Case study: Healthcare charity boosts fitness

How Sue Ryder Care increased the diversity of its volunteers with a ‘Perfect Fit' campaign.

Sue Ryder Care volunteers with one of the jigsaw pieces used to promote the 'Perfect Fit' campaign. Photograph: Roger Pattison, Pocklington Post.
Sue Ryder Care volunteers with one of the jigsaw pieces used to promote the 'Perfect Fit' campaign. Photograph: Roger Pattison, Pocklington Post.
The background
Healthcare charity Sue Ryder Care wanted to take a new approach to volunteer recruitment to ensure that volunteers were given a mutually fulfilling role in the organisation. It also wanted to increase the diversity of its volunteers.

"In the past, our calls for volunteers have seemed like a desperate appeal for help, without thinking about the roles which would also suit them," says Tracey Mealing, the charity’s volunteer coordinator.

"You end up searching around for roles that are suitable for applicants. The other problem is that people sometimes join with unrealistic expectations, so they end up disappointed."

The charity had a high proportion of over-65s among its 5000-strong body of volunteers. The hope was that by recruiting a younger group of people with a greater range of skills, experiences and aspirations, Sue Ryder volunteers would all naturally fit into a range of roles matching their skills, aptitudes and aspirations. This would ensure both that they had a rewarding volunteering experience and that their work made a real impact.

The process
The charity devised a ‘Perfect Fit’ campaign, which set out to emphasise the huge range of volunteering opportunities Sue Ryder Care could offer. The range from organising events at its central office, befriending vulnerable people on the community, bookkeeping or creating window displays in one of its 400 shops or looking after the plants at one if its 15 care centres.

“Before Perfect Fit, campaigns put an emphasis on the need of the charity,” says Mealing. “It gave the impression that people needed to fit into the specific roles we had, rather than us being able to find people a role which would also suit them. It also suggested an ‘us’ and ‘them’ relationship between paid staff and volunteers.”

The recruitment drive was led by shop managers, who leafleted organisations in their local areas, such as churches, mosques, doctors' surgeries and schools.

There was also a big publicity effort coordinated centrally. Giant jigsaw pieces were sent to local fundraising and retail teams looking for volunteers, who used them to stage photo opportunities for local media.

As an added incentive, people who agreed to a one-hour volunteering taster session were given a 20 per cent discount in Sue Ryder Care shops.

"It's an enticement rather than a payment,” says Mealing, “and it is intended to get them through the door first of all. Once they're in, we hope that we can convert them."

The outcome
The campaign was launched in October 2006 and runs for 12 months. So far, results have been very encouraging, with volunteer recruitment for the three months before Christmas being double what it was during the same period a year previously. There have also been many more 14- to 45-year-olds signing up than normal.

“Obviously, those volunteers aged over 65 make an invaluable contribution to the charity,” says Mealing, “but we need younger volunteers to carry on their legacy. Anecdotally, staff have said that the calibre of volunteers coming in has increased as our expectations have increased. Paid Staff have had to behave more professionally to receive these new volunteers, as their expectations are greater.

“By identifying roles that would add value to our services, making us more effective and efficient, volunteers are as important part of the jigsaw as paid staff, and have as much experience and knowledge to impart.”

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