Case study: CAB drive for ethnic minorities

How Citizens Advice boosted the numbers of people from ethnic minorities volunteering at its centres.

The problem
John Ramsey, head of volunteer development at Citizens Advice, says: "We realised over the past few years that, although our services are meant to be available to everyone, people from BME backgrounds were not taking them up. They couldn't relate to us because none of our advisers came from their communities.”

For that reason, the organisation took the decision to try to recruit more volunteers from non-white backgrounds.

The process
Local Citizens Advice Bureaux assess the racial profile of the particular community they serve and assess which groups are under-represented among its body of volunteers.

The next step is to approach any community groups that represent the relevant minorities, or organisations that work with them. Such bodies are good sources of advice about how to structure targeted recruitment drives, as well as being likely sources of volunteers in themselves. Places of worship used by the groups in question are also good places to put leaflets.

Being proactive is also important. “One bureau which wanted to target migrant workers discovered that they had a day off on a Tuesday and all went to a particular supermarket on that day,” recalls Jodi Manning, Citizens Advice’s Millennium Volunteers coordinator. The bureau in question responded by stationing a recruiter in the supermarket on Tuesdays.

Training can also be augmented to fill in gaps in volunteers’ knowledge – especially when the volunteers are recent immigrants such as asylum seekers, who may have a very limited knowledge of British institutions. “Sometimes they don’t have the basic knowledge that we take for granted, like what the NHS is,” says Manning. Training in local dialects is also sometimes provided for volunteers who would otherwise struggle to understand it.

One other highly successful strategy is to train up small numbers of committed volunteers from the target community, who then go out into the community and act as ambassadors for the organisation. “This is the best method we have for recruiting volunteers,” says Manning. This strategy also encompasses formal mentoring programmes between experienced and new volunteers in some bureaux.

Manning confirms that targeted recruitment programmes of the kind needed to recruit minority groups have an attendant cost, but Citizens Advice managed to obtain a grant from the youth volunteering charity v to target ‘hard-to-reach’ groups - which include ethnic minority groups.

Once it has recruited volunteers from its target groups, Citizens Advice also makes every effort to retain them. For this, cultural awareness is the key. “Sometimes it can be really simple things like being aware of volunteers’ religious holidays and family commitments,” says Manning.

The Result
The figure for Citizens Advice volunteers between 16 and 24 from ethnic minority communities now stands at 37% – and is rising all the time.

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