Regulation with Rosie: Attracting volunteers

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on attracting volunteers.

Young, committed, enthusiastic volunteers - surely no volunteering charity would turn them down? Well, I heard recently of a newly qualified graduate who had taken a year off to volunteer, hoping to develop his people skills before applying for teacher training. But his approach to a large volunteering charity wasn't welcome. His degree was, he was told, not useful, his motives selfish and his willingness to consider a wide range of volunteering options implied a lack of focus. A month later, having heard nothing, he approached a local charity, which has been using his skills to its and his mutual satisfaction ever since.

We will never know whether the person he spoke to was on a mission to sabotage her charity or if she was just having a bad day, but the end result was the permanent loss of a committed volunteer. That this response came from a volunteering charity was staggering, but I wonder how many charities that need help are geared up for approaches from people like him?

Many students prefer to volunteer for local organisations, directly seeing the impact they make on their immediate communities. Many can't commit as much time during terms and have a specific set of skills they are hoping to acquire. Trustees who can make their charities attractive to this group are on to a winner: the National Union of Students estimates there are more than seven million students in the UK.

People volunteer for a wide range of reasons; rejecting those who fail some notional test of complete altruism leaves a very small pool. If, instead of having a gap year overseas, students look closer to home to develop their skills - and their CVs - this is surely a resource that many charities should be prepared to make the most of.

- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.

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