the year has been male – and Compton insists there was no positive discrimination involved in choosing the winner. “They were the best entries in the category and deserved to win on their own merits,” she says.

An interesting aside, though, is that a much lower proportion of men volunteer in PDSA’s PetAid hospitals, even though it is a very task-driven environment. “We get hundreds of enquiries for the few roles there are - but not from men, strangely enough,” Compton reports.

PDSA’s drive to recruit more men is ongoing, as are various other recruitment drives focused on other under-represented groups in PDSA shops such as ethnic minorities, young people and women with children. Apart from allowing the charity to tap into a wider pool of potential volunteers, such drives also make PDSA shops more reflective of society as a whole.

“We are keen to challenge volunteering stereotypes,” says Compton. “The wider the diversity the better; it all makes for a great team atmosphere. We certainly don’t encourage cliques of any kind.”

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