How to... Recruit socially excluded volunteers

Some tips on how to include the excluded in your body of volunteers.

Recruiting socially excluded people such as the homeless, ex-offenders and asylum seekers can allow charities to tap into a wide range of skills and experiences which might well be of direct relevance to users of their services. Here are some tips on how to include the excluded. 

1. Allay their fears.
According to Steven Howlett, senior research fellow at the Institute for Volunteering Research, a number of practical and psychological barriers still face people from socially excluded groups.

These include a fear of losing welfare benefits, lack of self-confidence, lack of understanding of what volunteering roles actually entail, and the perception that organisations wouldn't welcome people from these groups. Such fears need to be addressed in charities’ initial approach to potential volunteers.

2. Think about how potential volunteers see your organisation.
Socially excluded groups will walk away if their experience of volunteering resembles the workplace. “There is a trend in volunteering for people to go through an interview process, supervision meetings, target appraisals and so on,” observes Howlett. “These policies can often look like unpaid work, and this isn't a good way to attract groups that are under-represented.”

3. Assess where the barriers are in your organisation.
Diversity training can help charities genuinely value the range of outlooks represented by a diverse volunteer group. As part of that ethos, they need to assess their support structures for socially excluded volunteers. "Yes, people from socially excluded backgrounds need the extra support,” says Howlett. “But the way that support is given needs to be evaluated over a period of time. Volunteer management can't be done in an afternoon. It's a commitment that needs to be squared with organisational objectives before it can be truly successful."

4. Emphasise the personal benefits of volunteering.
Volunteering can be a route back into the mainstream workforce for the socially excluded. For example, Bristol housing and service provider Brunelcare, which works with a local drink and drug rehabilitation unit to place recovering addicts in volunteering roles in its shops and day centres, offers its volunteers the opportunity to learn new skills such as kitchen hygiene.

"It has to be reciprocal," says activities manager Ralph Bellamy. "We are taking the volunteers' time and commitment, so the volunteer has to get something out of it as well. One chap who volunteered in our drop-in day centre left us after six or seven months because he got a full-time job. To know we can help people in this way gives us a buzz."

5. Re-examine your attitude to criminal record checks.
According to Nacro and Volunteering England’s Involving Ex-offenders in Volunteering guide, charities are reluctant to give volunteering opportunities to those with criminal records. Mervyn Barrett, one of the guide's authors, says: "We know of many people who have been turned down for voluntary work, often on the basis of old and wholly irrelevant convictions."

The guide estimates that about two-thirds of potential recruits with criminal records are avoiding applying for roles where disclosures are required.

"Charities are also risk-averse when they should be risk-aware," Barrett says. "If there's a one in 1,000 chance that someone could re-offend, volunteer managers would rather not take that risk in case it's their jobs that end up on the line."

Charities should not ask for disclosures unless it is necessary for the role, he concludes. “And where they do ask, they need to be more sensitive.”

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