Analysis: How to find new volunteers

Charities might need to find fresh and dynamic ways of recruiting the kind of volunteers they need, writes Annette Rawstrone

North London Cares mobilises young people to support their older neighbours
North London Cares mobilises young people to support their older neighbours

The profile of volunteering has risen in recent years, thanks in part to the London Olympics and Paralympics. The government's Community Life survey last year showed that the proportion of adults who volunteer at least once a month increased by eight percentage points to 49 per cent between August 2012 and April 2013.

But some charities still struggle to recruit the right kind of volunteers for their causes. For example, the RAF Association recently realised that its volunteer workforce was ageing significantly and embarked on a £50,000 project to target, recruit and train more younger volunteers.

Janet Thorne, chief executive of Reach, a charity that helps voluntary organisations connect with skilled volunteers, thinks there are enough potential volunteers out there, despite the fact that Community Life showed that less than half the population reported regular activity.

"All the evidence shows that people are more likely to volunteer if they are directly asked, but quite a lot of people are unaware of the opportunities that are available," she says. "It is important for charities to recruit volunteers purposefully, be clear why the role is important and make explicit the benefits for the volunteer and the benefits to the charity. The volunteers are definitely out there; charities need to search new avenues and engage volunteers in more dynamic and new ways."

Case study: Rory O'Connor, director of welfare, Royal Air Force Association

"We use volunteers to deliver welfare to anyone who is serving or has served in the RAF, their families and dependants. For example, we support veterans with underlying mental health or alcohol-related issues; and we provide more low-level support such as companionship. The age range of the people we support is getting younger and the support they need more complex. We have 540 welfare volunteers, but their average age is 71 and younger volunteers are not coming forward in big enough numbers.

"We are working with Edinburgh and Warwick universities on a research programme to predict future welfare needs - it will highlight the type of training needed for volunteers and staff. We have also conducted a mapping exercise to plot where our existing volunteers are, what their capacity to travel is and their ability to handle more complex welfare cases. Through this we've identified geographical gaps and are targeting those specific areas. We could spend time and money trying to recruit welfare volunteers all over the country, when there might be little need for them in some places.

"Before now, volunteers have come out of our membership, but we want to recruit people who do not necessarily have an RAF connection. We are running poster campaigns on bus stops and phone boxes in target areas, recruiting on local radio stations and targeting universities and colleges to get a mix of ages.

"We see the project as an ongoing process to complement the volunteers we already have. We want to recruit volunteers steadily over the next 10 years so we have the right resources for the future."

Case study: Alex Smith, chief executive, North London Cares

"We're a community network that mobilises students and young professionals to support their older neighbours. We have 700 volunteers, of whom 200 are active at any one time. We don't have a marketing budget for recruiting volunteers but are always looking for more.

"We try to speak to young professionals in their own language; the way most of them access information is through the internet, so we use that too. We have a simple, clear website that is the repository of all the things we do. It is visually led, including photos of young people having a good time so that other professionals identify with them. We bring people to our website through social media and careful search-engine optimisation. We use the type of words or phrases that people Google in headlines and blog posts so that if people search phrases such as "volunteer Camden" or "support elderly people Camden", we feature high in the listing.

"We're constantly pumping out creative, dynamic online content such as blog posts with moving pictures or amateur videos, which we tweet or put on YouTube. We also use Facebook, Flickr and Instagram.

"We have links with four big local corporations and encourage them to send volunteers our way. Sometimes this will involve emailing the whole company, encouraging them to volunteer, giving presentations about our work or speaking informally to employees. Word of mouth is also good for recruiting. We try to ensure our volunteers have fun."

Case study: Richard Bragg, volunteering and training partner, Royal Voluntary Service

"We have 34,000 volunteers who deliver services to help older people, but we have plans to expand what we do and expect to be looking for more volunteers for many years.

"We find it is best to start with our existing volunteers. Personal recommendations are a powerful way of finding out about something, and our volunteers are a really strong advert for us. We encourage them to bring friends and family and to help us recruit by putting posters up in the shops and including details in their church newsletter or on Facebook groups. For us, that's the first place to start.

"Volume works well. There is no magic bullet, but lots of different actions. Most bring small responses, so we need to do a lot to get the response we need, including running poster campaigns, having stands promoting the charity and opportunities at events, using social media and gaining press coverage. We have also been working with schools, universities and Duke of Edinburgh schemes to attract more young people."

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